In America today, it is the children leading us out of bondage

The point is to keep the next generation’s attention focused so they can retell the past.

People protest in front of the US Embassy, calling for enhanced gun control in the US, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 23, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
People protest in front of the US Embassy, calling for enhanced gun control in the US, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 23, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
In January, while receiving an award named for director Cecil B. DeMille at the Golden Globes ceremony, Oprah Winfrey delivered a powerful speech, and, almost immediately, people started seriously discussing her possible run for president of the United States. The frenzy lasted for a news cycle, with debates over whether she was qualified, and why, just because we had one reality TV show president, it meant we should consider another. Both discussions missed the point.
Our nation had been desperate for leadership ever since the day after the election. Since then, millions of us had spent more than a year flinging ourselves from one outrage to the next. We shared desperate posts on social media, and stayed up late worrying about issues that had long been settled but had been freshly revived by this new administration. We needed leadership to spearhead our efforts; someone to guide us, tell us how to proceed, but we had no one. We led ourselves. We lacked direction.
We marched and we rallied, but nobody, not Hillary Clinton, nor any other Democratic politician had stepped in to show us the way. With that speech that night, Winfrey’s words weren’t the real message. It was her presence, her leadership. We needed a voice, and a vessel to embody our hopes and say what we’d all been thinking.
A month-and-a-half later, when 17 children were gunned down in Parkland, Florida by one of their classmates, we found ourselves as a nation in familiar territory: shocked, hopeless, outraged. Feelings we’d felt so many times at these moments of crisis resurfaced, along with a growing sense of dread. But one thing was different: almost immediately, the students, classmates of the victims, addressed TV reporters with clear, thoughtful responses, their tone and sharp words in contrast to the weeping survivors from tragedies past.
With their first appearances on camera, these high schoolers, with astonishing speed, intelligence and poise became exactly what we’d been missing: our leadership. Working seemingly nonstop, they coordinated a classroom walkout and then, last Saturday, millions of Americans (and others) marched and rallied here and abroad, in demonstrations not seen in our country since last century.
At our rally in San Francisco, twin sixth graders answered imaginary critics who might question why we should listen to elementary schoolers on matters of public policy. If we’re old enough to practice active shooter drills, they argued, we’re old enough to talk about this. Similar messages echoed at rally after rally, again and again.
Each morning, when I waited for my ride to the office outside the compound where I lived in Kampala, Uganda, I’d stand at the guard shack next to a handful of very young rifle-wielding men. There was no particular threat. A Ugandan friend explained they were there because decades before, citizens feared for their safety. Guarded buildings and schools were a relic of that frightening past. It may be normal there, and in Israel, but it’s unsettling to see so much firepower in the United States.
Not long after I returned home, a friend’s sister, single after a divorce, had entered her home in a sleepy Midwestern US suburb, confronted intruders and was shot to death. Her young children discovered her body. Her grieving mother discovered her voice, and has been using it to meet with lawmakers, even buttonholing people with gun control conversations at her own grandson’s bar mitzva, anything to help legislatively avenge her daughter’s death.
There are increasing numbers of us here in the US touched by gun violence in this horrible “I know someone who” way. It’s not just people who make the evening news. Yet, despite will and perseverance (the vast majority of Americans want stricter gun laws), there’s been no movement, and it seemed, until these ardent kids arrived, no path toward achieving this end.
There’s a moment in the 1956 version of DeMille’s The Ten Commandments when Moses (played by notorious gun-proponent and five-term NRA president Charlton Heston) is leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the just-parted Red Sea. Someone shouts to him to, “Stand on the rock where people can see you and have hope, above us.” He does, creating one of the film’s iconic images.
Last week’s Passover rituals, especially the four questions, are designed to engage children so they’ll grow interested in learning and retelling Jewish history. The point is to keep the next generation’s attention focused so they can retell the past. In America, today, right now, the opposite is happening. It is our children who are leading the adults out of a certain kind of bondage and into our nation’s future. They are the ones standing on the rock, giving us hope and showing us the way.
The author writes the “A Lighter Take” satirical humor column for The Boston Globe. You can follow her on Twitter @IWishIHadTyped.


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