But after the Parkland shooting, my grandpa told me, “I said to myself, you know what, you have missed so many moments in history because you hesitated and didn’t pay attention. Don’t miss this one.”
As we made our way to the march on Saturday morning, my grandpa seemed overwhelmed, but determined to participate, to be a part of the mass of people filling up the street. He bought pins from a vendor on a corner. He proudly told the volunteers that, yes, he was registered to vote. When I suggested a shortcut, he told me he’d prefer to stay with the crowd.
I was worried it would all be too much for him—the claustrophobia, the performances, the chants, the standing in place. I inherited my constant need to be actively doing something from my grandfather, so being hemmed in by other humans on all sides, waiting for something to start, doesn’t appeal to either of us. At one point, my grandpa even pulled out his phone and asked me to show him how he could check into the march on Facebook. There wasn’t enough service, of course, but it touched me that, as he struggled to do something, anything, to help, he turned to what he sees as the domain of young people.
The fidgeting, the turning his head in circles, the asking every person he accidentally bumped into where they had come from—it all stopped once the students started speaking. My grandpa was entranced. He clapped harder than I’ve ever seen him clap for 11-year-old Naomi Wadler. He cried for Emma González.
The essential thing to know here is that my grandfather loves children—much more than the level typical of doting grandparents. Often, when I call him, he will spend the whole time on the phone telling me about a new child he’s met at his church’s soup kitchen, how kind this one is, how smart that one is, how another reminds him of me or my sister.
Over the last couple of years, a combination of things—the development of my own political interests, my grandmother’s death, the current state of the American government—has led my grandpa to tell me, nearly every time I see him, how important it is to support young people when they try to make a change. Since the day he decided he was coming to Washington, he’s been telling me he believes in “these kids,” how their very kid-ness will be the reason they triumph.
My grandpa is convinced that children are inherently unwilling to take “no” for an answer, and that this stubbornness is what will drive the post-Parkland movement. He calls this arrogance, but says it’s a good thing. He says that this arrogance is something that brings the very young and the very old together—both have a sense that nothing truly terrible can be done to them. All kids want, according to my grandpa, is to be treated like adults, to be given a task with which they can make themselves useful and proud. “Those kids, fate gave them a job to do,” he said. “And they’re doing it.”