Today I was reminiscing with some high school classmates on Facebook about a school walkout I took part in back in 1973. My school was dealing with severe budget cuts. The school board planned to reduce the number of classes in a day, eliminate summer school, allow student trips only when the kids could fund them themselves, and close the student’s outdoor smoking lounge because of the expense of having a security guard. A large number of students marched downtown to the store owned by the chair of the school board to present our demands. We then spent the rest of what was a beautiful day lounging on the school’s lawn. The only accomplishment was retention of the smoking lounge. A lot of kids didn’t even know why we were marching. Looking back some thought the walkout was stupid and pointless. I remember that I enjoyed it. And, though a little disappointed in the outcome, I mostly felt good about trying.
I have marched a number of times since, mostly at antiwar demonstrations. Then as now, these efforts did not always accomplish the stated goals. Just the same, I have come to see such public demonstrations as an important part of being a responsible citizen in a democracy. Last year when I went to the Women’s March in D.C. I went with the intention of taking pictures to use in a series of paintings which I am calling “Madonna’s Among The Marchers”. I wanted to carry my ideas about civic responsibility and women’s rights into my art.
Today, as I was working on the underpainting for the fourth image in that series, I left the news on in the background. A new generation of teenagers had walked out on their schools and were marching to demand the government address the epidemic of gun violence in our country. I was really proud of them. There are more walkouts and marches planned this spring. I hope to join the kids in at least one of them.
I want the kids to know that their efforts can help bring about change. And, even when their demands are not met, it is important to keep communicating the change they want to see. Writing to our representatives, marching, and especially voting, are just some of the ways we can demonstrate what we value and that we intend to hold our government accountable. Another way is to let your art speak.
As an artist, choosing to make art that tells a difficult story, or that expresses a political opinion can draw criticism and threaten sales. For me art cannot just be about commerce. It has to have meaning beyond celebrating life’s beauty. I know that most people think it is foolish to indulge in such endeavors. I guess I am just a fool for the love of humanity, so I shall persist – in marching and in making art.