A picture is worth a thousand tears. “Not my child. Please, not my child.”
Inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a fire alarm rang. Teachers screamed, “Code red.” Since 1999 after the attack at Columbine High School, students have been taught the protocol: where to run, the safest place to hide from a gunman. Instruction begins in elementary school. (Of course, if the gunman is a former student or a fellow student, the route to safety is familiar.) In the USA, this practice is now a way of life. And a way of death when the alert is not just a drill but instead a reality—this latest, 14 students and three staffers dead. By the time I submit this article there may be yet another massacre.
I began a different piece, one in which I linked to an article naming and picturing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School dead. Plan was to also name the dead at Sandy Hook. Followed by more dead children and adults, including the deaths that inspired Black Lives Matter. Because these deaths are links in capitalism’s bondage, links in a system that devalues life, all life except those who sit at the top of the chain, the usurious dream thieves who steal our hopes, our children, our future. I’d have ended the essay with a realization: If those elected to represent our values can look into the eyes of a grief-devastated parent, speak obligatory hearts and prayers bullshit, and do nothing, and we eventually accept this by doing nothing, because nothing we do is effective against special interest giants, then there is only despair—despair because we recognize that the daily chaos of the cretin Trump and the daily smoothness of the glib Obama are/were seamless in strategy, that thread that runs so ugly throughout each tenure, the pernicious delivery of domestic and foreign destruction known as empire, an imperial evil that when speeding closer and closer to its own ruin, accelerates and broadens its reach.
After seeing and hearing those Florida survivors, the new activists, I detoured to write about their initiative in turning anger and agony into a movement. I want to believe that they and their March 24 nationwide demonstration against gun violence can catalyze the change we desperately need. That these young adults can convey to NRA-owned politicians that the weak excuses gun cultists discharge each time a weaponized madman decides to terrorize will no longer be tolerated.
Sophie Whitney, one of the student organizers, asked: “Why is your right to own an AR-15 more important than a kid’s right to feel safe?”
Emma Gonzalez said: “If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”
Alex Wind said: “We’re marching because it’s not just schools. It’s movie theaters, it’s concerts, it’s nightclubs. This kind of stuff can’t just happen. You know, we are marching for our lives, we’re marching for the 17 lives we lost. And we’re marching for our children’s lives and our children’s children and their children.”
No, it’s not just schools, movie theaters, concerts, and nightclubs. It is so much more. This is why I want more. From these new activists.
I want. I want them to think. I want them to think of the Other. I want them to look at their counterparts in every single area of the globe where US troops are deployed, committing acts of terror. I want them to know that their feelings are the same as those terrorized by state-sanctioned violence. The fear is the same. I want them to imagine the sounds they heard on Valentine’s Day 2018, the gunfire, the screams, the clamor, and the smells—of blood, of gunpowder, of death, understand the 24-hour-a-day presence of gunfire, the buzz of a drone, the explosions, the smells, the deaths, and know to the bone what it means to live in a war zone. I want them as diminished by the deaths of anyone in any land as they are by the deaths of their classmates. I want them to see the faraway faces of anguished parents. Think of them as their own parents. I want their parents to see the faraway faces of these parents. I want their parents to see the faraway faces of the Other’s children and think of these as their children. “Not my child. Please, not my child. Not anyone’s child.”
I want the newly empowered young to be wary. Chris Grady informed lawmakers: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us. And you’re against saving the lives of innocent children and we are going to be voting you out.” “ . . . voting you out.” Therein lies my fear. That they believe the solution can be found through voting, by “voting you out.”
I want to warn them, tell Emma Gonzalez, whose impassioned speech went viral, to consider another Emma, Emma Goldman, who said: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
Eventually these students will understand that it’s not just Republicans, so grotesquely funded by the NRA, but also Democrats who salivate profusely, genuflect deeply, when money flows.
I want these young adults to succeed. To avoid cooption. To be exactly where they are now and then more, to be so much more.
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: email@example.com.