I’m always astonished that mass shootings in the U.S. – well, disasters around the world, for that matter – drop off the public agenda quickly. But the Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Florida is different. It’s being kept in the news cycle by a group of strong, passionate, teenage survivors who are, literally, marching for their lives. Determined that enough is enough, they are channeling their anger and hurt into organizing for change. (Here’s a look at that organizing.)
“Action is the best antidote to despair.” ~Joan Baez
Many other progressive movements around the world have been started by young people marching in the streets; they are, after all, those with the most to lose when things go wrong. I’m old enough, for instance, to remember that in the 1960s American students hastened the end of the war in Vietnam.
Despite the passion, apparent organizing skills, and seriousness of these students, and the potential for success, there is a great deal of adultist, cynical, and otherwise negative reaction to their efforts. I’ve seen comments about guns not being the problem and gun laws being the wrong target. I’ve read rants telling “the kids” to get jobs, suggesting they should be run over while they’re lying on the ground or marching, and worse. I’ve seen ridicule, mockery, and suggestions that “like most teenagers” they are easily influenced and are being manipulated by adults with political agendas. I’ve read patronizing comments about how the kids shouldn’t be allowed to do this because they might be targeted on social media, and that their protests won’t work anyway.
I, too, fear for their safety. As a I watch from across the border in Canada (a country with plenty of guns but few large-scale massacres), I worry that the American youth detention centers could be filling up soon, or if this group will be branded as terrorists because they’re taking on some huge vested interests. But the seeming danger just underlines the importance of what they’re doing: These kids get that they are already fighting for their lives.
And that’s why we who are older should listen to them. We should walk with them. We should support them, help and advise if asked, but not get in their way. Support has already been offered by a number of groups, including the organizers of the women’s march and an organization founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in 2011. Giffords said in a statement: “No child should ever have to march in the streets to demand that their elected leaders take action to protect them – and yet, that’s exactly what’s happening…We will do everything we can to support their effort and will stand by their side for every step of the march.”
Some of these students are saying they don’t want to go back to school until substantial change has begun. That is making some school officials and parents nervous. They can put their concerns away; these teens are getting well educated through this process. This, unfortunately, is what “real life” looks like – the one that education is supposed to prepare them for.
I am proud of these articulate, passionate, courageous people who are fighting for their right to live and learn peacefully. If you want to support them, they have a website www.MarchforOurLives.com.
Photo: Washington, D.C. – February 19 2018: High school students from across the D.C. area hold a “lie-in” in front of the White House to protest gun control laws, as a result of the February 14 shooting that killed 17 people at