Saturday, March 31, 2018

Photographs of the Month

March 4

National Walkout Day, Senn High School, March 14

March 14

Musicians of the Civic Orchitestra of Chicago
mentoring members of the Senn High School Orchestra, March 14

Senn High School Combiined Band and Orchestra with new member (right), March 14

March 26

Mid-Century Modern, March 29

March 30

Friday, March 30, 2018

Brush with Greatness II

Many years ago I was at the kind of establishment that we old timers used to call a "record store" in Chicago's Loop. At the time this particular store had the most complete selection of recordings in the city and was THE place to go for just about anything recorded on vinyl, but especially for their extensive catalog of classical music. On that particular day, it so happened that a very famous violinist was there, signing albums of his which customers purchased in the store. It was at the end of his ordeal (at least that's how I would describe it from the look on his face) when a young boy, maybe eight years old, after waiting his turn as the last person in line, finally made it to the table where the famous violinist was sitting. The boy was carrying his own violin and it was obvious that the man sitting at the table was his idol. "Mr. Famous Violinist..." (not his real name), said the little boy, "...would you please play something on my violin?" The way the world famous violinist looked at that little boy, you'd have thought the child asked him to slit his own throat. "No..." the famous violinist said to the little boy, "...I can't do that.". That was that, and off into the sunset went the famous violinist, leaving a crushed little boy and his violin behind in the dust.

How that incident ultimately affected the boy I'll never know, but it sure gave me pause about the thought of meeting celebrities whom I admired. Even though my relatively few encounters with famous people have ranged (with the exception of this one) from pleasant to downright inspirational, I still have the nagging thought in my head that given the chance, I'd rather take a pass on meeting someone I truly admired, lest the impression of my idol would be forever tarnished by the fact that the person is actually a jerk.

But a couple weeks ago I was offered a chance I couldn't pass up, to document the visit of a very famous musician, and someone I've always admired, to the school where I have been photograping for the past three months.

Like the famous violinist in the record store, from all outward appearances, this musician projects a gregarious, friendly, public demaeanor. That made me all the more suspicious; could his public face really be just an act?  Could this famous musician, perhaps the most recognizable classical music artist in the world at the moment, really be a jerk, just like the famous violinist? 

Like famous people often do, the musician kept us waiting. The school's orchestra and concert band were on hand for the event and filled up the music room to well beyond capacity. Members of the Chicago Civic orchestra were also there, personally mentoring the student  instrumentalists. No one knew exactly what to expect from the famous musician, would he give a lecture, would he treat us to a small performance, or would he just sit regally up front, privileging us with his mere presence?

Eventually there was rumbling in the room. "He's coming, he's coming.." the adults wispered in admiration, much like the members of the orchestra in the cartoon whispered "Leopold, Leopold..." as Bugs Bunny impersonating the great conductor Leopold Stakowski walked up to the podium.

"Find a chair..." someone whispered, "...he wants to sit in the cello section."

Like all important people, the great man had an entourage who preceeded him. Members of a film crew hired by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were on hand filming a documentary Then came an assistant who carried in the famous musician's instrument.

Finally, in came Yo-Yo Ma who took his seat among the cellists as he sat in with the band...

Now I don't necessarily believe that every picture is worth a thousand words, or that one can read into the soul of a person simply by looking at a photograph. But I think these pictures testify to the fact that my trepidations of Yo-Yo Ma were put aside the second he entered the room and began playing music with the students.

The combination orchestra/band with their new second cellist played an excerpt of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and an arrangement of Dave Brubeck's Take Five. After the music was finished, there was time for the students to ask questions. When the orchestra director opened the floor, there was the typical few seconds of awkward silence, followed by a few giggles coming from the assembled, including the guest of honor. Finally someone worked up the courage to ask why Mr. Ma originally chose the cello. He told the kids that the instrument he really wanted to play was the double bass, because it was the biggest instrument in the orchestra. But being only four at the time, and a smallish four at that, the double bass was not a practical choice. 

