In the summer of 1989, I sat in a gymnasium surrounded by Native American children and watched the tanks roll into Tiananmen Square. Today, I sit safely at home in the aftermath of a blizzard and watch the Molotov cocktails fly into Tahrir Square.
The contrast between youthful delight and adult destruction encapsulates my experience of both events. Each began as hopeful protests by “the young.” Those on the cusp of adulthood begin revolutions with the same vigor as the children who frolicked in that Gallup gym or my sons’ snowy celebration of a Chicago blizzard. The excitement of togetherness in pursuit of a common goal infuses sports, snow forts, and freedom marches.
Those gathered together easily become targets. Tiananmen and Tahrir squares become the site for sieges, and youthful optimism falls victim to the cynical power of the status quo. In the middle of CNN’s coverage of the Egyptian uprising, the Chinese government ran an ad for that nation’s wealth and creativity. The ad shows the young and the beautiful, supermodels and scientists, who either survived or were born after we in the West turned off our televisions and decided trinkets made tanks tolerable.
My elder son returned to the house, abandoned by his fellow builders and crestfallen over his collapsed fort. Some hot chocolate and a call to a friend will return the smile to his face. No such easy solace exists for the thousands trapped in Tahrir.