I had never seen them so quiet.
There was something haunting about the way the children clutched their poster boards and stared straight ahead.
They were like the statues of the Founding Fathers we had passed on the way there, solemn and unflinching and strong. They had a purpose. They had emotion. And they would stand there forever.
Huddled in my coat and scarf, I settled down on the road before the East side of the White House. Along with hundreds of other students, I turned my back on the capitol for 17 minutes on March 14 to support National Walkout Day.
I’m not political. I wasn’t there to shout at the president or criticize the NRA. I wasn’t even in D.C. just to protest gun violence. As part of the organization KidUnity, I had been herding 36 sixth-graders for half a week as we went from one meeting to the next, speaking to senators and non-profit organizations and journalists as we advocated for a variety of causes. In the spur of the moment, we had decided to gather art supplies and march to the heart of the city.
Anyone who has had to baby-sit even one twelve-year old can tell you that their attention span is very limited, their spatial awareness close to nonexistent and their adherence to rules inconsistent.
And if an elementary school student does not want to do something, you don’t convince him to care with cold-hard facts and obscure pieces of information.
You can’t force a child to do anything he or she isn’t invested in from the inside out.
The students had drawn all over their posters, filling the white background with their thoughts, hopes and wishes. They were filled with facts and name, but mostly emotion.
I used to tell myself that that the best way to stand up for what I believed in was to stick the facts and logical arguments. I shouldn’t ever get too caught up in a cause or let my emotions cloud my judgment. But the number one piece of advice all the NGOs and mentors and senators gave us was: to be passionate . They told us to be emotional, to do what you cared about and not back down.
I’m not going to lie, these kids couldn’t go five minutes without straying from the group, or complaining about the cold or giggling about their “crushes.”
But seeing how these kids took it upon themselves to advocate for the most underrepresented of causes, watching how confidently they spoke to elected officials and finally, how they all stood in the bitter wind to honor the lives of children not much older than them, I felt my heart swell.
My heart, not my mind, because the voice of reason can win battles, but the people who spark a revolution, whose statues stood beside me, were there for their fire and passion as much as their military and diplomatic achievements.
I had never seen them so quiet, and I had never seen them so expressive and vocal.