They are the first generation in American history to grow up in an era of mass school shootings. For years, their lives have been shaped by experiences that are only supposed to occur in war-zones. Instead, these horrific events have unfolded in what is supposed to be the safe-haven of the classroom.
These school kids have been told — repeatedly — by adults that the answer to this kind of mayhem is better lockdown procedures, armed teachers, more guns and more prayers. But still, the carnage has continued.
Students say “Never Again” after Parkland shooting
But we may have reached a tipping point. On February 14, 2018, 17 more young lives were cut short when a gunman opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen students were seriously wounded too.
But this time, the surviving classmates seem to have resolved that enough is enough. Within hours after the shooting, they began reaching out to lawmakers, telling their side of the story to reporters, and posting on social media. They have coalesced around one message and their efforts may well prove to be a movement: Never Again.
It is clear that these young people are fed up with the familiar platitudes and excuses. They are speaking up as never before. And days after the latest massacre in Parkland, Florida, thousands of students walked out of schools all across the country to demand action from lawmakers.
Hundreds of students across Tallahassee rally in the wake of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, asking for gun control legislation. https://t.co/gm2Hc3hyrZ pic.twitter.com/MxQRie8fzH
— ABC News (@ABC) February 21, 2018
Students are demanding change
With impassioned eloquence and a fierce authenticity, these young people are asking questions that have rarely been posed before, at least not on a national stage:
- Do the lives of children matter less than the seemingly unassailable right to bear battlefield weapons?
- Is America failing to protect its most precious resource — the next generation?
- Is it absurd to expect high-grades and virtual perfection from students when so many political leaders marshal defective arguments while evading responsibility for their most fundamental duties, which surely includes securing the public safety?
Parents and teachers are beginning to voice such thoughts too. As one grieving mom asked at the town hall: why is the inalienable right to life defended less fiercely than the right to bear arms?
Grieving parent: “Why are my son’s Inalienable rights [to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness] not protected as fiercely as the right to bear arms? … the Second Amendment was talking about *muskets*”
Dana Loesch: ::purses lips, cuts eyes::
— Christine Emba (@ChristineEmba) February 22, 2018
An educator speaks out
Teachers are also speaking their mind. Proposals to arm educators as a way of deterring mass shooters generated this impassioned response from Rebecca Fields, a Virginia educator who teaches art history:
“I imagine that if someone was trying to kill my students, that I would try to save them with all my being. I probably would jump on top of a child to save her life. And yes, I might be one of those heroic teachers that the media writes tributes to after their death.”
But Fields goes on to write in an open letter that she is horrified that she and other teachers are called on to become armed guards when all she and her colleagues want to do is teach. And she resents the choice that she and other classroom teachers are being asked to make, to put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of their students when they have their own families and children to think about. As she explains:
“How dare you force me to choose between my own children and those that I teach. How dare you allow powerful adults who love guns to be more important than a generation of children growing up in fear.”
Politicians listen… but will they act?
Both politicians and special interests are scurrying to adapt to a student-led movement that is clearly gaining steam. President Trump hosted an extraordinary listening session where he heard from many of the affected students as well as family members of the victims. One emotional father, who had just lost his daughter, told the president that he was “pissed” that these kinds of shootings keep happening and he urged lawmakers (and the nation as whole) to make school security our country’s number one priority.
In the following days, President Trump voiced some support for improving background checks, raising the age for purchasing weapons and banning “bump stocks,” which are devices that increase the firing rate of semi-automatic weapons. All these positions have been resisted by the gun lobby in the past. However, the president’s shift appeared to move the needle among Republican lawmakers and rank and file voters.
Most students, however, are skeptical that these measures will make a real difference or that the politicians will actually follow through on their avowals to do something.
Students take their message to social media
But the young people who are part of the Never Again movement don’t appear ready to count on adults to solve this crisis of school safety in this country. They are taking their message to social media and beyond with amazing results. Their videos, Tweets and social media posts are going viral in ways that echo another youth movement, the so-called “Arab Spring,” which saw a tech-savvy generation run circles around a geriatric ruling class.
The words of one young teen survivor, Emma Gonzales, seem to sum up both the mood and the resolve of these students. In an interview, she said, “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S.”
Little doubt, Gonzales is referring to repeated assertions from officials and civic leaders that nothing can be done about gun violence, it’s not appropriate to talk about political measures after a tragedy, or the notion that the 2nd amendment is so sacrosanct that it trumps the supposedly inalienable right to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
‘No one’s going to do this for us’
The collective exasperation Generation Columbine is expressing is something no reasonable person can dismiss or ignore. There’s a fierce authenticity in the way these young students are standing up for themselves.
In particular, they are reminding everyone that a self-governing republic requires citizens that make cogent arguments (instead of just mouthing empty slogans). In this regard, these students are the perfect antidote to the fake news era because (as one journalist put it) “We’re hearing directly from children who experienced the shooting and survived it. Their perspectives are raw, and real — more so than anything we would hear through the filters of journalism and adulthood.”
Increasingly, as I listen to the perspective of these young people, I can help but think of that timeless story entitled “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” Why is it that young people are the first to speak up for the truth?
Perhaps one young person explained it best when she said, “We have to do this ourselves because, frankly, no one’s going to do this for us. I don’t care if I have to lose my voice from screaming so loud because, apparently, I don’t have a voice anyway in the American justice system. I’ll just scream my lungs out until something is done. Change is necessary. We need change to be safe.”
— Scott O’Reilly