When I was seventeen my father told me that protesters like me should be lined up and shot. We didn’t appreciate how hard Nixon’s job was, he claimed. Did I want to have to dig foxholes in my backyard to protect my child from the Russians, he wanted to know.
His words stopped me, but not as he intended. It was not protesting against injustice that I stopped that day. I stopped listening to my father. I stopped listening to any ‘authority’ who told me that I had no right to my own voice.
I want to pass on one solid thing to young people who are raising their righteous voices against injustice today: I could not be more proud of myself and all the people of my generation who stood up against great odds and raised our voices in protest.
We marched in one struggle after another – for civil rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, and the rights of workers. We marched for prison reform, for inclusive education, for environmental protection, against nuclear power and against war.
I remember standing on a curb in Washington D.C. looking through the shield of a helmet into the eyes of a ‘peace officer’ armed with a bayonet. His cruel, cold stare warned me that one step off that curb and he would be glad to use that weapon on me.
I remember the smell, the taste and the burn of teargas. I remember the sound of police batons making violent contact with bone and tender young flesh. I remember blood and terror and tears. I remember arrests that filled stadiums, there were so many of us.
It was worth the risk. We have seen progress. Today that progress is threatened again, and you, the brave young, take up the torch of justice fiercely. Know that we are with you. We are a generation grown old and we have your back in pride and gratitude.
Already you face threats and lies aimed to sabotage your efforts. You are accused of deceit by liars. You are accused of disloyalty by fools who have committed treason. You know you are on the right side of history. I know that you will not regret your courage.