WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republican right is unnerved in the days following Saturday’s March For Our Lives in Washington and hundreds of other cities across America and the world. Stricken with grief and stirred by the passions of love cut short by bullets, the students from Parkland, Florida stood up, stepped forward, and found a mass movement to end gun violence waiting for them.
Hundreds of thousands of people were on Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday, perhaps 800,000 by some measures. They came from all over the country to hear words of grief, statements of resolve, and pleas for change from middle school and high school students, who also came from all over the country.
The alchemy of potent words, visible strength, and palpable emotion forced Fox News and its conspiratorial cousins in right wing media to lose their rhetorical footing. The students, they asserted, were tools of liberal media and Democratic leadership perpetuating the left’s campaign to unseat President Trump. Their reporting was so ridiculous that Breitbart News accused David Hogg, one of the Parkland students and movement leaders, of displaying a “Nazi salute” when he raised his fist at the rally.
What nonsense. It’s precisely because young people are independent and authentic that their call to disarm the country has gained such credibility.
It’s also because their capacity to articulate the issues is so keen. “Politicians, either represent the people or get out,” demanded one student, speaking before the largest crowd he’ll ever face again. “The people demand a law for universal background checks. The people demand to end the sale of high-capacity magazines. The people demand an end to this gun violence. Stand with us or beware. The vote is coming.”
Their signs, displayed in a bright garden of irony and anger and cleverness, also made the point: “Mental illness is global. Mass shootings are American,” said one. “Kids safety is more important than your hobby,” said another.
“How many gun-related deaths are enough?”
“The only thing that is easier to buy than a gun is the Republican Party.”
“Non-violence is the weapon of the strong.”
“Are our lives worth your guns?”
Most of all, the kids meant to send a message of resolve to elected leaders uninterested in listening. “We didn’t vote you in. But we will vote you out.”
Here’s why. Since 2006 – in one city alone — there have been more than 5,250 people shot and killed in Chicago. Since 2012 there have been more thn 16,000 people shot in Chicago. One city. There are 100 other places where such statistics tell a similar story of domestic terror.
Two days after the March For Our Lives I still hear the insistent voices of students from all over the country demanding an end to American slaughter. I see a crowd gathered from all over the country, so big it was impossible to view all of it, voicing its support. “To the NRA who says GUN, we say REV,” cried one of the speakers. “Register. Educate. Vote.” The message of change was expressed in clear, certain, commanding words. “Vote them out! Never Again! “We have a right to be safe in our schools, our streets, our homes!
The media reports have it mostly right about what occurred here. The program of short speeches, videos, and live music was well-scripted and entirely on message. Students from high schools and middle schools from Alabama, Chicago, Connecticut, Los Angeles, New York, Florida and Washington offered gripping testimony of the brother shot in the street, the cousin attacked walking home, the gun put to the face of a girl with a threat to never to say a word, a best friend dying underneath a desk. Tears were shed on stage. One of the speakers vomited, recovered, and announced: “I just threw up on international television and I feel great.”
One of the speakers made what I thought was the seminal point of the day: a nation that purports to be so concerned with its safety has bowed to dangerous ideology and a craven special interest. It’s allowed its children to be gunned down in places once hallowed as safe ground — American schools. Until now it’s looked the other way.
The Parkland students did what other great leaders do. They stood up, stepped forward, and discovered so many other people willing to help. For three hours we stood with them on Pennsylvania Avenue, washed by a bright sun and listening carefully to what our kids were telling us. We faced the bright dome of the Capitol, a reminder that the nation has the capacity to do the right thing.
Our kids mean business. The November election will be an unmistakable display of whether adults do too.
— Keith Schneider