Yo-Yo Ma exchanging thoughts with students at Nicholas Sean High School

Then someone (not a cellist) asked if he ever got tired of playing the cello. That question gave Mr. Ma pause to think and become philosophical. He said that while practice can become mundane and somewhat tedious, it paves the necessary path to be able to connect with the music written over the centuries, be it written by Tchaikovsky or Dave Brubeck, two wildly divergent composers, or any of the other composers from the baroque to the current day in his remarkably varied repertoire. Then he added that the true joy of his work is connecting with other musicians, such as those assembled in that room, in the effort to in turn, connect with people gathered to listen to the music. That, he said, is where the magic comes in.

After a few more questions, his assistant came back to retrieve Mr. Ma's cello. A few kids asked if they could take selfies with the maestro, who gladly obliged. After trading a few pleasantries with the orchestra and band directors, both of whom confided with me that they got no sleep the night before, Mr. Ma was gone, leaving the room filled with musicians young and not so young, with a feeling of exultation.

I can't say for sure quite how many of the students assembled in that room knew of Mr. Ma before being introduced to his work by their teachers before he came to their school. but they're all serious musicians so the meaning of his visit was not lost upon any of them. A couple of the kids I talked to, with tears in their eyes, were moved beyond words. That said, everyone was swept up by the tremendous generosity of his spirit and I think it's fair to say that not a soul in the room, Mr. Ma included, will forget that magical day anytime soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Another Opening Day

The day I dreaded for oh about four years finally arrived. It was the day my son was told he didn't make his high school's Varsity baseball team. While the news didn't come as a shock, it was painful just the same, as my boy eats, drinks and breathes baseball. He's a good, solid ballplayer who probably could have made the roster of just about any other Chicago public high school varsity team. But he happens to attend a school with an exceptional baseball program and came there in a year as part of  a bumper crop of very talented freshman players. The coach had to pick 25 players out of 50 kids trying out for the team and my boy simply didn't make the cut.

This week is spring break and the newly picked varsity team is currently on a barnstorming trip to Florida, including playing against one of the best teams in that state, which happens to be the team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Adding insult to injury is that both he and I keep receiving notices on social media from friends who are on that very exciting and emotional trip.

Life goes on and today is opening day for Major League Baseball. The experience hasn't soured my son on the game  as he's been looking forward to this day since the last game of the World Series last year. I can't say the same for myself, as not only does this particular day bring a touch of sadness and melancholy to me, but today's cold, gloomy weather doesn't exactly inspire me to write about baseball. It is still March isn't it?

Well tradition is tradition and as I have every MLB opening day since I began writing this blog nine years ago, I feel compelled to write a tribute to what I still believe is the greatest game ever invented.

This year I thought it would be fitting to include not only a tribute to the game, but also to my son and how he brought me to the game as much as I brought him to it.  The following came from an introduction I wrote for a website devoted to baseball that I worked on diligently but never saw through to its completion. Perhaps I'll turn it over to my boy who knows as much about today's game as anybody I know. The following is dedicated to him:

I've always been a baseball fan but I truly fell in love with the game in earnest during a ball game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, while sitting in the stands with my wife who was pregnant with our first child. We knew we were going to have a boy and it dawned on me that beautiful August evening that in a few years, I'd be playing catch with my son. Suddenly the game took on a whole new meaning. No longer was it the casual amusement I took for granted as a spectator and occasional participant. It was now part of my culture, the game of my country and its people, a precious institution I'd be entrusted to pass on to the next generation.

The idea for this website came about ten years later when my son and I found ourselves at that same ballpark. After a ball game we went across 35th Street into the parking lot which happens to be the site of old Comiskey Park, former home of my team, the Chicago White Sox. On the pavement are marble slabs marking the site of the long gone ballpark's home plate and batter's boxes. My boy stepped into what once was the left handed batter's box. Without any prompting from me he said: "Babe Ruth stood on this spot."

I knew at that moment, for all my faults as a parent, at least I did something right.

Ty Cobb, and Joe Jackson also stood on that spot as did Ted Williams. Mickey Mantle, Cool Papa Bell, both switch hitters. worked from that side of the plate part time, while Reggie Jackson and my personal hero, Harold Baines worked there full time. And now my son, himself an aspiring ballplayer stood on that spot.

