Congratulations Class of 2020. You and your friends are amazing. You graduated high school and college, endured a worldwide pandemic that closed classrooms, and commenced with grace and dignity.
Then you and the community helped organize some of the largest street demonstrations that our valley and state has witnessed in a very long time.
Sure, the Class of 2020 had help from younger and older people. That’s how society works. But wow, over 1,000 people reportedly turned out on a rainy Saturday in early June, in politically conservative Kalispell, working to establish justice.
In Whitefish hundreds of predominately young citizens routinely lined the sidewalks adjacent to City Hall, to rally attention to injustice in America. Young Grace Jensen was at the demonstration and took an iconic photograph that suddenly traveled America in a flash.
Later, on national television, Whitefish graduate Samantha Francine recounted the words of her father, “Look them in the eye so they have to acknowledge that you’re human.”
These weren’t small protests. They were larger than the Women’s March of 2017. They’re the largest street demonstration I’ve seen in the valley in the past three decades. We didn’t see this kind of street turnout during wars, not during the tea party demonstrations, and not during any recent airing of grievances and demands for redress.
Class of 2020, this clearly wasn’t the work you and friends expected. Yet, you amaze us with your calls for justice. You embraced democracy. You embody the spirt of our Constitution. Your peaceful work will help establish a more just and perfect Union.
One might imagine more older Americans would’ve joined you on the streets. A lot of us are clearly intimidated by the contagious virus that’s killed more Americans than World War I. Today we remain in awe of your power.
I’ve listened as your generation kept warning politicians about climate change, which looks to be overrunning our planet. My young friends, we saw the power of your social justice push for marriage equality. You’ve turning the world around. You keep doing it. That’s what youth always does, throughout the years, as America keeps growing up to be our best.
My young friends, if nothing else, consider this. The ballot box is your friend.
This fall’s elections are full of old men candidates. I know, I know, all the youth in my area voted for inspirational Whitney Williams for governor. And yet the slate of statewide candidates remains solidly old men, with the bright exception of Kathleen Williams for Congress.
When I was young, I too saw friends hauled from campus buildings, beaten by unmarked forces at demonstrations, and marchers on the streets as Americans demanding change.
Change is your right, yet you’ve got to work to make it happen. Be peaceful about it. Engage the elections, hold your vote ransom until the old men candidates meet with you or join you on the streets of Montana.
Class of 2020, help my generation and older see the way, hear your visions, and demands for action. We know you’ll inherit the world. You’re the peacemakers. Always were, always will be.
Look friends, change happens when the daughters of people in charge say enough. That’s how it politically works. Sure, dads will somewhat listen if enough sons participate, but when the daughters of America demand change, stuff happens.
Democracy in America requires civic participation — always has. You get it. You’ve had enough. You’ve seen enough violence on the streets of America and are willing to work for change, toward justice. You see that the emperor has no clothes.
We thank you for the courage to stare directly at those hovering in the way of progress. The future is bright, my friends. I see it in your eyes.