The Common Good
May-June 1998

From Generation to Generation

by Bob Hulteen | May-June 1998

Will the good news become old news?

Ruth Bornstein’s The Dancing Man relates the story of an orphan boy, Joseph, who lives in a dreary village where life is hard and the people are laughless. Worst of all, no one dances.

One evening, an old man appears before Joseph and, stepping slowly, offers him a gift—dancing shoes. For years, the boy dances in these shoes, bringing great joy to many who live in the multitude of dreary villages throughout the region. But eventually Joseph grows old and tires. He can no longer dance, even though he knows the world will return to its dreariness without the gift he offers.

Just as he can go no further, he spots a young boy alone on the beach. Joseph dances up to the boy, sweeps off his hat, and declares, "I’m the Dancing Man, and I have a gift for you...."

Parents have long worried about passing on their moral systems to the next generation. Will our beliefs, values, and hopes end with our generation? Will the good news become old news? Parents whose faith calls them to address issues of social injustice experience an added burden—to pass on a world ever more just and peace-filled. From generation to generation, stories and experiences are passed—sometimes more effectively than others.

"Family Matters" is a new column intended to explore the interactions between and within generations, to explore the meaning of family in a postmodern culture. Here such topics as changing lifestyles to include aging parents, modeling just gender roles, and balancing work and parenting will be considered. One issue confronting activist parents when sabers are rattled is the inclusion of children in protest activities.

ON THE ANNIVERSARY of the assassination of the six Jesuit priests, their coworker, and her daughter in El Salvador, a time of witness and commemoration is held at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. This school houses facilities for training Third World military troops in acts of terrorism against people in their countries.

On November 14, 1997, 20 members of the Community of St. Martin’s in Minneapolis—10 over age 16 and 10 under—boarded two vans to make the 25-hour trek to register their disgust that the U.S. Army welcomes an institution of such ignoble repute. The decision to include kids from 5 to 15 in this endeavor was not an easy one. The SOA reeks of evil. Images of tortured and murdered campesinos, priests, nuns, and laborers were seared into our minds.

It is impossible to shield children from these horrors. If they have shared in intercessory prayers for regions of struggle, they are aware. Excluding them from participation in actions to address the problem is disempowering.

Nine-year-old Korla Masters believes "the appropriateness of taking kids depends on how mature the kids are....When I think of the SOA, I think of the cover of the book by Jack [Nelson-Pallmeyer; the cover of School of Assassins shows a re-enactment of murder being carried out by SOA graduates], and get sick to my stomach. Such a place has no reason to exist."

Though sickened by the realities, these kids are not surprised by them. "I feel strongly about stuff like the SOA," offered Zach Clemens, 12, "as well as the demonstrations at Alliant Tech," a Minneapolis corporation that builds, among other things, landmines.

Zach’s father, Steve, adds, "The kids who protest at Alliant or who go to the SOA see people acting on their values and modeling forms of protest that respect other people." He continues, "After it’s all over, they participate in the celebration, which shows we don’t take ourselves too seriously. They see people being released from jail and hugging their friends."

Relations are very important. Traveling together granted ample time for relationship building and preparation for the action. As Hannah Nelson-Pallmeyer, 10, said, "We stopped for breaks together, we ate together; it was like one big family" on the trip.

Svea Holmvig-Johnson, 7, adds, "It was a safe feeling to be protesting something I don’t like with my friends, my dad, and other grown ups." In fact, Svea said, "If it’s not closed next year, I want to be back and have even more people show up." Five-year-old Ella Masters is optimistic: "I hope they close it down. If they do, I will be happy, and I’ll sing and dance."

Ah, the torch may well be passed dancer to dancer.

The other youth participants from the Community of St. Martin’s were Jenna (15) and Matthew Dingman (12), Michael Thompson (12), Ian Griggs (12), and Chrissy Rustin (15). In 1998, the anniversary action at Fort Benning will occur November 22. For more information, contact SOA Watch, 1719 Irving St. NW, Washington, DC 20010; (202) 234-3440.

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