A message to the survivors
Dear students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: The nation hears you. We have seen you on television and read your quotes. Despite the terror of losing 17 classmates and teachers to a gun-wielding madman, you are the most eloquent victims I’ve ever heard. Traumatized student victims are usually whisked away, protected from public view. You, on the other hand, have chosen to stand up, speak your mind and demand more from the adults who are in charge. Bravo!
Keep talking. Please. Tell every adult who will listen about your personal experience. Talk until you have adequately described how sick your generation is of hearing about the latest body counts. Tell them about your quest, defined by the hashtag #NeverAgain, to try to wipe out the possibility of any future school shootings.
Ariana Ortega, you are only 17 years old, but you hit the nail on the head when you said: “There is something wrong with our country right now. This is common sense.”
Delaney Tarr, I was riveted as you spoke at a rally about the ease with which minors can buy deadly semi-automatic weapons in Florida. “Because of these gun laws,” you said, “people that I know, people that I love, have died, and I will never be able to see them again.” You were so poised.
And you, Alex Wind, Cameron Kasky and Sofie Whitney — at vigils for the dead and rallies for the living, we marveled at how articulately you stated your Never Again mission. Nationwide, people who care have marked their calendars for March 24, the date you set for a massive “March For Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C. Because of you, similar rallies are being planned in other major cities.
I note your high school was named after a pioneering female journalist who made her mark fighting for causes like environmental protection and civil rights. Marjory Stoneman Douglas would be so proud to see “her students” rallying to a cause they so passionately embrace. I wonder if Douglas would offer the same heartfelt advice I’m about to give you.
When you march on Washington, don’t scream and yell in angry tones. Words matter, and so does the way in which those words are delivered. Your very presence in the nation’s capital will speak volumes, but if you spend your time vilifying others, your message could get lost. Realize that silence often speaks louder than words, like the silence of those teens who recently staged a poignant “die-in” in front of the White House. And be realistic in what you say.
“I am not going back to school,” one of you told the Washington Post recently. “None of us from the Never Again movement will be going back to school until legislation has been passed, and until changes have been made.” The reality? Passing legislation — especially at the federal level — takes time, often lots more time than you have left in this school year. Don’t squander your education.
Please, don’t let outside forces turn your sincere message into politically tainted trash talk. Some of you have thrown barbs at President Trump about him somehow being responsible for what an obviously troubled teenager did inside your school. Surely, you realize there have been way too many guns in this country for a long time now, some 300 million guns in civilian hands at last count. And while your tactic of campaigning against candidates who take money from the National Rifle Association might change some lawmakers’ minds, please, don’t focus solely on the NRA. Its influence is already on the wane, and, frankly, the NRA has lots more money for public relations than you do.
In short, don’t get sidetracked. Stick to your talking points: Your school was not adequately protected, and it should have been. Laws that allow an 18-year-old to buy a deadly weapon of war like the AR-15 Nikolas Cruz carried must be changed. Local law enforcement and social workers ignored multiple red flags about Cruz and should now be forced to change their procedures. The FBI failed to follow up on specific reports that Cruz posed a danger and, apparently, didn’t check his social media, which would have revealed photos of his gun stash. The FBI cannot allow that to happen again, and if it’s a matter of money, staff Congress needs to find additional funds for the bureau, like, yesterday.
Dear students, my best piece of advice as a journalist who has covered the rallies of several movements that somehow ran off the rails with too many demands, do not be distracted from your main message. No student should feel unsafe at school. Responsible adults need to change things. Period. If you can calmly and relentlessly keep up the pressure with that simple message, I honestly think you can change things. Done right, your crusade could mean not just safer schools but safer churches, concert venues, theaters and nightclubs.
Godspeed on your mission.