“They’re going to be old enough to vote before we know it, and now’s when we need to start teaching them how to be part of it all,” said a dad, who had a preschooler perched on his shoulders and an even younger daughter sitting on the grass beside them. I'd stopped to talk to him at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., where I was with my own daughter, her friends, and some parents. Maneuvering our way through the crowd, we bumped up against babies—riding in strollers and strapped in carriers—toddlers, school-age kids, and teens. So many teens.
We’d managed to get close enough to the stage to see it, but we were far enough back to watch as waves of people continued to fill in behind us. We, too, came bearing signs and witness to the host of brave young people making their voices heard over the loudspeakers. To be honest, I hadn’t been a hundred percent sure about making the trek to D.C. (More on that in a minute.) But in the moment, my heart swelled as we stood transfixed by the earnest faces projected onto the giant screens that peppered the official route. And as I chatted with other parents about their decisions to march, I knew there was no other option but to be there. Here are six things we grownups were happy our kids learned:
1. Peaceful protest is a privilege, a right, and a responsibility. I grew up in a small town where many still view standing up to authority as “not nice,” so as we pulled into a giant stadium lot already filling with other buses, I still carried a lingering sense of doubt about the whole enterprise. Then city employees and volunteers, clad in bright yellow, greeted us and other marchers—including one busload that had just pulled in after an all-night trip from Chicago—with purpose and directions, and most important, a smile and implicit appreciation for our effort.
As one transportation department worker picked up the hat my daughter dropped, another shared cards with phone numbers that would provide us with all day text alerts. The feeling was undeniable: The march mattered.
2. We are all in this together. Taking action, putting one foot in front of the other, and singing and chanting along with people who may not agree with everything else that you do is a powerful demonstration of connection and unity in a country that today lacks both. As one mom put it: “This plants seeds that will take root and help them make a difference in this big, wide world.”
3. Everyone—no matter how young—deserves to be heard. Not one grownup spoke from the stage. And the brave kids who did—including ones who described the horrors of Parkland, Sandy Hook, and random violence in Chicago—spoke as eloquently and forcefully as any adult ever could. To be honest, their lack of years made their messages all the more powerful.
4. Role models don’t have to be rich and famous. Sure, my kid loves Lin-Manuel Miranda and Miley Cyrus, who were both on stage. But in her eyes, on this day, they were just needless warmups for Emma González, Yolanda King, Naomi Wadler, and Cameron Kasky. They were the real superstars.
5. Patriotism doesn't mean us vs. them. Walking with the throng, holding my daughter’s hand, in the distance we saw the U.S. Capitol, a building erected in 1793 as a place for representatives from throughout the country to meet and present the issues of their constituents for the greater good. That majestic dome was a reminder of how important it is to live where everyone’s opinion is supposed to matter. Our kids need to understand that Washington doesn’t belong to the politicians. The streets they marched on are their streets. That capitol is their capitol.
6. They can write the future. As the march wound down, I passed a four-year-old sprawled next to her mom, clearly exhausted after the long day. “This moment is going to be a part of history," the mom said. "Even if she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on right now, no matter what, someday she’ll know she was part of that history.”