Some folks criticize baseball for being a game that is obsessed with its past. Perhaps that's true. Our boss was perplexed one day when he walked in on my colleague and me as we were debating the specifics of a ball game that took place 100 years before. But baseball is every bit as much about the future as it is about the past. Every year come April on opening day, the thought on the mind of the typical fan is that this WILL be the year. And not a small number of young (and not so young) American men (and women) put themselves to sleep at night dreaming that one day they will hit the walk off home run or strike out the side in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. Bringing it full circle, when that happens, the commentators will compare their feat to Bill Mazeroski or Christy Mathewson.

The day my son and I stood before home plate of old Comiskey Park, I couldn't help but think about all the wonderful afternoons and evenings I spent as a young fan in the stands of that beautiful old ballpark on the south side of Chicago, which led me to thinking about the cyclical nature of baseball, a game that transcends time, space, class, gender and age. The game of baseball has no defined beginning, middle, or end. The names might change, but just like the course of a great river, over time, baseball just keeps flowing on.

Then I stopped thinking and my son and I did what came naturally to us, we played catch upon that hallowed ground.

My son's baseball dream while derailed for the moment, is certainly not over. He'll be playing in a summer league or two and possibly another in the fall. He works as a Little League umpire in our local park which should keep him busy this summer. Then there's also the possibility that he'll make the varsity team next year, his senior year. And who knows, maybe he'll play some ball in college and even beyond. But the sad truth is that all baseball dreams have to come to an end sometime, and far more often than not, it's because of circumstance rather than choice.

On the other hand, one's love of baseball doesn't usually end until a person is six feet under the ground, if then. There's always next year and the year after that and with it the hope that springs eternal that this one indeed will be the year.

Best of all for those of us so blessed, waiting around the corner, there's always another game of catch with your son.

On that I positive note I bid you adieu with the two happiest words in the American English lexicon, "play ball!"

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Case for Repeal

The March for Our Lives in Washington and other cities around the country this Saturday was by most accounts a tremendous success, at least if you are of the opinion that our children deserve to be heard on the issue of safety in their schools. Dozens of speakers, none of whom from what I could tell were above the age of twenty, gave harrowing accounts of their personal experiences with gun violence. Along with that, wrapped up in understandable emotion, some of the speakers got lost in the moment and let loose with rhetoric that didn't exactly stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

That point wasn't lost on the gun-toting members of the ulra-right who continue to make the accusation that the motivating force behind the march and the speeches is not the young people themselves, but adults on the "Left" who are using the kids to promote their own agenda. You can see for yourself as Fox News's Tucker Carlson leads off his story, broadcast the day before the march, with the headline "Gun Control March Backed by the Wealthy."  Carlson, who believe it or not, is one of the more level-headed of that network's talking heads, takes pains to rip into the logic of several Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School students, survivors of the mass shooting that took place on February 14.

Carlson tried to drive home the point that the anti-gun rhetoric of the students should not be allowed in public discourse because it is fueled by emotion and naturally, the people uttering it are only kids. I imagine his ire (whether it is genuine or not I have no idea), was only fueled by the actual speeches from the platform located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol Building and the White House, many of which called for the repeal of the Second Amendment.

Now to some Americans, the Second Amendment is as sacred as mother, the American flag and sweet baby Jesus. "Mess with my Second Amendment..." many Americans will defiantly tell you, "...and you're going to have to answer to three of us, me, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson."

I get it, nobody likes being told, especially by a bunch of teenagers that a right they enjoy should be taken away. While I've never owned a gun, I've shot them, and have to say this, it's really fun. My years as a photographer helped make me a pretty good shot, and it's quite satisfying to nail tin can after tin can with a pistol or a rifle. I've even used a shotgun to shoot a plastic milk container, thrown skeet style by a friend who was standing behind a tree, (cue the Duck Dynasty music). I can only imagine how irritating it would be, after investing a good chunk of money on a private arsenal,  to listen to kids a third my age tell me that their friends would be alive today if only I wouldn't be allowed to own my guns.

Given that, I seriously wonder which is the greater offense to gun owners, the thought that our constitution might compromised by examining the limits of one of its amendments, or the idea that someone wants to take away their stuff.

