Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

I’m very angry


This is my first entry in five days. Usually I don’t let myself go this long without writing but I am just at a loss for words. I’m so angry.

I get sick when I log onto Facebook. My entire feed is riddled with opinions, articles and statements about gun control.  Since they’re coming from my friends, I agree with most of them… but I can’t read them. I’m just so sick of it. Moreover, I’m very angry.

I don’t know why this is still an issue. I want so badly to grab every member of the NRA and scream in their face. I want so badly to take every politician who voted against gun control and show them what the absence of gun control does. I’m not talking about news articles or crime scenes. I want to bring them home with me during Christmas… where my church is full of old ladies wearing green ribbons. Where there’s a soft and sad kindness amongst everyone. Where one of the happiest seasons of the year will always be a little quieter… a little more reflective.

I want to bring them to Union Park on December 15th, 2012 and I’d love for them to stand next to my brother and me. I’d love for them to be with us as we found ourselves in a mix of Connecticut transplants and Chicago natives grieving the lives of children lost to gun violence. Holding candles in the rain, standing tall in a community of people that we never wanted to be a part of. Sharing a common sadness upon realizing that these things can, indeed, happen in your neighborhood.

I would love to personally invite every single politician who stands against gun control to my apartment. I would love for them to see the issue through my eyes. I would love for them to be sitting at their desk on a seemingly normal Friday morning when a news alert pops up saying that there was a shooting at a school the next town over. For them to count the ages of their past campers in their heads… trying to figure out whether or not they aged out of that school yet. I want them to dread looking at the list of names, praying that no one you know is on it. I want them to feel the guilt associated with feeling relived at the expense of someone else’s grief. Feeling relieved that none of your kids were killed, that it didn’t happen ten miles away where every teacher who shaped you into who you are today is in lockdown, that your friends who teach in that town found a job at a different school. Then I want them to have the burden of guilt for feeling relief since not everyone was as lucky. I want them to feel the guilt of being an asshole to their administrator who ended up giving her life for her students. I want them to feel the pit in their stomach when their mom tells them about how awful hearing the sirens from the hospital across the street was. I want them to understand what it’s like to truly be sick from the news. To practice celibacy of news… swearing off every broadcast because it literally makes you sick.  I want them to feel guilty for grieving, for sleepless nights, for replaying the scene in your head over and over again because your grief is nothing compared to those who lost loved ones & lived in that town.

I rarely write about my experience with 12/14 because I hate reading articles about it. I think that they’re usually written to be sexy – to bring in followers because you know that it’s a hot topic. Or written by people who want to feel connected to tragedy. But I realized that remaining silent about my feelings about this isn’t going to push anything forward. As someone who grew up in the town next to Newtown and lives in Chicago, I feel obligated to state my raw feelings about this issue. So I’m writing how I feel as a citizen of a city that has a major gun problem. As a previous camp counselor who had the naivety of some kids she cared about stripped away from them. As a current comedian whose first stage she performed on lies in a town that now has a heartbreaking reputation.

My heart breaks for all of the communities recently wounded by gun violence. For everyone on every ring of that grief circle.

But honestly, I’m mostly angry. For two reasons:

  1. How the fuck…? I don’t even have the right words so I’ll just put it like this: How the fuck did Elliot Rodger get away with this? He published disturbing videos a few days before his spree. He was clearly mentally unstable and was able to have a gun registered to his name. To his name. To his own fucking name. Because of our failure as a nation to ensure that guns only go to those mentally stable enough to own them. I’m sorry but I don’t understand how we can blame anyone but ourselves for this one. We live in a world that is so fucking advanced, yet we let shit like this happen? I mean, we can’t even get background checks? I’m too angry to think clearly so I’ll stop at that. Fuck.
  2. I was reading an article the other day about shootings on the south and west sides of Chicago over Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, this happens all the time in Chicago. You almost become immune to it, accept it as a part of life. But do you know what really upset me about this particular article? The bodies were found the next day. The next fucking day. Someone was shot in the street at midnight and not discovered until the morning? In the middle of the fucking street? You’re telling me that no one heard the gunshots and called the cops? That no one was suspicious upon seeing a body? It makes me angry and disheartened.

I’m sick of this and I’m sick of writing this post. I hate talking about this issue because it disgusts me. No one is trying to take your guns away. If you read through this post and think that your freedoms are going to be violated, maybe you should have actually read Obama’s proposal. Tell me where he stepped out of line and I’d be happy to debate this issue with you. I think you’ll have a hard time.