Walk-outs, protests, impassioned speeches, lie-ins, and marches at our nation’s capital — these are the stories making headlines around the world this past week. We’ve seen all of this before, in response to wars, to racial injustice, and to political corruption. Yet this week’s protestors are demanding the right to live and safely attend school. And, for the first time, those marching — even those organizing — aren’t even old enough to vote.
Last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, just like every other mass shooting before it, has got people talking. And taking action.
Politicians are debating gun laws, again. The Internet is full of articles about gun reform, mental health, school safety, the absence of good parenting, violent video games, and more — again. And Americans are once again angry and scared and venting their frustrations on social media, just as they did after Orlando and Las Vegas and Sandy Hook.
But this time, the loudest voices aren’t yours and mine. And they don’t plan on fading quietly into the background, as soon as the news cycle changes. The headlines this time are coming from the high schoolers themselves who were in that building. The survivors who covered their ears as gun fire rained on their school. The teenagers who prayed they’d see their parents again. The boys and girls who had to pass by their friends’ bodies as they ran out of the building.
Their voices are louder than any grown-up’s right now. And America is listening.
Right now, at the very minute I write this, dozens of Parkland shooting survivors are gathering on Capitol Hill, protesting gun violence and calling for reform under the rallying cry #NeverAgain. Beside them are fellow survivors of the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in nearby Orlando, Florida.
And other students from other schools are joining the movement, too. High schoolers from West Boca Raton High School, which is about 7 miles from where the shooting occurred walked out of class today and marched toward Parkland, in an attempt to show solidarity but also to call for action. It has also been reported that high school students in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, Florida also walked out on Tuesday, and students in Hialeah, Florida are planning a walkout Wednesday.
But it doesn’t end there.
Just yesterday, a group of teens staged a lie-in in Washington D.C., imploring our president to take action. For three whole minutes (the reported amount of time it took the Parkland shooter to kill 17 people), 17 teenagers lied on the ground to make a powerful statement. And once the public took notice, many more joined their peaceful protest, too.
Days earlier, the nation took notice once again when Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg was given a five-minute interview with a reporter and used it to beg for action in a way that couldn’t be ignored: “Please,” Hogg implored. “This is the 18th one this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults. Work together, overcome your politics, and get something done.”
And over the weekend, fellow Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez called for gun reform, too, in a gut-wrenching speech that has now been viewed millions of times.
“We certainly do not understand why it should be harder to make plans with friends on weekends than to buy an automatic or semi-automatic weapon,” the high schooler reasoned. “To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you. If your money was as threatened as us, would your first thought be, how is this going to reflect on my campaign? Which should I choose? Or would you choose us, and if you answered us, will you act like it for once?”
These kids are tired of waiting around for their nation’s leaders to “act like it for once” — so they’ve decided to do something about it themselves. And as heartbreaking as it’s been to witness, it’s also been truly remarkable.
They’re done with school shootings being accepted as the norm in this country. And instead of waiting for more lives to be lost, they are standing up and speaking up. They have already come together to help organize “The March for Our Lives” on March 24 — a day where students, teachers, and supporters nationwide will march in solidarity for stronger gun control.
“In every single city, we are going to be marching together as students begging for our lives,” Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky told ABC News this past weekend. “This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected. At this point, you’re either with us or you’re against us.”
I think it’s a safe bet to assume that many of the same kids who participated in yesterday’s lie-in and this week’s walk-outs will be marching on the 24th as well. And we will hear a roar across the country that day of their voices, demanding change.
These children have already witnessed a tragedy many of us cannot fathom. They’ve lived through a war zone, fearing for their own lives and seeing others’ unfairly taken. They may be young, but they are just a few short years away from voting. So lawmakers, I hope you’re willing to hear what they have to say.