Dress up for our lives

How gun violence shaped the choice of teen idol for a 10-year-old
(Courtesy of Danuta Moon)

This Halloween, I’ll be thinking of activists like Emma González, 18, advocate for gun control, and her peers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who have spearheaded the March for Our Lives movement. I’ll be thinking of all the inspiring young people across the country who will take a break from their tireless rallying to get out the vote for the midterm elections, throw on a costume, and head out to their neighborhood streets to trick-or-treat.

I’ll also be thinking about a younger generation that has also caught the activist bug while still in elementary school. Kids like Anya Moon, 10, who happens to be a big fan of Emma González.

For Anya, Emma is something of an icon. So much so that she inspired Anya some four months ago to design and make her own Emma González costume, which was even topped off with a matching Emma González Barbie.

Last June, Anya’s elementary school in Virginia celebrated Celebrity Day as part of its end-of-year Spirit Week. Students were invited to dress up as their favorite famous person. Most chose the typical celebrities, such as actors, singers and favorite fictional characters: Princess Lea, Demi Lovato, Bob Ross, Peter Pan, Hermione Granger. One child even dressed up as the Domino’s pizza delivery guy.

But not Anya. She chose to dress as her favorite activist for gun control.

“I chose Emma because she stood out at the March For Our Lives,” explained Anya.  She had watched the March for Our Lives demonstration last spring on television with her father and sister, while her mother protested with thousands of others. “Even when Emma chose to not speak and engaged in intentional silence, she commanded a lot of presence on stage.”
Anya was drawn to the identifiable activist because Anya too had firsthand experience with the devastating impact of gun violence. On December 22, 2017, calamity struck her street in Reston, Virginia. Her neighbors, Buckley Kuhn Fricker and Scott Fricker, were shot to death in their home, allegedly by their daughter’s boyfriend. Their son sat next to Anya in class. Tragedy hit in a home decked for Christmas, with a tree artfully decorated and presents beautifully wrapped.

In no time, Anya understood the pressing need for gun control. She did what she could: she penned a letter to President Trump. But Anya also recognized that Emma’s activism represented the power of what a young person could do in a more ongoing fashion to spur change in the system.

For Anya’s costume, she folded her long hair into her cap, cut her jeans, and wore a painted March For Our Lives t-shirt.

The Barbie doll had been a surprise from her mother. Just as the fourth grader was about to leave for school, her mom, Danuta, gave her a homemade Emma González Barbie doll with a matching outfit, which Danuta had sewn from scratch.

“Anya loves her Barbie dolls, so I thought it would be a perfect gift,” said Danuta. “I even found a Barbie with a buzz cut that resembles Emma.”

Anya was ecstatic. Her only complaint: the fashionable cuts in Barbie’s jeans looked far better than those on her own. Still, civic duty is obviously not about buzz cuts and well-ripped jeans.

(Courtesy of Danuta Moon)

Looking at the calendar, the date on which Celebrity Day fell seemed like it was not coincidental: June 14, 2018, marking exactly four months since 14 students and three staff members were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

And earlier this week was another mass shooting that seemed inconceivable. On October 27, 2018, four and half months later, 11 adults were gunned down in Pittsburgh while praying at a synagogue called Tree of Life, during a circumcision and baby-naming ceremony. Two brothers in their 50s with developmental disabilities, a substitute teacher, a doctor, a dentist, a 97-year-old grandmother. Three women and eight men ranging in age from 54 to 97. Three days earlier, a man tried to break into Kentucky’s First Baptist church in Louisville, but failed. Instead, he gunned down two African Americans at Kroger. One of the victims is the father of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s Chief [Racial] Equity Officer. And as I penned these words on Monday, a student at Butler High School in North Carolina shot and killed a fellow student. The rest of the students were sent back to their classrooms, as if nothing had happened.

In a world where many teen icons are famous for being famous, it’s inspiring that a 10-year-old is modeling herself on a gun control activist, who is only eight years her senior. That the person she looks up to is Emma González.

Mind you, costumes aren’t just clothing. Donning a costume can imbue us with agency. It is our way of showing that we can be other than we are, and that the world can be other than it is. Putting on a costume can be an act of faith in a better future.

That is also what propels Emma. Emma isn’t interested in celebrity status. She’s laboring for civic change.

And that is the best kind of celebrity.

Emma and Anya, deck yourselves out for Halloween and head out to trick-or-treat. Savor the day. And then come home and resume your activism. We’re going to need many more of your kind to bring about the change that we need to see in America.

This piece is also published in the Anti-Heroin Chic literary magazine.

About the Author
Ruth Ebenstein is an award-winning American-Israeli writer, historian, public speaker, and health/peace activist who loves to laugh a lot--and heartily. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Bosom Buddies: How Breast Cancer Fostered An Unexpected Friendship Across the Israeli-Palestinian Divide. She is also the author of "All of this country is called Jerusalem": a curricular guide about the contemporary rescue operations of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and has written two teleplays for children, Follow that Goblin and Follow that Bunny. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Tablet, WomansDay.com, Good Housekeeping, Triquarterly, CNN.com, USA Today, the Forward, Stars and Stripes, Education Week, Brain, Child, Fathom, and other publications. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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