The magnitude of the scenes across the country this past Saturday, March 24, 2018, as students and like-minded adults participated in the March for Our Lives, was awe-inspiring. Galvanized by the 17 murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month, the outcry against gun violence and in favor of gun control has continually risen, reaching a crescendo during Saturday’s marches. Indeed, what was most striking was not the enormity of the crowds—immense and entirely peaceful by any measure—but rather the power and eloquence of student voices, speaking with passion and determination, representing a generation propelled by their fear of what the future could hold. For some it was a fear of being shot to death at school while, for others, the fear was of being in a shooter’s midst for a second time and not living to tell the story.
I was struck by the poise and absolute command of her narrative presented by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler as she addressed the crowd in Washington, D.C. Speaking not only on behalf of a generation but specifically “to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” she reminded all listening that she and others her age “have 7 short years until we have the right to vote!” Politicians should consider themselves forewarned that today’s teens and those of just a few years from now will not forget what has transpired in their childhood and will hold them accountable.
Equally compelling was Emma González, a Parkland student, who began by saying, “Six minutes and 20 seconds. In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us,” and then stood with tears brimming in her eyes as she recited the name of each life taken at the school. Remaining completely silent for several minutes, she followed the silence with these words: “Since the time that I came out here it has been six minutes and 20 seconds.” She then implored all young people to “fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.” The impact of her words and her silence bore equal weight, bringing many in the crowd to tears and serving as a call to action for both students and adults who care about them.
Then there were Edna Chavez and Mya Middleton, from Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively. Each having been seared by gun violence in different ways, the girls recounted their experiences. For Chavez, it was the loss of her brother, Ricardo, at the hands of a gunman while for Middleton it was her own experience of looking down the barrel of a gun in a convenience store and defying the gunmen’s admonition never to speak of the experience. Both indelibly marked by these violent acts, each chose to become a victor rather than a victim.
These were just a few of the student voices lifted in a collective plea for those in authority to value them more highly than guns. Yes, they are young but their determination is palpable. Moreover, students have been the catalysts for transformative movements throughout our nation’s history.
It was students who sat at lunch counters more than 50 years ago, refusing to accept segregation. It was students who stood against Bull Connor’s dogs and hoses in Birmingham, dressed in their Sunday best, seeking the equality guaranteed as their civil right. It was also students who took to the streets and campuses across this country to protest the Vietnam War and the lives being taken by it. Ultimately those students prevailed and so will these.
As another student speaker on Saturday, Cameron Kasky, so succinctly put it, “This march is not the climax. It’s the beginning.” March on, students. Most adults, including all caring teachers, support you.