High school students. All but adult, yet with none of the surrender of adults. None of the conditioned passivity and resignation to “the way the world is.” Their B.S. meters far more highly tuned than ours. They see right through the hypocrisy of purchased politicians like Marco Rubio, whose convictions are sold to the highest bidder. “Pathetically weak” as grieving father Fred Guttenberg described Rubio’s and President Trump’s comments following the latest school massacre. Pathetically weak like every other Republican in the pocket of the NRA — a few Democrats, too, but mostly Republicans — who prostrate themselves in fealty before the altar of the Second Amendment.
You can’t profess to care about kids and oppose gun regulation. Not anymore. Not after Parkland, Florida. Not after the killing of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Failure to protect our children. Guilty as charged. Take it from Emma Gonzalez, her rising voice raspy with outrage and pain, her hands furiously wicking away tears like windshield wipers, her words lasering through the accumulated bullshit of the professional rationalizers, justifiers and excuse-makers.
The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids and our parents seem to be the only ones who notice and call B.S. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that we are all self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission … we are prepared to call B.S! Politicians, who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA, telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call B.S! They say tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call B.S! They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call B.S! … They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call B.S! That [we] don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call B.S! If you agree, register to vote. Contact your local congresspeople. Give them a piece of your mind!
It wasn’t a speech. It was a force of nature. The power of pure, righteous fury. You owe it to yourself to watch Emma Gonzalez online. She blew away any stereotypes you might harbor about high school “kids.”
Back here in Oak Park, Connor Hartweg, one of the organizers of the Feb. 21 OPRF High School solidarity walkout, and Max Freeman, a member of the OPRF Youth Action and Civics Club, were interviewed by 1981 OPRF grad Tony Sarabia on WBEZ’s Morning Shift the following day.
“The government is not standing for us,” Hartweg said. “The government and the president are not going to do anything to protect us. We’ve got to be the change. We’re not going to stop. We’re here to stay.”
Freeman added, “The NRA is the greatest grassroots organization, but high school students are the best experts on social media and we have more energy. We will outshine the NRA. We can be part of something bigger in 2018 and 2020.”
Those of us who have been speaking out on the issue of gun violence for a very long time always knew a tipping point was coming. We just didn’t know how or when it would happen — or who would lead it. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Sandy Hook Elementary, so many others. When would the country finally, decidedly, turn against the death peddlers, the way the country turned against the tobacco companies in the 1990s? When would we turn toward comprehensive, common-sense regulation of guns to reverse this tide of bloodshed?
It took high school students to show us the way.
There is nothing stronger than an idea whose time has come. And there is nothing weaker than an idea whose time has passed — that guns are more important than our kids’ lives.
It took high school students to point out how “pathetically weak” that idea is. Standing on the cusp of adulthood and the verge of voting, their moral clarity reframed this debate. But as those of us who stood on that cusp long ago know all too well, we’re not out of the woods yet.
How can the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School avoid the discouragement and disillusionment that many of us experienced?
Well, they can start by looking to their school’s namesake.
According to Wikipedia, “Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an American journalist, author, women’s suffrage advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim the land for development.” She was 5-foot-2, weighed 100 pounds and, according to one reporter, “had a tongue like a switchblade and the moral authority to embarrass bureaucrats and politicians and make things happen.” (Marjory would have loved Emma Gonzalez.)
Douglas’ death — at the age of 108! — was the only thing, one observer noted, that could shut her up. Ed Davison, chair of the Florida Audubon Society, said, “She kept a clear vision of the way things ought to be, and she didn’t give a lot of credibility to excuses about why they’re not like that.”
According to a tribute in The American Prospect magazine by Peter Dreier, Douglas once advised, “Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics — but never give up.”
As Dreier noted, “The students at Douglas High may not know it, but in translating their anguish into activism, they are carrying on in the tradition of their school’s namesake.”
So should we all. To Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Connor Hartweg, Max Freeman, and all the other outspoken high school students nationwide: Don’t ever stop calling B.S. Soon enough you will be parents yourselves — or uncles or aunts. No matter how tough this fight gets against the greedy who profit from our misery, we have to keep fighting.
We have no choice.
Our lives, and the lives of our children, depend on it.