NOT SINCE "Snoopy, Come Home" had a movie made such an impact on the media-minded youth.
Snoopy had moved him, at age 4, merely to tears. But after, in a burst of cinematic social consciousness, his parents took him, now 8, to see "Norma Rae," he decided to organize his school.
Norma Rae is, of course, the story of Gidget Goes Union, of one woman's struggle to organize a Southern textile mill. Sally Field as Norma Rae had a loom full of grievances. The boy had one: The "big room" that doubles as gymnasium and auditorium was restricted during indoor recess in inclement weather to the upper grades. The younger kids were relegated to their classrooms for the duration.
Filled with visions of Norma Rae defying the bosses, the 8-year-old stirred his classmates with what must have been eloquent outrage. One little girl said he sounded like Martin Luther King Jr., he reported.
At night, he took to the phone, recruiting his classmates to join his union. All but two readily came aboard. One said she shared his goals but not his tactics: He should have said please. He promised to be nicer, and she promised to win over the last holdout.
His parents contributed 30 "Be Union Chic" buttons, left over from last year's Newspaper Guild organizing drive. That was enough for his classmates, but not enough for him. He wanted to pass them out at recess - to every kid on the playground.
He also wanted to duplicate Norma Rae's sign that said "Union," and to rent a bullhorn with which to chant slogans from the top of the tree house in the school yard.
He had to settle for other ways of getting his message across.
His teachers and school administrators were willing co-conspirators. They turned his enthusiasm into a social studies lesson.
For starters, they permitted him, and three helpers, to run off and post signs all over the school. "Kids are people!" the poster began. "The lower school has rights to form a student council. Think of the P/K! [pre-kindergarten]. They don't get the big room until fifth grade if we don't stop this. Do you agree?"
To find out, they visited classrooms. "The reason we are doing this," read his prepared text, which he labored over one week night, "is because we feel that the lower school should have their rights. And should have rights to the big room. Do you have any questions?"
His teacher was particularly impressed with his concern for children younger than he. "Just think about the poor pre-K" quickly became his clarion call to battle. But he wondered if the younger kids would understand what the fight was all about.
"We ought to send girls to the kindergarten and pre-K because they can explain these things better to little kids," he decided. They did.
The school's cooperation in his crusade both delighted and puzzled him. He had expected management intransigence and, at one point, even talked of walkie-talkie patrols to protect the posters from pillage.
Indeed, his teacher even arranged for the young organizer and his helpers to meet with the head of the lower school, who, in turn, sat up an appointment for them with the principal. They all agreed the grievance had merit. But the director of the upper school also had to concur. The organizers, it seemed, had met their match: bureaucracy.
With the grievance temporarily on hold, the powers that be acceded to the demand for a student council.
The organizer was confident of election. He had, after all, become the recognized expert in the field. So much so that other kids began seeking his advice on how to tackle the establishment. One classmate called, distressed that a rabbit had been run over on her street. Would he help her make "Caution" signs? Could they be posted without official approval? He thought they might need police permission but did not think that 911 was the right number to call.
The election in his class did not go well.
First of all, the ballots were lost.
The second time around, interest had risen far beyond the teacher's expectations. But no nominations were entertained. Instead, each child was urged to vote for his or her choice. As it turned out, almost every kid voted for himself, making it a very close election. One youngster who altruistically cast his ballot for someone else got no votes and almost cried. The kid who started it all got one vote - his.
One of the representatives selected was the classmate who sought the organizer's help to save the rabbits.
Norma Rae in the movie had helped the union to victory, but she had lost her job. Still, she wasn't bitter and neither was the 8-year-old organizer.
His teacher and the head of the lower school decided to make him a special consultant to the student council. As such, he's expected to attend the weekly meetings and to contribute his thoughts. At the first meeting, they asked him to make a speech.
He's delighted with his new role, and so are his parents. As for the big room, the schedule has been rearranged so that the younger kids can use it, too, even the little ones in pre-K.
You could say it's almost a Hollywood ending. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By John Heinly for The Washington Post