On Thursday night, I watched a summer junior theater production of Newsies, which my daughter stage managed. The lyrics to several songs struck me as just as eerily relevant for our time as they were more than a hundred years ago. “Watch What Happens” is a song sung by a fictional journalist, a rare female at the time, who covered the newsboys strike, a real-life strike that took place at the end of the 19th century. It’s a strike where kids, largely immigrant and poor, take on the richest publishers of the United States, who have raised prices on the newspapers that they sell at survival wages. They were successful, and their actions were a precursor to the child welfare movement that took another 20 years to occur, but raised public awareness of the exploitation of kids in the workplace.
The song goes as follows:
Give those kids and me the brand new century and watch what happens
It’s David and Goliath, do or die
The fight is on and I can’t watch what happens
But all I know is nothing happens if you just give in
It can’t be any worse than how it’s been
And it just so happens that we just might win
So whatever happens, let’s begin
I couldn’t help but envision the millions of kids who have been marching for action on climate, or even my own kids who asked me one day a few months ago at breakfast, “So mom, will we die from climate change?”
How do you answer that, when you know what I know?
Option A: “You’ll likely be fine, because you are ridiculously privileged, but millions of kids around the world won’t be so lucky?”
Option B: “I have no idea. A lot will depend on whether a bunch of people that you have no control over get their act together over the next 8 years. But just know, I’m fighting hard.”
It’s a thoroughly depressing set of options. No wonder so many kids around the world have decided protesting is a more valuable use of their time than going to school.
But this week was a reminder that every now and then, everything we, and those kids, are doing might, just might, be making a difference. Out of the blue, and from the morass of legislative gridlock in Washington, came a breathtaking piece of proposed legislation that gained the support of the generally-intransigent-on-most-things-environment-but-critical senator, Joe Manchin. It was the last thing I expected. While it still may die, it gave me and many others, a glimmer of much needed hope.
The other song in Newsies, Once and For All, invokes another Joe from that era:
Ten thousand kids in the square, ten thousand fists in the air!
Joe, you is gonna play fair, once and for all!
Once and for all!! (3X)
There change coming once and for all
You’re getting too old, too weak to keep holding on
A new world is coming for you, and Joe, we is too!
It’s not just Joe. A new world is coming for Mitt, Ted, Lindsey, Mitch, Susan, Kevin and anyone else opposing action on climate. Our kids have too much at stake. 77% are somewhat or very concerned about climate change and the same percentage support the goal of achieving a 100% clean energy economy.
They know nothing happens if they give in, and they will soon be voters. Kids protesting helped change the world of labor more than 100 years ago. I’m confident they will usher in a brand new century in the age of climate as well.
Quote of the Week: “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”John F. Kennedy