Has the NRA met its match in Emma González and other youth leaders?Embed from Getty Images
The first time Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma González took the mic and passionately spoke her truth, with all the force of her justifiably angry heart — tears streaming down her face for the 17 classmates and teachers who had been murdered in the sanctity of an American schoolhouse mere days before — it was clear that with every word and every teardrop she was demanding that we face the shame of her, and our collective, tragic reality.
That the immediate reaction to tragedy starts here now, with a complete rejection of “thoughts and prayers” alone and an urgent demand for policy change and action; that she knew where and on whom to focus her anger (the NRA and elected officials beholden to them) — these were incredible signs of the meaningful dialogue shift that has happened in the gun reform space in what is, relatively, a short period of time.
But Emma’s dialogue shift and emotions are, nonetheless, familiar.
Emma spoke with the same passion that Erica Lafferty, whose mom was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, brought to a New Hampshire town hall held by then-Senator Kelly Ayotte days after she voted against gun reform because it would be too “burdensome” for gun owners, and asked why the burden of her mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school wasn’t more important than that. (Erica and her supporters succeeded in seeing that Ayotte was not re-elected to the U.S. Senate the next time she was on the ballot.)
Emma spoke with the same anger that Pamela Wright, whose son was killed by crossfire in the school parking lot following a basketball game in Chicago, felt when CNN listed the number of school shootings in America and — because they only counted events that looked like Sandy Hook, in mostly white and suburban schools, where no “gang activity” or “personal conflict” was present — discounted her son’s murder, effectively saying that black lives don’t matter. (Upon realizing that they had inadvertently whitewashed their data, CNN revised its coverage to note that it was a listing of “Sandy Hook-like” shootings. And Everytown continues to keep track of school shootings in America — whenever a gun goes off on school grounds, regardless of circumstances, here.)
Emma spoke with the same frustration that compelled Shannon Watts, a stay-at-home mom in Indianapolis, to take to the Internet, search for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving equivalent for gun violence prevention, and when she couldn’t find it, decide to start a Facebook page that eventually became Moms Demand Action, the most powerful and organized force the gun violence prevention movement has seen in generations — with growing local chapters in all 50 states and countless state legislative and electoral victories already under their belts.
Emma spoke with the same courage that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has repeatedly asked her former colleagues to find, and that she herself shows in her daily fight to prevent other Americans from experiencing the gun violence that nearly claimed her life.
Emma spoke with the same love that Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was gunned down in a Florida gas station parking lot by a racist who said he was playing his music too loud, has brought to her work as a gun safety and civil rights activist every day since. Lucy has brought love to her outreach into religious communities — whether to the survivors of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in 2015, or in her engagement with evangelical pastors across the country as she calls for a moral and ethical response to gun violence. (Lucy is now running for Congress in Georgia’s 6th district.)
Passion, anger, frustration, courage, and love. These powerful emotions have driven these and many other women in the fight to save lives from our country’s gun violence crisis.
As Hillary Clinton said of Erica Lafferty, these women have “turned [their] sorrow into a strategy, and [their] mourning into a movement.”
And in all of these examples — and countless more — there is also hope. This moment feels hopeful because we can see clearly now that a new generation of young women like Emma have joined the fight. But of course, it doesn’t rest on the Emmas alone, for there are also Davids and Nza-Aris and Christophers.
What is wonderfully different about this group of young people — not just from Parkland but from Chicago and the many cities across America where an average of 47 American children and teens are shot every day — is that they exemplify the intersectional approach that has been lacking from the gun violence prevention movement for so long. Young, Latina, black, gay, urban, suburban — we’ve been waiting for you to lead us.
Lead as you did when thousands of young people walked out of their classrooms last week — sometimes whole schools’ worth of students, and other times, brave students alone.
Lead us into this weekend, when thousands more will gather in D.C. at the March for Our Lives and at sister marches across the country.
But remember that Washington and state capitals across our country are broken, and they’re not going to be fixed overnight. Continue to change the dialogue, failed legislative votes be damned. You are helping advance policy ideas that your elders were too scared to propose because they weren’t “winnable” and well, with that kind of attitude … they were never going to be.
Change gun laws or change Congress. Throw them out by voting (and/or running) every chance you get — in November 2018 and 2020 and 2022 and so on — and in all of the primaries, off-years, and specials in between.
Lead us through this incredible moment of activism — but don’t stop there because the fight doesn’t end with a march. That’s when it begins.
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