Fred Rogers was a kind, gentle man who loved children. The late host of the quiet, profound children’s television programme, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, devoted his quiet, profound life to loving, nurturing and caring for children.
Rogers did this, in large measure, by listening to children patiently, respectfully, and honestly as they expressed emotions that percolate in their hearts, souls and minds.I was thinking of Rogers as I watched child after child take the stage during the March For Our Lives demonstration in Washington, DC on Saturday.
I think Rogers would have approved. He would, I’m sure, have also been standing with every child who spoke - literally and figuratively. He would have encouraged them to share what they felt inside with each other and the vast audience, as his youthful “neighbours” have done for going on 50 years.
And he would have listened to each one of them patiently, respectfully and honestly as they expressed their still raw emotions - the human residue of tragedy - that flood their hearts, souls and minds.
So, like countless others, I listened too.We were privileged to hear children talk about their lost friends and family, their love, their anger, their fears, their loss, their grief, their pain, their regrets, their frustration, their homes, their communities, their hopes, their plans, their futures, their strength, their will, their bravery, their determination, and their solutions - clearly, simply, powerfully, eloquently.
Together, these audacious, talented kids did what so many spent, asinine adults have too often said and written that young people today are incapable of doing: they thought, they cared, they acted.
The persistent myth, promoted by so many of those same spent, asinine adults, is, of course, that “self-absorbed” young people are too preoccupied with frivolity, immediacy, mendacity and technology to bother to think, to care, to act today, let alone tomorrow.
What took place on Saturday in America’s capital city and cities across the US and the world should finally and emphatically extinguish that old, stubborn lie. Indeed, America’s children have done what America’s adults have so far failed to do: They have put the National Rifle Association and its grubby, servile collaborators in Congress and beyond on notice.
The NRA’s gun-worshiping hegemony over the safety and fate of school children will end. It will take more time and persistence, but it will end because America’s children have decided to end it.
America’s kids have confronted, and will ultimately prevail over the NRA by ways and means that are an astonishing reflection of their skill, adeptness, imagination, ingenuity, originality and such impressive facility with language, symbols and yes, technology.
Fueled by the memory of the murders of so many innocents, so routinely, in so many places throughout the US, America’s children have formed - through their carefully chosen words and hard, painstaking and deliberate deeds - a coalition of compassion.This kid-engineered movement is roiling the NRA and its allies in Congress and beyond.
The coalition of compassion has made it plain that it will not be deterred by the hack, hyperbolic attacks of fanatics that have successfully deterred America’s cowardly adults from doing the right and responsible thing for much too long.
Instead, the coalition of compassion has rebuffed every pathetic, predictable attack in mainstream and social media with wit, truth, enterprise, sincerity and halting, singular artistry.
The coalition of compassion knows what the forever young guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, understood: Eventually, the power of love will rout the love of power.
In the face of this prospect, the NRA has lost its bearings and swagger. It’s battered and flailing. It’s scared. Frantic, it’s hurling mud and epithets that no longer stick, since the targets aren’t cowering adults, but fearless kids, who, through the power of numbers and conviction, have orchestrated their unmistakable reply: Marches made up of millions of equally compassionate spirits who roared as one. The weapons of war must be banned. The massacres must stop. More must be done to stop the epidemic of murders.
But one teenage member of the coalition of compassion, Emma Gonzales, chose silence to make that point.
There she stood at the lectern weeping, yet defiant and silent. Her defiance and silence lasted several minutes. During that time, Gonzales forced those watching to fill the void by considering why she remained still and mute.
Each of us was compelled to answer in our own way, at our own pace, and to recall and acknowledge all the children that have been maimed and massacred by guns everywhere. It was a silent, still act of remembrance.
As I watched her, I remembered what Fred Rogers once said about the necessity of silence and stillness.
“It’s about the white spaces between the paragraphs ... it allows you to think about what’s just been said,” Rogers told an interviewer. “A lot of people have allowed me to have some silence. I don’t think we give that gift very much any more.”
Gonzales shared that rare, treasured gift with us on Saturday. It was a poignant moment. It was a memorable moment. It was, undoubtedly, a transformative moment for everyone honoured to have witnessed it.
Still, she knows that she and the other kids who have weathered the repugnant, manufactured assaults on their character and motives must continue to pay little attention to the rancid reactionaries.
Evidently, Gonzales and the coalition of compassion intend to proceed, unafraid and undaunted, with their solemn vow and meticulous plans to: Register. Educate. Vote to save lives.Change is coming. It won’t likely arrive in weeks or months, but it will come.
Whenever it arrives, America’s industrious young people have already made Fred Rogers proud and they’ve given the rest of us more than a smidgen of hope that the future is in good, wise and able hands.
This article was originally published as: ‘A coalition of compassion in America’.