A version of this piece was originally published in the Israel/Palestine Mission Network’s email newsletter and at Ecclesio.com.
Emma González is 18 and about to graduate from high school this Spring—and she gets things done. A daughter of Cuban immigrants, González sews many of her own clothes, is the President of the Gay-Straight Alliance at her school, and is a vocal survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida on February 14th. Emma, along with her classmates, has led the country in another movement of students standing up to lawmakers, policy wonks, and general adulthood apathy. She, along with her classmates, has “called BS” on politicians and the public, who have failed to act upon countless opportunities to change our country’s gun laws. And the students’ activism is gaining a momentum that past attempts lacked.
Though remarkable, this leadership by youth is not new:
Young Black activists have showed us this before—from 1963’s Birmingham “children crusade,” where students staged walkouts, “braving fire hoses and police dogs,”[CITE] to 2014’s Ferguson marches that faced police repression, tear gas, rubber bullets, and jail cells. Though countless unarmed Black youth have continued to die, they continue to respond that their lives matter.
Young native people led the cause in Standing Rock, North Dakota to protect their water. Though the cameras have left them and the state and federal governments have abandoned them, they continue to respond with steadfast protection of their resources.
Young undocumented folks endure family separation, financial and future uncertainty, public shaming, failure to act by lawmakers, and the worst of American exceptionalism, and still they continue to respond that they are here to stay.
I was in Palestine and Israel for sixteen days at the beginning of February. During the trip, I made sure to schedule a time to visit the village of Nabi Salih, located near Ramallah in the West Bank, where, from 2010-2016, the village held weekly marches to protest the occupation. During that time period, around 350 villagers were injured by Israel troops during their peaceful marches. Nabi Salih is home to Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, who just spent her 17th birthday in an Israeli jail for slapping a solider, which went viral on the internet.
When in Nabi Salih, we spent some formal time discussing Ahed’s case in the Tamimi home, full of Tamimi cousins (including the incomparable Janna Jihad, the youngest reporter in the world) and neighbors. After a while, coffee was served and we had some time to start a few side conversations. I was sitting next to Bassem, Ahed’s father, and asked him, “What is the role of family members—the ones that are left behind in the movement? How do you feel about Ahed being at the center of this all and how do you respond to the criticism you receive of having her at the forefront?”
They come for us because we are Palestinians, not because we are protesting. They come for us when we are sleeping at night in our beds, so why would we choose not to protest on the way? It is our responsibility to raise our children this way.
Racism oppresses Black people not because they lead marches, but because they are not white; colonialism constrains native people not because they build resistance camps to save their water, but because they are native; “Ameritocracy” and “American exceptionalism” limit undocumented students, not because they lobby lawmakers for their rights, but because they lack specific legal documents.
If they attack us at night when we are sleeping in our beds, why would we choose not to protest on the way?
Some have said in the past few weeks that children are used as crisis actors in situations like the Parkland shooting, and they’ve been saying this for years about children resisting in places like Palestine. To them, I say, it is our responsibility to raise our children this way.
Young people and children have a voice in this cause. They are using it, currently. They are not the future—they are resisting, currently. They are giving us eyes to see and ears to hear, and we would be foolish to diminish them as inexperienced or mischaracterize them as actors without agency.
It is our responsibility to raise our children this way—to raise their voices and in turn, listen up. Listen up to what young people are teaching today: Free Ahed. Free Palestine. Black lives matter. Water is life. We are marching for our lives, and we are here to stay.
To readers confused about the name “Janna Jihad,” we refer you here. To learn more about Ahed Tamimi, visit this page. Sign the petition to release her here. You can also get involved with Black Lives Matter, support young DACA recipients, or join the Parkland students’ March for Our Lives on March 24.
Author Bio: Addie Domske is a proud resident of the Chicago southside, an M.Div graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary, and an MSW graduate of University of Chicago. She has done human rights work from Palestine to France, and when not leading the young people of St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church, she chairs advocacy for the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA). Addie has a cat, two turtles, and a bearded dragon named Tina Fey; but the coolest fact about Addie is that her spouse is a real live astrophysicist—far out!