Rightfully we've come to accept that our constitution, from to each cross on every "t" to each dot on every "i" is sacrosanct. But few of us stop to really question what the document means, or why certain concerns are addressed while others are not. Sometimes it all boils down to the authors addressing issues that were specifically pertinent in their day. Take for example, the Third Amendment:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
This tidbit was written to forever put to rest a British law known as a Quartering Act, requiring local American governments, and even private citizens, to provide food and housing to British soldiers. These Quartering Acts, there were more than one, particularly irked the colonists and were one of the major grievances that led to the American Revolution. While the Third Amendment may come in handy one day, one never knows, no case has ever been brought before the Supreme Court which has used the Third Amendment as an argument. The amendment is irrelevant in our day as it addresses a matter that was settled with the founding of the U.S. Army, which has a policy of feeding and housing its own soldiers.

In much the same way, the Second Amendment was written to address an issue that was relevant at the birth of this nation, but not today:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
At the time of its writing there was still grave concern that the power of the Federal government would usurp the rights of state governments. The second amendment was written as a means to keep any potential standing federal army (there was none at the time of the creation of the Bill of Rights), in check by state militias which would be comprised of private citizens. An armed citizenry, so the theory went, would be an insurance policy for a general public weary of a central authority, against the theoretical possibility of losing their liberty as a result of a tyrannical federal government. Eventually these militias were organized into the state run reserve military units known as the National Guard.

Gun advocates continue to use the argument that the second amendment is a necessary tool for the citizenry to defend itself against the threat of a tyrannical government. However today, while the threat of tyranny certainly remains, it's a rather quaint pipe dream that a militia of citizen soldiers armed with AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons, would be any match for a government backed by the firepower of the U.S. military. Not that fringe groups like the Branch Davidians, and the Oregon Militia haven't tried it, typically with disastrous results to themselves and their supporters.

Which brings me to the point of this post: is the Second Amendment relevant or necessary in our day and if not, is there a legitimate case for repealing it?

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens thinks there is. In an Op Ed piece published in the New York Times this morning, Justice Stevens writes that he considers the Second Amendment to be nothing more than aa "relic" of the eighteenth century that has zero relevance in our day.

Speaking with admiration of the events that took place last Saturday, Justice Stevens writes:
These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society. 
That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.
He then gives a little history of the way that courts have treated the Second Amendment though the years. The Second Amendment was virtually left alone until 1939 when the court unanimously ruled in favor of banning sawed-off shotguns as the weapon had "no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a 'well regulated militia.'"

The precedent of that ruling led to the understanding that government could indeed regulate the sale and posession of firearms. That understanding stood until a 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which in a 5-4 vote, the court overturned Washington D.C's ban on the sale of handguns, In that ruling, the court essentially declared that militias and individuals were indistinguishable. Justice Stevens was one of the dissenting voices in that ruling and Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in that case. As one of the most conservative voices of the Supreme Court in memory, and a self-declared champion of basing his decisions on the "original intent" of the framers of the constitution, Scalia was ironically responsible for one of the more radical, precedent changing rulings in court history, one that in Stevens's words: "has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power."

Stevens quotes former Chief Justice Warren Berger a conservative judge if there ever was one, characterizing the NRA's advocacy of the individual's (as opposed to the militia's) right to bear arms, as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

In a PBS interview made after his retirement, Berger also said that if he were writing the Bill of Rights in 1991 when the interview was conducted, "there would be no such thing as a Second Amendment."

Indeed, given the fact that there are as many guns as people in this country, that we have one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world, and that we are currently experiencing an epidemic virtually unhead of anywhere else on the planet of mass shootings, can anyone with a straight face seriously claim that we are better off with our Second Amendment?

There are valid reasons to own a gun. People legitimately use guns for hunting or target shooting. But those are hobbies, certainly not activities deserving protection from the constitution. Some people feel they need a gun for self-protection, although odds are that the gun they own is more likely to be used on themselves or their loved ones than used in fending off a bad guy.

It must be noted that a potential repeal of the Second Amendment would not mean that guns would be banned. It would simply remove them from the unreasonable protection they now have, that no other consumer product enjoys. Without the protection of an outdated constitutional amendment and a very questionable Supreme Court decision, a repeal would mean that common sense would dictate the regulation of the manufacture and sale of firearms, including what types of guns could and could not be produced, and the licencing of users who are competent enough to own them, just as other dangerous consumer products are regulated and licensed. It would enable buy-back programs that would allow people to be justly compensated for turning in their weapons, meaning fewer guns in circulation. And it would encourage studies from bodies such as the National Institute of Health into the causes and effects of gun violence in our society which are currently blocked by politicians who are under the thumb of the NRA.

