Image Courtesy of Mathias Wasik

The last time I wrote about gun violence was in October of 2017 after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The essay I wrote at that time was titled “I Surrender.” (https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2017/10/02/i-surrender/) In that essay, I stated that after so many mass shootings, after several essays that I had written over a number of years, at least since the mass shooting that nearly killed Gabby Giffords, I had nothing more to say. Valentine’s Day this year saw another mass shooting, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and teachers were killed and another 17 were injured, making it one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

The day it happened, I had nothing more to say. Just as in the Las Vegas shooting, I had no words, no tears, only a sick, sinking resignation that I live in a country that has lost both its mind and its soul. I expected the usual ritual. Politicians would offer thoughts and prayers. We would see candle light vigils and memorials made of candles and teddy bears and stuffed toys. The media would be on the ground for a day or two. We would hear the life stories of the people who died, and some information about the shooter, who was captured alive. Then the nation would move on until the next mass shooting.

However, this time was different. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School decided this time would be different. They rallied, appeared on television, met with the president of the United States, and appeared on a CNN town hall. They called out politicians for their unwillingness to pass gun regulations. They called out politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association. They travelled to Tallahassee, the Florida state capital to demand gun regulations. They organized a walk out of school to protest gun violence, and students from schools around the nation walked out in solidarity.

Saturday, March, 24, 2018, the students organized a march on Washington that brought more than half a million people to the nation’s capital to protest gun violence and to demand gun regulations. Some 800 sibling marches were planned throughout the United States and across the globe. The young people were astonishing. In the DC march, only young people spoke. They were beautiful, passionate, articulate and moving. More than that, they were strategic.

I say and say again that the powers that be in the United States cannot stand unity. It is a frightening thing when We the People of the United States decide that we will not be divided according to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion or a myriad other ways we have to identify our particular tribe. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that organized this event understand the power of unity, so they invited young people of color from Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City and other places to speak. We heard from a young Latina who told about ducking bullets before she learned to read. We heard from a young black woman from Chicago who was present at an armed robbery, the memory of which stays with her every day. There were two young black men from Chicago who called themselves warriors for peace. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s granddaughter spoke about her dream of the end of guns. Period. We heard from a young black man from Washington, DC who had lost his twin brother to gun violence. And, we heard from young people who had been on lock down at another school down the street during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook. These young people understand the power of unity.

These young people were fearless. They called out the NRA. Senator Marco Rubio took heat for the amount of money he has taken from the NRA. The students divided the number of students in Florida into the amount of money that Rubio has taken from the NRA and concluded that Rubio has sold out the students for $1.05 per student.

There were elders in the crowd. One woman carried a sign saying Nana marches for and named her grandchildren. I saw at least one woman in a hat from the Woman’s March. And another woman wearing a Nasty Woman tee shirt. One man carried a sign reminding us that John Lennon had been killed by gun violence. Paul McCartney marched in New York City in honor of Lennon.

And, the students have determined that this march is not the end of their protest, rather it is only the beginning. Unlike the Occupy Movement that did not emphasize electoral politics, these young people have a political agenda. They plan to register voters, show up at town hall meetings and confront their elected representatives. They plan to register and vote in large numbers. The crowd raised the chant several time: “Vote Them Out.” They understand the power of their numbers, and they are coming for the elected representatives who fail to act.

Pundits ask: what will be different this time? Will this moment pass as the students get older and move on with their lives? I think the difference is that these students are wise enough to know that this Congress may not give them the kind of gun regulations they want – a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high capacity magazines, a ban on bump stocks; raising the age to 21 to buy a gun; strong universal background checks, money for research into gun violence, and more. They know that they have the power to elect a different Congress. They have the power to elect women and men who will give them what they want. They have defined this issue not as a blue or red issue, not as a Democratic or Republican issue, not even as a political issue. They have defined this as a moral issue and an American issue. They do not plan to stop until they see the end of the scourge of gun violence in this nation and around the globe.

Remember, these students are the survivors of an assault that killed their friends. They heard the gun shots and hid under desks and in closets. They will never forget this. They will never just move on from this.

Let us say a word about Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the women for whom their school is named. She was a journalist, a writer and an activist. Her work helped to save the Florida Everglades from being drained to make land for development. She also worked for women’s suffrage and for civil rights. A woman small in stature, she stood against special interests including “big sugar” and the Army Corp of Engineers. The students from this school embody her spirit of speaking truth to power and of working to make the world a better place.

So, I cannot surrender. None of us can surrender. We all ought to join these young people. Allow them to lead, and raise our voices with them to say: Enough is enough. It is time for a change. Never again.

 

 

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”


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