I thumbed through page after page of reflections and apology letters. I felt the heat rising from my stomach into my face as I read line after line.
“I thought it was a game.”
“I didn’t know what was happening, then I saw people do the Mockingjay sign so I did it too.”
“I didn’t know what the paper was about, I just put my name on it.”
“I didn’t think.”
Over and Over and Over. I couldn’t believe eyes. “They haven’t learned anything,” I thought. Empty words on torn paper.
In this world your signature means everything. It is your mark. It is the sign that you believe, support, agree, and consent to something. How on Earth could you put your signature on something you didn’t read or know what it was for? Why did no one even bother to ask what they were agreeing to? Protesting against? Who was this paper really intended for? Mother Nature? Because that’s who made it rain today. Rain before the riot happened.
I thought of John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence so boldly that he would be remembered for it for years to come. It doesn’t look like much. It’s just an old document right? No. It was a the boldest move that could be made, to stand up against a government that you didn’t believe in and say STOP! Then men who signed that paper risked their lives. If the colonies had lost the war it would have meant certain death. Signing your name is not a game.
Did they even read the Hunger Games? Do they even know what that symbol is intended to mean? It is a sign of revolution against a government so desperate to control its people, so determined to hoard resources so that a few can live in excess while others starve, that they send children to fight to the death. The death. That symbol became something because despite being tossed into an area where it was kill or be killed Katniss befriended a little girl, perhaps the weakest one there. In spite of a horrific situation she did what was right and she too stood up against that government. That symbol is not a game.
What happened yesterday was not a game. And what is it with these “group games” that so many letters mentioned. That it’s normal for people to just join in and play along without asking: Why? What are we doing this for? Who might this hurt?
Why is it that so many stood by and watch this happen? I read so many empty words yesterday because so many people seemed to think that it wasn’t their fault. But if you don’t stand up for what’s right, it’s your fault.
Why is it that so many think that because they were angry, or disappointed, or that everyone else was doing it, that it was okay to make a loved and trusted teacher and someone who is my friend feel so bad? That was not a game.
In 1933 a man took power in Germany. The people were angry. Life was hard and someone needed to be blamed. So in anger many joined or stood by and watched as he and his army systematically destroyed peoples lives. It started with speeches, it started with anger, it started with names signed on papers, and it started with symbol of one arm held high in the air. The German people probably had many different thoughts about what happened but the one thing that was certain is that very few stood up for what was right and, as a result, millions lost their lives.
So I hope my students think about that the next time they decide to join a game or sign a paper or start a protest. What exactly are we protesting here? What am I joining? Who am I standing up for? What do my actions say about what I believe? There are so many causes worth placing that energy into. So many people in need that would benefit from the power of the group I saw yesterday, but instead it was misguided because they were mad that they didn’t get to go out for recess because it rained. And I am left wondering why, why so many joined and stood by. Will these Bystanders learn to be Upstanders?