Ah but those criminals aren't going to care about any laws or studies are they? Of course not. But it must be noted that the more guns that are manufactured, the more guns there are in circulation. Combine that with laws that are lax in determining who gets to own one, the more easily guns become accessible to people who have no business having them.

No, a repeal of the Second Amendment alone is not going to SOLVE the gun problem in the United States. Frankly I am loathe to tamper with our constitution at all, given the tremendous pandora's box it would create in regards to other parts of the bedrock of our democracy. If I had my druthers, I'd work with the tools the authors of the Bill of Rights have already provided within the framework of the Second Amendment. To the gun crowd who uses the Second Amendment as an argument to reject any enactment of gun control no matter how tame or reasonable I say this bluntly: "What part of the words 'well regulated' don't you understand?

Unfortunately those sentiments go unheard. Pleas for reasonable regulation of the manufacture, sale and ownership of guns are ignored by politicians beholden to the NRA, the gun industry that organization serves,  and their gun toting constituents, despite the bloodshed that occurs in this country on a daily basis due to guns.

Perhaps a new strategy is in order because the strategy of playing nice with the gun crowd by agreeing to work within the framework of the Second Amendment falls upon deaf ears. Perhaps the only way to reel in the madness that is overtaking our country as far as guns are concerned is to fight to remove an obsolete and irrelevant road block to making American sane again.

Along with that of couse is to work to elect like-minded public officials who are brave enough to take on what would certainly be a massive struggle fraught with peril.

To those who say that the ownership of guns is a fundamental liberty afforded to the American people by their constitution, I say this: no liberty comes without limits and responsibility. If you cannot accept the limitations and responsibilities that naturally come with a liberty, perhaps regretfully, you are not equipped to handle that liberty.

If it takes threatening to take away the Second Amendment like an adult might threaten to take a toy away from an spoiled, obstinate five year old child, well so be it.

Perhaps then, and only then, will the people in power start to listen. Perhaps then and only then will we begin to see results.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

For What It's Worth

If you've been paying attention lately and are old enough, something seems vaguely familiar. There was a song from the sixties* that to me perfectly defines that bygone era. Over fifty years after it was released, the song continues to be played frequently, and its lyrics ring true in our day; so much so it could easily be adopted by young people today as an anthem for their own generation:
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

The refrain of that song always brings me back to early June, 1968. Two months earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Menphis and as a result, much of the West Side of Chicago, a couple miles from from my home, was in flames. The National Guard, whose armory was in Humboldt Park a couple blocks away, mobilized along the parkway right in front of our apartment building on Humboldt Boulevard. To them, Mayor Richard J. Daley issued his infamous "shoot to kill" order, directed at would be arsonists.

That year the Vietnam War escalated after the Tet Offensive which took place in January. A regular feature of the evening news in those days was the death counts of soldiers on both sides of that war. "Radicals" as Middle America called them, for years had been protesting our inolvement in Vietnam. But on February 27, when the famed network TV anchor Walter Cronkite called for a negotiated peace after visiting the front lines, President Lyndon B. Johnson knew it was time to leave office. "If I lost Walter Cronkite..." he told his confidants, "...I've lost Middle America."

It was an election year. The void Johnson left as his party's nominee for president was filled by two Democratic anti-war candidates, Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. I distinctly remember watching with my parents, a June 1st televised debate between the two candidates, held in advance of the California Primary. It was a Saturday night. In case you're interested, here is an audio recording of that debate. Kennedy won that primary the following Tuesday, but he didn't have long to celebrate his victory.

The next day, I was awakend early in the morning by my sobbing mother phoning my grandmother who lived in an apartment downstairs telling her: "Bobby Kennedy's been shot."

