Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, Yet Again by
(89 Stories)

Prompted By Protests

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This piece originally appeared in 2018 for the Student Activism prompt. Now in 2020, once again young activists are taking a leading role in the Black Lives Matter movement, taking it to the streets and the seats of government as a beleaguered nation is forced to face its history of systemic racism while a devastating virus threatens us all. Numbers of the infected and the dead are rising, statues are falling, and my generation has decisions to make about whether and how much we place ourselves on the front lines. Although this piece was inspired by the tragedy of school shootings, kids today are marching in protest about other deaths: we have seen with our own eyes over and over again how young Black men and women have needlessly and tragically lost their lives, and we hear their chants of “I can’t breathe” echoing across the country every day. It may be The Big Fool, or the self-created current swamp some of our feckless leaders are mired in…but pushing on as we are encouraged to do by those who try to gloss over or minimize what’s happening  all over the country will soon reveal the futility of this behavior. We all have skin in this game, no matter what color it is.


So here’s the piece from what seems like forever ago:

I’ve been following the young activists today who are taking a leadership role in a fight my generation seemed to have given up on, bringing me back to another time when young people felt both helpless and passionate about a cause. In our day, it was the anti-war movement. What is tragically similar to what those brave, outspoken kids from Parkland and elsewhere are doing, and what kids my age did in 1968 and beyond, is that they also have real skin in the game, which is a tremendous motivating factor. The boys I knew during the Vietnam era had the draft looming over them. They knew they could be drafted and sent to fight an enemy far away in a country we didn’t know much about. Students of draft age took to the streets in protest, feeling helpless no more.

The kids today have always known about school shooters and young men (always young men) with guns coming to do them harm. Their skin in the game today is literal. There is no enemy far away in a country they don’t know much about. The enemy is in your English class, or maybe at the lab table next to you or across from your PE locker. It’s real. And for years, we, the adults, for the most part have felt helpless to make any changes to the law as it pertains to gun ownership. For the most part, we have felt helpless, though our hearts break over the senseless deaths of children in a place that should be a safe haven.

I applaud the actions of the teenagers across this country. I’ll stand in solidarity with them as they take the lead.

We’ve been waist deep in the big muddy for far too long.



It’s up to all of us to make sure we don’t let the Big Fool lead us further into the big muddy. Enough.



Performed by Tom Morello and Taj Mahal


Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Risa, I’m glad you repeated this excellent piece and updated it with a forward. I’m really surprised to see that I didn’t comment on the 2018 version. At that time, which DOES seem like forever ago, we were focused on school shootings and the Parkland kids. Now we have Black Lives Matter at the forefront, and there are no school shootings, finally, only because schools are closed.

    I’ve always loved this Pete Seeger song, still as applicable now as it was in our youth. Tom Morello and Taj Mahal do a great job with it, so I hope readers listen to it. Your story gave me the idea of adding a music video to mine, so thanks for that. And thanks, as always, for your writing!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I agree, Risa. Enough is enough! Everyone sees this as a moment of inflection. We think it can’t get any worse, then the Orange Monster does something even worse (telling foreign students they must leave the country if classes are held remotely, not granting enough summer visas so resort towns can’t find workers; don’t get me started about his handling of the virus, and minorities). And the quid pro quo for Roger Stone; keeping him out of prison so Stone wont testify against Trump…such unthinkable corruption! Vote them all out!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Risa, I love the line, “We all have skin in this game, no matter what color it is.” So true. I pray that this generation of protestors can effect more change than ours has.

  4. Marian says:

    How relevant, Risa. And now the enemy is in the air all around us and our leaders don’t care if we die. Thanks for including this great video of the song, it’s pitch perfect for today. I hadn’t heard this version and have always been moved by Pete Seeger’s rendition.

  5. Wonderful Risa.
    I wrote this week, Put on your mask and go get out the vote.

  6. “And the big fool said to push on.” Imagine if the big fool had exhorted us to wear masks early on (even if he had red ones emblazoned with MAGA for his devotees..another opportunity missed), we wouldn’t be where we are today.

    Risa, I’m with you. The kids are going to be the change…it’s almost in their DNA at this point.

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