This afternoon Mary Margaret and I drove an hour to Florence, Alabama. We had discovered last night that this town was going to be one of the over 800 places around the world where a March For Our Lives was going to take place. We wanted to do more than just talk about the horrible shootings that are going on in our schools, we wanted to get off our butts and actively show support.
As we arrived, we reflected that it has been exactly 50 years since I last marched in a protest and 49 years since Mary Margaret has. In 1968, I and a VW bus full of guys from our dorm at the University of Michigan drove the 600 miles to Washington DC to protest the war in Vietnam. That march had a significant impact on my life as it made me realize after being gassed in the streets of Washington DC, that if I really wanted to create change in government, the most effective and long-term way to do that was to be in a position within government to effect change. Eight years later, after getting married and graduating with my first two degrees, I joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and two years later was in charge of helping create and implementing their new hazardous waste regulatory program. Six years later, I was fortunate enough to be selected to come to California to help reorganize their hazardous waste regulatory program. I was doubly fortunate in that I was surrounded in both jobs with very talented, dedicated people, who were equally passionate about protecting our environment and helping change the way industries and local governments managed their hazardous wastes.
For Mary Margaret, when she came to the University of Michigan in 1969, she was equally passionate about the inequities in life and quickly got involved in the Black Action Movement and participated in various protests and activities on campus in support of equal rights throughout her years at the University.
Looking back on our lives, I am proud to say that we both, in our unique ways, were active in the two biggest cultural movements of our times: the equal rights movement and the environmental movement.
Now, it is a new era. The mantle of involvement has been passed on and new agents of change are stepping up and are eagerly dedicating their energies to evoke change. The two biggest cultural movements now are women’s rights and student rights for safety in schools. We are very proud of our kids who have stepped up and have become active by marching in these protests and bringing their families with them and getting them involved.
When Mary Margaret and I arrived in Florence, we had little expectation of seeing a large group of people protesting the gun violence in our schools and the embarrassing lack of significant response by our elected officials. After all, here we were in the very heart of the deep, red south, where gun laws are at a minimum and people are passionate about their rights to carry arms, even the deadly assault weapons that have played such a violent role in so many school mass murders.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that by the time the rally and march started, we were about 200 people strong.
To start the program, seven students, ranging from a six grader, to high school students, to a young college student, all gave very passionate and inspiring speeches that evoked many cheers and much applause from the audience.
After the speeches, armed with protest signs that we made by hand at the rally, we all then marched around eight blocks of the central part of Florence.
During the march, I was proud of Mary Margaret’s passion as she was one of the marchers leading our chants. She would yell out: “Protect Kids” and then the rest of us would return our shouts of: “Not the Guns”. Man, it was like being back in our heyday!
During our time in support of the students we met many wonderful people, all as passionate about protecting our kids from school violence. The marchers were of all ages, ranging from “old farts” like ourselves, to younger couples who have kids in schools, to new mothers and fathers, pushing their infants in strollers. It cheered our hearts to see so many people making the point that enough is enough and changes need to be made to stop these horrible killings.
It was interesting to note that we also had a small group of NRA people doing their counter protest. There were 5 or 6 men, holding signs in support of the NRA.
I do wish to mention that most of the people we talked to believe in the second amendment but recognize that times have changed since it was written over 200 years ago and that there needs to be more controls on people who buy and own guns and a ban on assault styled guns.
By the way, Stan, a fellow who I worked with back in my days in California, shared this YouTube video of Buffalo Springfield singing one of the many protest songs during the 60’s and 70’s. I have posted it here and invite you to watch and listen to it. The words are just as appropriate now as they were back in our heyday.