Simply put, violence, war and death were very much a part of the world in which I grew up. What I just described was only the tip of the iceberg of the state of the world in 1968. My parents did little or nothing to shield me from all of that, and for that I thank them, because it made me conscious of the big world outside of my very little world at 1850 Humbolt Boulevard. I'd say it was a scary time to be a child but the truth is, it was all we knew as kids. But something hit me that morning of the 5th of June, 1968. The coincidences of Kennedy being shot (he died the next day) right after I had watched him on TV,  just two months after Dr. King, and five years after his brother the president, hit me profoundly. I remember lying in bed that morning, with the words of the refrain to For What it's Worth going through my head:
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Later that year, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago and all hell broke loose. Anti-war protestors from all over the country descended upon Chicago. The Dada infulenced leftist group known as the Yippies, who took joy in being a thorn in the side of the establishment, threatened to spike the city's water supply with LSD. That, and other antics got the attention of Mayor Daley who was still reeling from the King riots and the unwanted national attention they brought to him and his city. Daley hunkered down with his police commanders in an effort to ensure that the convention would come off peacefully, without a hitch. His efforts backfired.

The convention was held at the old International Amphitheater on the south side. Police cordonned off the area like an armed camp. But they couldn't cordon off the whole city, so protestors gathered Downtown in Grant Park, across the street from the Conrad Hilton Hotel where many of the convention delegates were lodged. Nobody agrees exactly who's to blame for the Grant Park riot, but there is no question that the Chicago Police, reacting to the taunting of the crowd which included having bags of human feces thrown at them, went bat-shit crazy.
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

While there were well established people from all walks of life who were active in the anti-war movement of the sixties, that movement will always be remembered by the overwhelming number of young people in its ranks. These were the baby boomers, children of the generation who lived through the suffering of the Great Depression and World War II, folks who didn't want to see their children live through the hard times they experienced. So they tossed out much of the old world and created what they believed would be a new and better world, one of single family homes in new communities called suburbs, connected by superhighways which tore old communities (and the human connections they made) apart limb from limb. The parents who lived through the war, well most of them anyway, saw to it that their children would have what they didn't, and would want for nothing. For their part, the children of the fifties and early sixties became restless and dissatisfied with the complacency of their isolated communities, and the boredom of what they considered their meaningless existence.

Many of them found meaning in the struggles for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that the history of both those struggles would have been much different, were it not for the grass roots activities and protests involving a great number of young people.

As a result, my peers and I, only a few years behind, followed in our immediate elders' footsteps in being passionate about world events and participatting wherever we could in activities that we saw could help change the world for the better.

In many ways, things did get better; the war eventually ended, and the enormous racial divide grew smaller, or at least, so we thought. Although the world was far from perfect, gains were made in other battles fought by activists in areas such as equality for women, protecting the environment, LBGT rights and many others. Eventually we got older, and complacency set in amongst ourselves; our direction shifted from egalitarianism to self-interest, while cynicism began to replace youthful idealism. But most of us continued at the very least, to vote, so ingrained in us that it was the very least we could do to improve our communities, our nation, and the world.

In retrospect, with the excpetion of atrocities that took place in specific corners of the world, things trended up in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Prosperity grew for most people, hostilities between East and West lessened as the Cold War warmed up, and with notable exceptions, the years between 1975 and 2000 were relatively peaceful. Children who grew up in the eighties and nineties, at least in the develpoed world, did not live with intractable wars, or were subjected to the great social upheavals that rocked the sixties and early seventies. For all intents and purposes, the period that led up to the turn of the millennium was a pretty good time to be alive and consequently, there was no great urge to change the world, or for that matter, at least for young people, to vote.

Then came 9/11.

My son is the same age as the students seen in these pictures, as they gathered around Senn High School on the north side of Chicago last week. They stood together with locked arms and formed a complete circle around the school's enormous front lawn, in solidarity with the students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where exactly one month before, a gunman opened fire and killed seventeen students and faculty members. Unlike the generation before them, today's high school students, born around the time of 9/11, have never known a world without war, without terrorist attrocities graphically depicted on the internet, and without mass shootings at schools. The latter is particularly relevant, as none of today's children have experienced going to a school and not being subjected to a terrifying lockdown drill, in preparation for an unlikely, yet still very possible horror that could befall them.

The Stoneman Douglas shooting was similar to the roughly 50 school mass shootings (in addition to mass shootings that have occured at other venues), that have taken place in this country since 1999, when two students walked into Columbine High School in suburban Denver, and killed 13 of their classmates and teachers, as well as themselves.  Unlike Columbine and the vast majority of school mass shootings, the students at Stoneman Douglas banded together to do something about it.

