This is a dark, scary time. Kids are dead, the threat of nuclear war hangs heavy in the air, walls are being built, and the last bandages covering the putrid wounds of sexual and racial harassment have been ripped off. The early promise of the year, the soft and seemingly believable hope for a new dawn, a new spring, a small crocus bud of fresh belief after the assault of 2017 seems trampled anew under the sheer ugliness of our times. Hope seems small.

But listening to Emma Gonzalez speak this week reminded me of exactly who the future is. And of why we are going to be OK. I know these kids. And they will save us.

Last year, I was doing research deep in the field for weeks at a time. I hung out with these kids. In their bedrooms, in parks, on playing fields and pizza parlors. We rode in the back seats of their mom’s cars, we walked through malls, we tried on sunglasses, we shared snaps. We talked with our feet up on the windshield of parked cars, and with our bellies flat on their worn out comforters. We talked, and talked some more. And I was blown away. These kids, born of the pragmatic Gen X generation were devastatingly real, and brutally honest. They were as gentle as they could be with me, but they see the carnage, they know the wreckage. Parented by problem solvers, forged by the burning embers of an economy destroyed in the recession, these kids are the Mad Maxers. They are the ones who know they need to create their own tools and teams to save the world. And they will.

Late into the night, they told me about watching their parents lose jobs, homes and futures. They were pulled from private schools, and put into public ones. They gave up dance and soccer to watch siblings so their parents could work extra hours. They saw ideas like Disneyland change into Dominos. They observed how the biggest institutions that promised to keep them safe failed, and fell, and crushed the very people who had laid the bricks. And they became smart, and savvy and self- sufficient.

This is the generation that created dark social. They guard their public identities, and create secret handshakes and complex passwords to identify each other. They are the young warriors of this post-apocalyptic world, and they stand stripped down and steely-eyed, determined to save us from ourselves. They are not fighting for things, they are not fighting for a lifestyle; they are fighting to save their families, their moms and dads, their siblings, their teachers and their friends. They are fighting for the earth, and the seas. And, since they are unencumbered by things, or needs, they cannot be swayed by promises, or by strangers with the candy of cash or power. Their power is personal.

These children, these kids, they see the world as it is. Today. Cell phones and driverless cars, streaming media and iPads – the very objects that dazzled the ones that went before – are their peanut butter and jelly. They crave instead, connection, conversation, and the safety of home. They want what’s real. And they will work together, as a generation, to reclaim these things for all of us. They are not jaded, they are not blamers – they are the rebels who will take back what we once took for granted. They believe in love, honesty, candor and loyalty. They are promise keepers. Not just for them, but for all of us.

I know these kids. They are positive, powerful, and potential personified. The kids are alright – and because of that – thank god, so are we.