It’s still a mess out there. Trump’s photo-op with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors went just as one would expect (I say photo-op because it can’t really be called a visit, can it? That would imply some meaningful interaction.) and the comments section on my previous post clearly shows that a lot of people in this country would rather cling to their guns than keep our citizens safer. My husband and I watched these things happening over the weekend, and shook our heads. He asked me, in his very British way, “Why are so many Americans like this?” I honestly didn’t know what to say, because even though I’ve been American all my life, and love a lot of things about this country, I don’t get it either. A lot of us don’t. It is so easy to feel like we’re just beating our heads against a wall trying to talk empathy and common sense into people who are set against understanding things like that. Amid all this, however, I have hope, and lots of it.
People, have you seen the Parkland students?! They are all over Twitter, calling out these politicians and pundits by name, replying to their tweets and platitudes, calling BS on their thoughts, prayers, and refusal to act. Conservative news anchors, they hear your comments about how this is not the time and we shouldn’t make this political (in other words, “please let us sweep this under the rug, keep our guns, and funnel the politicians NRA money”) and they are refusing to be silenced. They’re telling us that yes, this is the time, this is the place, and it absolutely is political. They are right, and their words matter.
I hope everybody saw Emma Gonzalez’s powerful speech at the rally for gun safety. If you haven’t, drop what you’re doing and watch it now. As a born and raised Floridian, as a citizen of the United States, and especially as the mom of a student just a couple years younger than she is, I was so proud of her. The world was watching, and she did a better job at delivering the message that needed to be delivered than any adult, and especially any politician. Nobody deserves to be in the situation these students are in, especially at a young age, but they aren’t accepting the role of victim. They are reframing themselves as change makers. As it turns out, the revolution will be televised.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas students aren’t alone in their efforts, as teens across the nation are staging protests, including one outside the White House over the weekend, and planning school walkouts to send a powerful message to politicians that they demand action. I strongly recommend all politicians of all parties shut up and listen. These aren’t kids. These are people who are going to vote you out of office very soon if you don’t do something. Probably ¼ of the students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting will be 18 in time for the upcoming midterm election, and probably half of them by the 2020 general election. Politicians, meet your constituents. Aren’t you lucky? They’re telling you exactly what you need to do to get the votes of their generation (and their generation is huge, so you really want their votes).
I know a lot of people are wondering what was different about this one, why these students are so much more vocal about fighting back than the survivors of previous school shootings. To be clear, I’m not criticizing the response of any survivor. Everyone copes in their own way, and it’s all valid. Even so, we have to admit, this time is different. This isn’t the first time school shooting survivors have had Twitter, or microphones, or intelligence, or anger. None of that is new. Maybe this was just a long time coming. Maybe we’re already so angry as a nation about the horrible (elected) situation in DC that we were sitting on a powder keg for action, and this was one hell of a catalyst. Whatever the reason, I think we are finally going to have the national conversation we’ve been needing, and hopefully affect change at the ballot box in a few months, and again in a couple years. These students and their courageous activism are going to be a game changer.
As I watch these students find their voices and their power, I remember Columbine as the event that changed everything. I was a student at a different Florida high school at that time, and I remember how it shook our community even though we were half a continent away. I remember my school receiving bomb threats in the days following, and how the deans tried to figure out security, which was nearly impossible since the school consisted of a large sprawl of small buildings with outdoor hallways, surrounded by large fields owned by the school’s Agriculture department. Since metal detectors would have been largely pointless, the goth kids all got questioned because they wore trench coats, we all had to buy clear backpacks, the Sheriff’s Department searched our cars and lockers a few times, and our Resource Deputy worked overtime, trying to keep his finger on the pulse of the school, and learn of any potential threats.
Consider now, that many of today’s high school students were born in the years immediately following Columbine. Some, if their parents were young, were born to people who remember this from the perspective of a student. (My oldest is the same age as the younger Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors. I was in high school during Columbine.) These students have never known a world where mass shootings in schools are not a thing. They have grown up in a nation that teaches Kindergarteners which alarm means vacate for fire drill and which one means hide in closets and bathroom stalls for a lockdown drill. The world they grew up in is so jaded that the “smaller” school shootings barely make the news, and the most dystopian headlines ever, things like, “There were only 8 school shootings in the past 6 weeks, not 18”, get shared widely as if they represent the voice of reason, as if we’re doing kind of ok despite the fact that we have school shootings on a regular basis, and the rest of the world is actually pretty horrified with us.
They live in this reality, but go home to parents who remember when it wasn’t like that. I don’t know anybody who’s not completely gutted by the fact that their kids, all the way back to Kindergarten, have rehearsed what to do in the event of a mass shooting. We tell our kids that it doesn’t have to be like this. We tell them that we can do better. Say what you will about millennial parents, but we are raising our kids to know they can make a difference. We grew up on girl power anthems by Gwen Stefani, TLC, and the Spice Girls. We were told we could do anything we wanted in life, and that the technology we were raised with would allow us to innovate more than any other generation. (The fact that a lot of us were hobbled to some degree by the economy has limited this, but our mentality is still influenced by the optimism we came up on.) We danced around the living rooms with our toddlers to Beyonce, and dressed them in shirts that said, “Strong like mom” and “Kind like dad”. We turned gender roles on their heads, with dads happily taking on more of the parenting duties than ever before, and moms contributing in the workforce and politically more than any previous generation. We took our kids to see every Marvel movie, where the good guys always win and diversity is celebrated. We send them to schools that have metal detectors and lockdown procedures, but we fill them with optimism even though we have had a lot of it sucked out of us by the world in recent years. Most of us, at our core, are pretty sure the only way we’re going to change the world is to raise better people. Whether the parents of these students are older millennials, Gen-X, or somewhere in between, they did exactly that, and I’m so proud of them.
We’re a young country. I have to wonder if all this upheaval is part of our growing pains. Maybe the combination of young people with empowered upbringings, Twitter accounts, and anger at the nation that elected the most inept, unhinged, and out of touch presidential administration in history, is what will finally push us in the progressive direction that we’ve been needing for a long time. I don’t think this would have happened if Obama were still in office. I like Obama just fine. Most people do. That’s kind of the point. Maybe because we don’t like our government’s face anymore, we’re finally able to get angry enough at them to affect change.
There’s always been corruption. There’s always been inaction. There have always been policies and decisions that every sensible person should disagree with. This stuff was true no matter who was in office. It was really hard to get mad at Obama, though, because he was a decent person. You can say the same, to some degree, of Bush, Clinton, and if you remember other presidents, probably them as well. The current regime is different. They are not decent people. They are very easy to get justifiably angry at. Maybe it wasn’t solely this massive shooting, but the combination of the vileness of our current political status, the number of victims, and of course the universal availability of Twitter, that created this tide of activism.
Whatever it is, I’m here for it, and you should be, too. Things may seem bleak, but election day is coming. Let’s join with the Parkland students, and give ‘em hell.