Marching for our lives.


I had all intentions of going to the March for our Lives.

I rescheduled brunch with my friends to dinner the Friday before so I could go. I grabbed poster board, thought of signs in my head, planned what I was going to wear. I went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke up early enough to make a good breakfast and fill up on coffee before heading down Saturday morning.

But when I woke up, I knew I couldn’t go.

I thought back on the morning of 12/14/2012 when I found out about the shooting at Sandy Hook. Two kids that were in my group at the camp I worked at were fourth graders and I immediately thought of them. I thought back on being thankful I had a half day at work because my brother was visiting. I remember the bus ride home feeling extra-long and finding out via Facebook that my previous vice principal was the current principal at Sandy Hook Elementary. I thought back to patiently waiting for a list to come out with my brother before we even thought of going out for the day. I remembered how relieved I was that none of my kids were listed. We kept the news on like it was going to give us some sort of fresh information or closure, only to find it was a horrific field day. We mutually decided that we would turn it off for good after President Obama’s speech. I was able to talk to him about my guilt surrounding my relationship with my vice principle. For so many years, I villainized her only to have her give her life for her students. A few nights later we went to a vigil held in the West Loop and stood with our mayor, Jesse Jackson Jr. and fellow Chicagoans. We heard mothers speak about the children they lost to Chicago’s gun violence and met a man who was awkwardly standing alone, noticeably not from here. I asked him where he was from, and he said he was from Ridgefield, the town next to our hometown of Danbury, CT. He mentioned that he was traveling for business and heard of the small vigil online. In a sea of Chicagoans who knew about the dangers of gun violence, the three of us stood there to represent our little part of the nation.

I couldn’t sleep for weeks after the event. I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids I knew who had their innocence stripped from them. My heart hurt for the families who weren’t as lucky, and for the grieving town. I thought about my rough relationship with my vice principle and felt horrible for her husband, a kind and adored teacher at my second middle school. Christmas was quiet that year. The streets were filled with memorials and wreathes were filled with angel ornaments and green ribbons. Green ribbons were worn everywhere – whether we were out at our local bar or at church for Christmas Eve mass. Everyone was a lot quieter and more aware of the people around them. The East Coast felt a lot more like the Midwest, everyone was slowing their pace and holding longer conversations.

All of this came back to me rather surprisingly Saturday morning. I wanted to go out and walk for my vice principal and my sister in law’s community but I couldn’t put myself there. While I had people I could go with, I felt like I would be alone. I couldn’t motivate myself to go to the march and be the only person I knew with a more intimate relationship with the issue at hand. It was different than any other march – with the other ones I felt like part of a community, but this one I felt like I was going to be alone. There aren’t many people from Fairfield County in Chicago, and while I knew there would be others impacted by violence there, I just couldn’t bring myself to march alongside my friends who didn’t fully understand how I felt. It wasn’t their fault, and I would never wish the feeling upon anyone else, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go. If I had a family member or friend from my hometown, I’d go in a heartbeat. If the march were in Hartford instead of Chicago, I could even go alone. But I couldn’t even muster up enough strength to see everyone’s Facebook and Instagram posts. I stayed off social media for the day. I just couldn’t go there on Saturday. As a person who is already walking down memory lane in writing about how I treated my dad at that age, I couldn’t revisit the words I said to and about my vice principal. I just couldn’t open that box. So I stayed home, worked out, watched a lot of dumb TV and went to the grocery store.

I’m not proud of not marching. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the individuals impacted by gun violence who spoke, went to DC and showed up in their own cities. I know that it’s not easy. It’s exhausting. After five years of demanding action, we’re still fighting the same fight with little progress and more victims. I do feel like it’s different this time. I think the energy of the teens who are coming to the forefront, both in Florida and Chicago, is going to be a steady and resilient force. Instead of sinking back into their everyday, they make this their number one priority. Without jobs or families to juggle, they can focus their time not spent at school on this issue and get a lot more done than adults can.

While I feel shitty about not going, I’ve made peace with it. I understand that sometimes our best intentions are met with reality and that we need to take care of ourselves. That there will be people to stand in for me. After spending the weekend thinking about it, I decided that I needed to find a different way to help. For me, it usually comes in the form of writing. It’s my way to get my message out to my community. To hopefully make them think a little about what they can do. And I realized that by speaking about it, I’ve inspired others to be actionable where I couldn’t bring myself to. And at the end of the day, that’s something.

We all need to find out where we fit within the issues that are important to us. Where can I actually help? Maybe it wasn’t marching. Maybe if I went downtown, I would have found myself a helpless mess and hopped right back on the El to head back home. So instead I spent the weekend thinking, listening to podcasts outlining the teens talking about gun violence in Chicago, and figuring out a way to help within my new community. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is a young person killed every week within blocks of my apartment. It’s mostly senseless gun violence. Kids killing kids over territories, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking too much like someone with a hit on them. So many of the victims are between the ages of 16 and 21. They’re children. But their deaths go unnoticed because of their race. If they ever make the news, they’re labeled as thugs instead of children with lives ahead of them. It’s horrific, disgusting and just unfair. Kids shouldn’t be afraid to walk home from school.

This morning The Daily had an episode interviewing Chicago teens who are working against gun violence in their neighborhoods. One of the kids said that he was angry that no one cared before kids in affluent neighborhoods starting getting killed. They met with the Parkland kids, who heard their grievances, and committed themselves to working to ensure the kids of Chicago are heard. I recommend listening to it. It made me realize that instead of feeling so far from home when these things come around, I can find a way to help prevent the gun violence happening in my own backyard.

And when all else fails, we just really need to fucking listen to these teenagers.

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.