This weekend, liked many others in cities across America and the globe, I marched in the March for Our Lives. And in marching forward, I couldn’t help but think about our country’s future.
School shootings cut across divides; like other kinds of mass shootings, they can take place in all kinds of places. Bullets hurt rich and the poor, male and female, white and minority, with the same pain, the same damage, the same level of fatality and injury and trauma.
The route in Atlanta was identical to the steps we took in 2017’s Women’s March, and it was difficult not to make comparisons. We arrived early, and MARTA and the streets seemed emptier. But that was short-lived and the crowds just kept coming.
This weekend, there was more youth, more urgency, more ethnicities, more voices. It was more organized and we could actually hear the speakers — things which weren’t so during 2017’s Women’s March.
But what impressed me most were the voices. Like across the country, the organizers and the majority of the roster of speakers standing outside The Center for Civil and Human Rights were high school students. Each expressed his or her pain and fear and desire and resolve. Of note was Collins Hill High School sophomore Savannah Nemeth’s poem, “Rude Awakening,” a well-articulated cry of pain. The intent of these teenagers could not be clearer – they will be the force of change that has been missing in this country since Columbine.
Kids today live in fear. And they shouldn’t.
Of the two adults who spoke, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms drove home the point that gun violence in schools is not the only kind. She declared the city’s solidarity with the students and relayed how gun violence has touched her life with the incomprehensible death of her nephew.
Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Parkland student leaders and others have expanded their focus from school shootings to all shootings. They recognize that gun violence is in some communities of color a way of life. That the issues black and brown youth face must be addressed as well. That gun violence towards all must end.
After I returned home, I wanted to see if the teens in other cities were equally eloquent. I didn’t have to search hard. Pre-teen Naomi Wadler’s spoke up to represent those victims of gun violence who are black girls and women who are so often overlooked. It moved me to tears. Edna Chavez’s speech hit me like a ton of bricks in my stomach. Gun violence in South Los Angeles is so normal, she says, that “I learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read.” This is not the kind of childhood any of our children ought to have.
For far too long, America has treated different communities as less important, more disposable, essentially writing them off. A white girl goes missing, front page news. A black girl, not even a mention. Police, media, legislators can begin to do something, it is not too late.
Organizers for the marches are calling for three things specifically: universal background checks, banning assault weapons for civilians, and better mental-health reporting. But we also need to make sure attention is paid wherever it is due. But they also know that begging is not enough. They have a voice. And each year as more and more of them hit 18, they will exercise that voice at the polls.
Voter registration is the priority and I have no doubt these teens will vote in higher numbers than their age group has in recent years.
My fear is that they will be limited in their focus to those candidates that make controlling access to guns their priority and their platform. While this in and of itself is not bad, it might be an issue if we don’t have the candidates they need. More women and more Democrats are running for offices than ever before, But I’ve yet to see any clearly address his or her position on gun control. They must.
My hope is that today’s students keep marching forward and pushing for answers and action. Now politically engaged, these kids can and will be the change our country needs.