A few years ago my three nephews came to spend a few weeks with us. Each day was a different adventure: short trips to the bowling alley, day trips to amusement parks, and long weekends at the beach.
Every time we’d get into the car, there would be a battle over what song to play. My daughter begged for pop songs, one of my sons wanted classic rock ballads, the other rap, meanwhile each of my nephews added a whole other genre of music to the mix. Whatever song was playing would be drowned out by a lot of kvetchy squabbling. The only time the arguments would stop was when a Green Day song came on. As soon as “Holiday,” or “American Idiot” would play, the whole car would erupt into joyful singing.
While my nephews were still staying with us, Green Day came to play a local concert. There’s no way we weren’t going to go. So my husband and I loaded up the car with six kids and lots of water and headed to Camden, New Jersey, to sing our hearts out. And, for three straight hours, that’s exactly what we did. The kids jumped and screamed and howled and sang along to every single song.
After “Holiday,” Billy Joe Armstrong, the lead singer, took a few moments to talk to the crowd. He mentioned how these are difficult days, how many people are feeling alone and discriminated against, how important it is to stand up for each other, to fight for equality.
I looked over at the boys as he was speaking. Each one of them was smiling and nodding. This wasn’t the first time that they’d heard these kinds of words. I’ve been giving all of them similar speeches since they were very small, and even more of them recently. But it was different coming from their favorite rock star.
As he spoke, I noticed that my daughter had gone back to the grass. She was lying down with a blanket practically covering her face. I sat down beside her and asked what was wrong. “I’m scared, Mama. What if Trump and the police come and arrest us for being here? This doesn’t seem like a concert anymore, it’s more like one of the marches.”
Two things about what she said struck me. One was that she was right. The blur between entertainment and politics has been eroding: speeches at concerts and celebrities at marches (even as I was thrilled that the entertainer at this concert was promoting political views in line with my own).
But the thing that impacted me even more deeply was what she said about “Trump and the police.” My daughter, age 8, has already determined that there are some things that the government doesn’t want you to say in public. And, the things she’s afraid that the government doesn’t want you to say are rather simple platitudes about fighting discrimination and respecting each other.
I reassured her that no one was going to arrest us, that it’s OK to talk about equality in public, and that freedom of speech is protected in our country. But I was left with a feeling of uneasiness, and I could tell that she was, too.
These are strange days, aren’t they? When a war widow is insulted and a hurricane-battered Puerto Rico gets bombarded with insulting tweets instead of sufficient help. When people who march for white supremacy are called “very fine people,” and racist sheriffs are pardoned by the president. When young immigrants who have grown up in this country are suddenly facing deportation and American citizens are chastised by the White House for exercising their right to peacefully protest police brutality.
All these actions send a message to our children about what the government values, what America values. And it’s a message that our children are receiving loud and clear. Kudos to Billy Joe Armstrong for showing our kids that there are many Americans, even famous rocks star ones, who want to send a different message.