It's like something out of a weird, 2022 version of the movie "Idiocracy": adult protesters sporting guns on (or adjacent) to public school property, handing out fast-food gift cards to ply teenagers to buck school and state rules. In that weird world, teenagers will bend to anything for a free burger.
While it sounds like something dreamed up by bored Hollywood stoners bent on capturing the worst of American tendencies, it's been an actual scene in Redmond over the past several weeks, where anti-mask activists—led by the guy who had the gall to dress up as a Confederate soldier during the most recent Redmond Fourth of July parade—have sought to turn high school students into the advance guard on the "freedom" front.
While the temperature of this debate was cooled a bit this week by the Oregon Health Authority's announcement that the state would rescind its indoor mask mandate no later than March 31, there's still plenty to comment upon here.
We can, as adults, debate on and on and on—for two years, as we've now seen during this pandemic—about the merits of masks or the perceived overreach our local governments have exercised throughout this long and arduous time. But there should be a bright red line that we, as adults, do not cross in our state of concern. We may dimly remember that once, we adhered to certain standards within our community. We used to, at a minimum, agree that kids were not pawns in these debates.
The announcement regarding masking seems an ideal time to agree that what we have seen on the sidewalks outside Redmond schools is not normal and should not be accepted. It's time to return to standards that see all of us adults working to protect kids from the often-inane disagreements of grown-ups; to re-establish that bright red line and the norm that kids are different than adults. We should protect them more, give them time to learn and grow and to form their own worldviews, and not use them as chess pieces in our political debate. In an advanced society, kids can have the luxury of growing up not worrying about the cares of the world.
The United States has spent over 200 years tinkering with the notion of representative democracy and with public process. Sharing your views about one topic or another can come in the form of showing up to a city council meeting, testifying during a legislative session, bending the ear of your representative in Congress... and even voting them out should a majority decide they're not the horse you want to continue riding in on.
Right now, Republicans in the Oregon legislature are working on legislation that would limit the emergency powers of the governor—whoever that might be in the future, mind you—should future calamities see us living in a protracted state of emergency. While they are not likely to be successful in convincing the Democratic majority that this is the right move to make, the legislature and the other halls of government are the forums for these things to get sorted out—not the sidewalks outside our public schools.
And while social media forums like NextDoor occasionally serve as a paltry gathering-point for community members to complain—or even call on their local electeds to meet them in a park to go over their concerns (this actually happened this past week in Bend), that's a pretty poor and ineffective method when compared to actual public meetings, with the entirety of an elected body in attendance and fair and organized methods of allowing community members to say their piece.
The power of protest and of people gathering as a unit to express their displeasure has its place; however, a return to full governmental process through in-person council meetings and legislative direction will go a long way to return to our sense of a normal democracy...and will probably help people in leaving our kids alone.