Featured image taken by @virtuallyriley on Twitter.
It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.
Students should not have to flood the streets and their Capital, the offices of the legislators and people who are supposed to be protecting us, representing us, concerned with our interests, the week after they live through a mass shooting.
Students should not have to band together and organize a movement, demand that their representatives merely listen, demand that we, America, once and for all, pay attention because they’re not going anywhere. Students should not have to watch their best friends get murdered in their classrooms, their hallways, their safe places unraveled by this one man this one weapon. Students should not have to legitimize, validate their trauma to politicians in order to be taken seriously, to be listened to, to be heard as a force rather than a liability. Students should not have to stand at the graves of their friends, classmates, peers, teachers, while they’re still kids.
Students should not have to beg, plead, demand, and convince politicians to stop taking money from an organization that actively encourages and normalizes and dismisses violence, the death of children. Teachers should not have to sacrifice their lives to save their students from death, should not have to militarize themselves and all that they do for the sake of this nebulous, ludicrous fantasy of violence defeating violence when in fact violence begets violence.
Parents should not have to get that call from the police, should not have to identify their child’s face, should not have to feel their stomachs knot at the body bags with their fourteen-year-old daughter in there, should not have to look at an empty bedroom strewn with remnants of a life cut short. America should not prioritize its guns over its children, its students, its teenagers, its lives. America should understand that guns don’t kill people, people kill people is a faulty, weak excuse to justify sitting around and doing nothing about it, that no, people with guns kill people. America should not have to be told to care about its children.
It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.
Gun violence is nothing new in this country, and neither is the shameless worshipping of gun culture, but this kind of public outcry, this kind of universalized anger, this kind of rage and frustration and maybe, hopefully, if this lasts long enough, this kind of reckoning with ourselves as a nation, is new. This in itself should disturb, should nauseate. Black teenagers, black students, have been marching, fighting, demanding, asking, working, struggling to fight against gun violence for a long time.
There are a lot of tricky, complicated, messy conversations we need to be having right now, and to have them all at once, simultaneously, may seem difficult, but today, and I write this without any hesitance, is a step in the right direction. Today does not solve anything, today is not a resolution of the 96 people per day who die from gun violence, the 35,000 Americans who die annually. Students understand that a walkout is not the resolution here, not the climax of a fight we are only just beginning. The National School Walkouts are not the end-all-be-all – they are the beginning. Because, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, “This is, quite sincerely, not a moment, but a movement.”
I am an eighteen-year-old high school senior, and I am not, contrary to popular belief amongst adults, naive enough to believe that today – March 14th, 2018, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting – changes everything and solves the intractable mess of gun violence that plagues this nation. My fellow students, I know, are not naive either. They are, however, unyielding to the suppression of their voices, uncompromising in their call to action. We know that today does not solve anything, but it is a start.
Today is a glimpse into a new generation of self-starters, of young people deeply and irreparably affected by the trauma that we ourselves have not only personally experienced but by that of others, of our peers. This generation has a radical compassion, not self-congratulatory but desperate to reach out and join hands, to support those who have lost more than most of us could ever fathom.
When we walk out of our classrooms today at 10 AM, for seventeen minutes, honoring each life lost in Florida, when we link arms and scrunch our eyes shut and stand in shaky silence holding onto each other, we are not Democrats or Republicans. We are students, we are human beings, we are people. We want to come to school and engage in our education without the fear of being shot and killed. We want our politicians to feel the same terror and empathy and anger that we do, and we don’t think this is too much to ask of those who are supposed to represent us.
In California, even as “progressive” and blue-minded as we praise ourselves for being, we have 14 representatives who have taken money from the NRA: Mimi Walters, Kevin McCarthy, Darrell Issa, Ed Royce, Tom McClintock, David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Ken Calvert, Duncan Hunter, Dana Rohrabacher, Steve Knight, Paul Cook, Doug LaMalfa, and Devin Nunes. These politicians no longer get the right to hide behind partisan norms, behind excuses and weak justifications. These politicians must be held accountable, and that new era of unsparing accountability starts with my generation – high school students. It starts today, and it starts at the voting booth.
For those adults who patronize and condescend and roll their eyes in dismay at our naivete, our idealism, our abrupt surge of transient political passion, I say: believe that this movement is going to fade soon. Believe that we will hold one walkout and afterwards, shrug our shoulders because everything is solved. Believe that high school students really are that incapable of understanding the complexity of this issue, of how deeply gun culture and money is embedded into our politics. Do you know who lives through these school shootings? High school students. These students are the same ones who will be running for office.
They are starting their fights now, not waiting until the time is right or convenient for Congress. I want to see Emma Gonzalez run for Congress, to fight to ban assault rifles once and for all, to see the #NeverAgain movement transcend social movement into a legislative one. The walkouts today honor the students and teachers who lost their lives to a preventable, highly legalized, and government-supported evil, and we not only think of Parkland today but of all the victims of the countless mass shootings that could have been so very different if politicians had done their job. There is nothing meaningless or naive about recognizing the lives lost, the futures lost, about standing together and standing without budging.
It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.
Students have waited far too long to rely upon incompetent politicians to fight for us any longer. I know which representatives are fighting for me, and I know very well which ones aren’t, and we will be voting those cowards out of office the second we can.
Congress: gun violence, without any shred of doubt, is a public health crisis. We will not arm teachers, we will not militarize our education system, we will ensure that students are safe from violence and the immeasurable trauma that comes along with it. To propose arming faculty is not only ludicrous, it is insulting to our intelligence. We must ban assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. There cannot be gradualism when it comes to our lives on the line. We must expand background checks to all gun sales. We must stop militarizing law enforcement. We must pass the gun violence restraining order law. This is not too much to ask. This is inarguable.
Landmark Supreme Court cases, particularly Brown v. Board of Education, only happened because of student protests, because of student fervor for the cause, because of an unrelenting demand for our government to take action. If this kind of organizing is what it takes, then so be it. The countless number of young lives lost have not riled up Congress enough, apparently, to do much of anything, but we are now unforgiving of excuses and bait-and-switch tactics. We are smarter, we are emboldened, and young people are leading this fight in a way our politicians never have.
The first election I vote in, I will be thinking of this day, of these moments following yet another horrific incident, thinking of the lives lost and the ways they could’ve been saved and weren’t. I will be thinking not of partisanship but of human decency. My anger, my frustration, my discontent with government inaction, will be translated into a vote. I know that the same goes for all of my peers, so Congress, wake up. We’re not going anywhere, we speak on our own behalf, and we only have one word for you: enough.