The Revolution is Not About Us

I know I was not alone in watching coverage of yesterday’s marches – particularly the one in D.C. – on waves of pride and shame and excitement and cynicism. Just as I have experienced the dozens of other amazing, inspiring, devastating protests and demonstrations since November, 2016.

But this time, I feel different. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that America as a representative, Constitutional Democracy no longer exists, and that the months and years stretching immediately before us are dark and dangerous and ugly. But there is, I must admit, a new concreteness to my usually inchoate, tenacious hope.

I watched and wept with Emma Gonzalez, of course. But also heard 11-year-old Naomi Wadler proclaim that “For far too long, these black girls and women have been just numbers. . .. I am here to say never again for those girls too.”

And I listened to D’Angelo McDade, the 18-year-old self-described “victim, survivor and victor over gun violence” remind us of Dr. King’s “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that;” adding his own “violence cannot drive out violence, only peace can do that; poverty cannot drive out poverty, only resources can do that.”

And to Trevon Bosley, whose brother Terrell Bosley was shot and killed in 2006, as he took his international audience on a lilting explanation of the causes of gun violence (racism, political expedience, poverty) before seeming to shake White America by the shoulders and demand that: “it is time for the Nation to realize gun violence is more than a Chicago problem or a Parkland problem. It is an American problem. It is time to care about all communities as equal. It is time to stop judging youth that look like me or my brother and that come from impoverished communities any different from anyone else. It’s time for America to notice that every day shootings are everyday problems.”

“These kids get it,” a white female colleague texted me. Yes, they do. They don’t need lectures on intersectionality theory and readings on the emergence of the white feminist movement. Not only the kids of color who spoke and demonstrated and organized, but also, it seems, the white kids from Parkland and elsewhere – they get that it is all connected – that gun violence is about racism and poverty and cronyism and power; and that school shootings that kill white kids get disproportionate attention relative to other shootings that kill black and brown kids because of that. They understand who the current power structure benefits and why that structure is, therefore, so entrenched. Just listen to them talk – not the media analysts or pundits – the young people themselves. They get it.

And not only that, my friend went on, “they are making us listen. We have to seize this moment and . . . help these kids get the job done.”

Yes. That is the glimmer that I feel this morning. My kids – who are graduating from high school and college over the next four years – and my law students – whose average age is 26 – understand through their own experience of the interconnected web of humanity that our liberation is all bound up together – if not in the next ten years, certainly in the long run. What they choose to do with that awareness remains to be seen, but so far so good, I would say.

Which leads to a new clarity about my own position in this turmoil and revolution. I agree with my friend that our role is help these young people — our kids and their friends; our students; our colleagues. To some extent, I like to think that has always been my role – as a parent and as a teacher of adults. But now the scope of the role has shifted. No more do I have to assign theoretical readings or engage in complicated simulations to try to convince my students or my kids that intersectional oppression is real, that America is built on white supremacy and patriarchy and exploitation of the poor and people of color, and that the status quo is designed to maintain those hierarchies.

I started to sense this last fall in my critical lawyering class when my students pushed back not one bit at my suggestion that had she been a man, Hillary would have won the election; or had he been white Philando Castile would still be alive today. I continue to sense it in my Estates & Trusts and Advocacy courses when I frame issues in terms of race and class and gender categorization or oppression and see very little – if any – uncomfortable shifting or eye-rolling. Instead, I see head nodding and note-taking. And in the openness and confidence of the young women of color I work with, who articulate the hierarchy and their respective places in it with the contextual and nuanced understanding of people who have lived much longer than their 27 years.

I understand that my knowledge of history and passion for narrative is no doubt useful in my role as a Professor (capital P). What I am coming to realize, though, with, I admit, some relief, is that we — for those of you who recognize my voice as consistent with your own – are not the leaders of this Movement (writ large). The way to help “these kids” is not to lead them, but to facilitate and amplify and support them.

Listen to what they are saying and if you agree with it, repeat it, giving them attribution. That’s amplifying. If you don’t agree with it, don’t dismiss or shame them (as the NRA et al seem bent on doing – and how’s that working for them?), ask questions. Believe the experiences they describe and facilitate ways for them to amplify their own voices; and prepare them to defend their positions and withstand opposition.

And also, go to the events they sponsor and support the programs they run (shout out here to Faith Jackson and Minnesota Black Girl Magic ); make them a home-cooked meal every once in a while (and here to my Critical Lawyering students); contribute to their campaigns (and here to Lydia Edwards); make them grilled cheese sandwiches (and here to the teenagers from high schools all over the country, including right here in Minneapolis .)

And get out of the way. The Revolution, it turns out, is not about us.