Standing on one side of the fence and looking into the football field as it filled up with middle-school and high-school students was heart-wrenching. I had to keep myself from sobbing out loud. It was an unexpected response; I was there to be of support not a wreck on the sidelines. But something else took over. Their innocence, and all their losses perpetrated by the rest of us. This besieged and plundered earth; an entitled economic system exploiting their future; the rising tides of paranoia and fear being perpetrated for the sake of perverted power; how they have become targets of the dispossessed, the insane, the manipulators, all who so willingly destroy innocence for the sake of exploitation.
They gathered in innocence and in hope. They walked with dignity around the field. Some turned to us and waved; some looked and took us into their gaze; some simply looked straight ahead, immersed in their intention. They all reflected the innocence and hope of the world in hopeless-feeling times.
The fence protected them—from us. And how fitting is that? All-too-fitting, I think as they claimed their turf in stride and then gathered together in a circle of remembrance, prayer, and/or whatever personal reflection was right for each young person present. “You can’t keep on doing this to us,” was the picture as they closed ranks with bowed heads and backs turned. It felt as though we had no right to be in that field. They owned it and deservedly so.
I thought about my own protests on the streets against the Vietnam War. In the late 60s, I spent two years at Fort Dix New Jersey. I volunteered at the Army Hospital where young men, of all colors, came back in pieces from that war. There were race wars out on the streets during those years as well as that ruthless war in Vietnam. If you were black, you could be sent to fight for your country. But when you came back, nobody would fight for you. When I peace-marched with my son in a stroller on the under-construction freeway through Seattle, there were many observers. “They don’t know the suffering,” I was thinking. “They don’t have a clue.”
And that’s how I felt on the other side of the fence. I don’t have a clue. These students have grown up in a dystopian world run amok with exploitation of humanity and the environment and we don’t have a clue—even as we all bear some responsibility. They gather in the innocence of the knowledge of what could be possible. Our innocence is lost. It is time for us to take a back seat and support their hope and faith in the future. To get out of their way and do our best to support the changes necessary to restore some of the integrity of life on earth—for all living things.
Now, if only I could quell the fear of the next manipulated disaster that will send us all into our caves of fear and isolation. My own prayer is that hope, and innocence and compassion will prevail. In some ways it always has—even as the Great Divide does its best to gut us of our connection to one another and our strength together. The students in the football field of Friday Harbor High School and Middle School needs us to stay on their side—and stay out of their way.
Thank you to them all.
Janet Thomas has lived on San Juan Island for 27 years. She is the San Juan Islands Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance and was the Superintendent of San Juan County Parks when Jet-ski-whale-watching was prevented from launching from San Juan County Park, a decision ultimately upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. She is an author and playwright whose work has been produced in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her most recent books are: "The Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations" and "Day Breaks Over Dharamsala--A Memoir of Life Lost and Found."