By Michael G. Long. Algonquin Young Readers, 2021. 304 pages. $16.95/hardcover; $15.95/eBook. Friends Journal recommends for middle and high school students.
“Let us pray with our legs. Let us march in unison to the rhythm of justice, because I say enough is enough.” —Demetri Hoth, senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 2018
From the 1903 March of the Mill Children to more recent George Floyd protests, Michael G. Long draws an empowering timeline of the little-known activism and leadership of children in the United States’ most transformational protests. As the book ends with a five-page mini-manual titled “Tips for Marching,” his message is clear:
If there is a cause you care about that you want to bring to the attention of your community—or the nation—a great way to do that is to march. Like the kids in this book, you can stand tall and stride forward for peace, freedom, and justice for all.
Each chapter of this challenging and inspiring book covers a social movement, many filtered through the eyes of a youth activist. Long portrays young protesters demonstrating initiative, courage, conviction, and commitment as they persist through all manner of obstacles, including dismissal or violent opposition by the powerful leaders they seek to influence. He does not sugarcoat the hardships and disappointments they endured but takes a long hopeful view of goals achieved, even when years elapsed between action and change.
Children are shown both initiating movements and being the driving force in actions led by adults. In 1951, for example, youth took a leadership role when Barbara Johns and her schoolmates went on strike for better conditions at Robert Russa Moton High School: an action that ultimately led to the end of segregated schools in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case. In 1963, the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., for example, revitalized the Civil Rights Movement after Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrest. Led by veteran activists, it was powered by more than 1,000 children, as young as four years old, who skipped classes for almost a week of protest for civil rights and an end to segregation. They suffered arrest and police brutality, but more children joined in the protests each day until President Kennedy called for negotiations to end the standoff. Later that year, youth volunteered and marched in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
From civil rights to free speech, nuclear disarmament to DACA and Dreamers, Long highlights the role of youth in the great movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Particularly moving is his account of the young, mostly teenage runners of the Oceti Sakowin nation in 2016, who ran a 564-mile relay to bring their protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline to the Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, and then ran another 2,000-mile relay to Washington, D.C., to bring their petitions to the White House, voicing the urgency that becomes increasingly clear as the book progresses: “We’re sacrificing our bodies to do this for humanity, for the people, for Unci Maka, Mother Earth,” said Bobbi Jean Three Legs, one of the organizers.
This urgency grows through the latter chapters and the darkening days of the last Republican administration, as Long covers the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives, the School Strike 4 Climate, and the George Floyd protests. Thirteen-year-old climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor summed up their purpose in her words at the 2019 New York march on the UN Climate Summit: “A lot of us are giving up our childhood. But we are giving up our childhood to have a future.”
Kids on the March is a galvanizing read aimed toward a young audience. I would recommend adults read it along with children and use it as a guide for discussions and, if Spirit guides, support for youth activism.
Phila Hoopes is a freelance copywriter for green business. An occasional attender at Homewood Meeting in Baltimore, Md., and Patapsco Meeting in Howard County, Md., she practices permaculture and revels in her three indoor cats and assorted wildlife passing through her property in Baltimore.