Editorial, The further education of movement kids

cops n kids
Police giving kids the “bad influences” lecture. Depending on the content and manner in which that is taught, it might be a good or a bad influence. From the National Police Twitter feed.

So what about the kids and the protests?

Adults often use kids in their political disputes with one another, sometimes in unconscionable ways. It’s bread-and-butter stuff for the US “cultural wars.” ‘Wouldn’t want to allow kids into a theater where they practice thespianism, would you?’ — the reverend might suggest, while his wife takes the liberty of demanding the removal of a list of books she’s never read from a public library so that nobody can read them, based on an argument that kids might.

That’s up there, even if down here we have reverends with weak morals and politicians with no original thoughts who serve constituencies of themselves looking north for flourishes. Here we have just had a prolonged public schools teachers’ strike and lost school days to make up or not. Here, in a month of protests we saw police take at least 137 minors into custody at the protests. It is reported that only 14 of these were accused of actual crimes like vandalism or assault. These kids were taken before juvenile authorities and released to parents or guardians, with warnings about children attending political protests unaccompanied by responsible adults.

There were maleantes, juvenile and adult, mixed in with the crowds of a month-long, nationwide protest, but those were the relatively rare exceptions. The cops were generally well behaved, concentrating on preventing or suppressing violence, but among the relatively rare exceptions they tear gassed a group of kids playing basketball in Parque Urraca, and then as the fumes wafted upward, the whole neighborhood.

We are left with questions about what kids lost in the strike, and the nature and duration of the compensation for that. This is the cue for stormtrooper types to wail about kids ruined forever by the loss of 27 school days and, in some cases, exposure to subversive elements. The truly bent among the stormtroopers will applaud the performance of a Panamanian lawyer who shot down ASOPROF teachers’ union activist Abdiel Díaz and a teacher’s husband at a protest barricade in Chame.

Yes, I have seen the little monsters left untended during the strike act up in the neighborhood. But I also saw kids at or near the barricades, usually accompanied by parents or grandparents. There are legal bans and cultural taboos, so I avoided taking pictures of kids – just like, for a different but comparable set of reasons – I avoided photos wherein cops might be identified.

The unions as a matter of discipline avoided incorporating minors into their ranks as full participants on the barricades. No sense in exposing the syndicate to contributing to the delinquency charges, nor of exposing naïve kids to dangers that could be deadly. Minors standing by watching, even helping with the protest field kitchen? Sitting next to grandma in the shade, taking in the scenery and listening to what labor leaders had to say, generally addressed to adults? Those things I observed.

And what about the new factor that exploded onto the national political scene and will be with us for years to come? Sal De Las Redes – a double entendre of ‘get off the Internet and take action’ and of ‘salt of the Internet’ – is composed of young folks, mostly university-aged but some not yet legally adults. This generation has some different criteria from the likes of SUNTRACS and ASOPROF, and the cool high school kids want to be like them.

So what about the education of kids who took to the streets with adult protesters? What about the education that they lost?

Well, yeah, if they missed algebra classes about various important theorems, those lessons will have to be made up. They may have picked up some chemistry and biology listening to older and better-educated activists talk about things like what mine tailings washing into the sea can do to coral reefs or what breathing in copper mine dust can do to the human body, but basic biology and chemistry lessons are not to be just skipped.

But do consider the other side of the equation. The kids on the barricades, joining the protest marches and participating in the online debate about our national crisis may have picked up a few bits of history along the way, but the far more important lesson was that they MADE HISTORY.

Did the teenage boys in Victoriano Lorenzo’s guerrilla army just go away after the conflict ended in tragedy? Actually they didn’t. They generally went back to living their individual lives, diffusing the Liberal guerrilla wisdom that they had picked up among families, friends and Panamanian society at large. When the 1903 Conservative coup had run its course, they tended to vote for Belisario Porras, who in his turn created the Instituto Nacional with its mission including the preservation and development of our national traditions.

So what about the educational gains of THIS generation of underage activists?

From my perspective, their understanding of what they saw and read would be enriched by some instruction about what yellow journalism is, about the origins of the phrase and the existing since ancient times demagogic practices that instructed the worst of the Gilded Age media barons. They ought to learn who Julius Streicher was and why he was hanged. They ought to learn how to think critically about things that they see, hear and read.

A few people among the protest movement produced some good graphics and some good videos to promote the cause. Let that be just a start. Let’s have a new generation of artists, designers and communicators to make Panama world class in these fields.

Did characterizations like anarchist, fascist, communist and liberal get bandied about, often with woeful inaccuracy? Let’s give the kids of the barricades an education in civics, a subject on a continuum from stunted to forbidden ever since the onset of the 21-year dictatorship. Let it sink in that selling one’s vote for a bag of groceries is one of the many forms of betraying one’s country. Let’s have a generation that knows the legacies, origins, triumphs and scandals of various ideologies scorned or idealized much more than understood.

And let the kids also understand that the freedom of expression includes the right to make mistakes, even the opportunity to make asses of themselves.

These kids have seen history, the best of them have helped to MAKE history, and let’s now help them understand what they have done. For one thing, so that they don’t buy the word of shills for the mining company who tried but failed to sell another colonization of Panama.

Don Justo
Don Justo Arosemena Quesada.

The police officer’s mission is to protect without harassing, to prevent crimes without causing greater harm. [S]he should be vigilant but not suspicious and restless and should not use the pretext of pursuing crime to satisfy personal grudges.

Justo Arosemena

Bear in mind…

There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.

Sister Mary Rose McGeady

Confidence has to give us peace. Good faith is not enough, it must be shown, because men always see and rarely think.

Simón Bolívar

Leadership means calmly taking the right direction in a changing world.

Tsai Ing-wen


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