Their public actions in starting a nationwide student movement to push for responsible, common sense gun control as a means to address the calamity of mass shootings in this country, has been an inspiration to adults and students alike, all over the world. Their actions have also been roundly criticized by some, as an alterior motive, taking advantage of a tragedy in order to persue a political agenda, one that of course, the critics don't agree with. Some have gone so far as to say that the young people who passionately articulated their message at rallies and on radio and TV interviews, were not actually students from Parkland, but "crisis actors", hired guns paid by left wing activist groups to stir up public support of gun control. The ultimate goal of these groups, so the argument goes, is nothing short of a complete repeal of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right of Americans to bear arms.
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
The accusations that the kids weren't who they said they were are verifyable rubbish. It stands as proof that there are people in our country who will stop at nothing in order to promote their own political agenda, not even attacking children who witnessed their friends and teachers die before their very eyes.

Wednesday, March 14 was dubbed, National Walkout Day. Students all over the country were encouraged to walk out of school at precisely 10:00 AM local time, in commemoration of the Parkland Tragedy. The demonstations were to last about one half hour and would include seventeen minutes of silence, one for each life lost in the Parkland shooting. School officials and faculty, at least here in Chicago, are explicitly prohibited from promoting a political agenda, so the principals who were sympathetic to the cause, supported it by looking the other way, not penalizing the students who chose to leave their classes at the appointed time. The walkout was entirely voluntary, those who chose not to walk, stayed in their classrooms. Those principals who did not support the effort, either banned their students from leaving the school building altogether, or imposed punishments such as detentions for the students who walked out. 

The walkouts took on many forms. From the coverage I read about and saw dipicted in photographs, many included singing songs and carrying signs of protest against groups such as the NRA who steadfastly opposes any form of gun control, politicians who take money from that organization and sheepishly bend to its will, and the current administration which has so far been wishy washy at best on gun control. 

But by and large, the protests stuck to the message of making it possible to go to school without having to worry about getting shot. That included, but was not limited to stricter background checks on potential gun buyers and restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms such as the AR-15 rifle, which has been the weapon of choice among many mass shooters, because of its ability to kill a large a number of people in a short period of time.  

Huffing, puffing, ranting and raving, members of the far right cried foul at the thought of schools allowing kids to leave class to particpate in what they felt amounted to a political assault against ideas and values they hold dear, namely that the Second Amendment to our constitution has no limits and no responsibilities attached to it.

Cleo Shine and Rory Hayes, the leaders of Nicholas Senn High School's contribution to National Walkout Day 

As you can see from the photographs I posted, no one carried signs at the walkout at Senn High School. What you can't see, you'll just have to take my word for it, is that there also was no chanting, no breast beating, no berating of politicians or even the NRA. Most importantly, what you don't see are adults. Including myself, I'd say that out of about 1,000 people on the Senn lawn that morning, I could count on my fingers the number of adults present and still have a few fingers to spare. Yes the principal and one of her assistant principals were present as well as a few security people to insure the safely of the students. And yes the two young women who were the organizers of the event held bullhorns; they used them to direct the throng of students in a circle around the campus, no easy task. Then they used them to announce it was time for the seventeen moments of silence, which they pulled off. Imagine one thousand teenagers without any adult supervision standing silent for seventeen minutes. At the end of that, one of them used her bullhorn to read off the names of the Parkland victims. Fianlly the two women used their bullhorns to remind everyone to return peacefully to their classes.

Now some might have seen it as a lost opportunity, after all what kind of a demonstration doesn't have picket signs and chanting? But in my mind, the silence, dignity and respect that diverse group of Senn students showed at an event that was first and formost a commemoration of lives tragically lost, spoke louder than ten thousand words.

Indeed, not all of the school walkouts played out as Senn's did. I saw many inages of events staged around the country, including my son's high school a few miles away, where the adults seemed to be leading the charge.

Does the extreme right have a valid point when they say that adults are having children do their own bidding by encouraging them to go out and protest? Well, perhaps in some cases, yes. We'd like to think, some of us anyway, that our children have the initiative and intelligence to think for themselves. A little while ago I asked my eleven year old daughter if her feelings about the current president were entirely her own or if they were shaped by her parents' views. I was foolishly surprised and a little taken aback when she told me a little of both.

So yes, children are influenced by their parents, that should go without saying. What naturally follows then is the question, are parents setting a bad example for thier children by encouraging them to walk out of school, or even break the law, to demonstrate for a cause they believe is right?

Obviously that's a personal decision that every parent must make for him or herself. My personal feeling is that the core of our democratic republic and the spirit of our nation lie at the feet of people who willfully broke the law for what they believed was right. We owe our very existence as an independent nation to law breakers who started a revolution in order to rid ourselves of colonial rule. In the ninteenth century the injustice of slavery was met head on by abolitionists who defied what they believed to be immoral laws, as labor activists did who fought for the rights that today we take for granted at the workplace. Suffragettes defied laws in the early twentieth century so that women could have the right to vote, as did civil rights activists in the middle of that century who fought the battle to once and for all fulfill for all Americans, the promises made in the Declaration of Indepenence and the U.S. Constitution. And so it goes in our day as people continue to fight, sacrifice and when necessary break the law, to promote justice and decency.
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away
Implementing change takes will, courage and sacrifice. The men and women who shaped this country, from George Washington to Harriet Tubman, Albert Parsons to Susan  B. Anthony, Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King to Caesar Chavez, were no shrinking violets. Our nation was forged out of the actions of brave, heroic people who would not simply accept things as they are.

Critics of the school walkout claim that students would be better off by staying in their classrooms and learning, rather than being off marching outside. My question to those critics is this: what could possibly be a better civics lesson than having students follow in the footsteps of these great Americans, participating in an action that promotes a worthwhile cause?

Clearly we're not going to all agree on which causes are worthwhile and which are not; it's all in the eye of the beholder. Folks on the right lately seem to have a problem with the idea of activism and protest marches. But as this article by arch-conservative writer Pat Buchannan makes clear, nobody seems to have a problem with social activism, even acts of civil disobedience, when they promote ideals in which they believe.

Therin lies the rub. Would those of us who as I did, support National Walkout Day, feel the same if high school students walked out of school for a cause we did not believe in? That is the dilemma of life in a democracy, which is becoming more and more apparent  every day. We all love the First Amendment when it protects our own voice, but not so much when it protects the voice of others,

On the other hand, who on earth could possibly say the cause of keeping our children safe is not worthwhile?

Today a nationwide protest is scheduled called "March for our Lives." The focal point of the demonstration will take place on the streets of Washintgon D.C. where there will be a march led by several of the Stoneman Douglas student activists. The permit granted by D.C. authorities to the marchers was for 500,000 people, but many more are likely to show up in front of the U.S. Capitol Building at noon local time. In addition there will be satellite marches in cities all over the country including New York, L.A,, Portland and Chicago.

From yesterday, the following is an NPR interview with Cameron Kasky, the defacto spokesperson for the students:

Kasky's face and voice have been all over the media, social and otherwise for the past month. His strident demeanor may turn some off, but one cannot deny his eloquence in tackling head on, the tough questions thrown his way. It is clear he and his peers have an agenda, and they are not going to let anyone, not critics of their movement, nor adult supporters bent on giving them unsolicited advice, get in their way.

Clearly, we adults in America have dropped the ball when it comes to protecting our children in thier schools, so who is to say that children have no right to fight for their own lives?

Having just said that, I hope this adult who has seen a lot in his life, is not out of line by providing some unsolicited advice of his own:

Banding together to organize great public events in support of a cause is a worthwhile and wonderful thing, but it is only the first step. The next step may not be as glamorous, it may not provide for good photo-ops or get you nearly as much attention, but it will be a far more effective way to achieve your goal.

Organize a nation-wide voter registration drive for kids turning 18 before the national election this coming November. The balance of power in Congress is at a tipping point right now and with a crop of millions of passionate, driven new voters, the balance of power in our government may shift. At the very least, you will get the atention of politicians who for years could not care less about issues that affect young people for the simple reason that young people don't vote.

If there is any silver lining to our current political situation, it is that few of us will ever again take for granted the power of the vote, and perhaps more profoundly, the peril of not voting. That is a message that we adults must pass along to future generations, and a message that young people today simply can't let pass by.

You have the momentum and our attention now; grab it, and run with it. You are our hope for the future, and from what I've seen in the past month, I'd say our future is in very good hands.

* For What It's Worth, written by Steven Stills, performed by Buffalo Springfield, released January 1967