Massive crowds rallied today across America – and across the world – to protest gun violence and the massacre of 17 students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida.
Emma Gonzalez’s speech at the rally in Washington D.C. lasted a total of 6 minutes and 20 seconds – the amount of time it took the shooter to slaughter 17 of her fellow students and wound many more with his legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle.
For the last 4 minutes and 25 seconds of her speech, Emma stood in silence – a powerful, unnerving and uncomfortable silence – before ending with “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job,” and then she left the stage.
From the mouths of children.
Change in our country often comes agonizingly slowly. Our perception of important issues like desegregation, tobacco, seatbelts, the environment, energy, gender bias, Apartheid and war, just to name a few, has changed significantly – and continues to change – during our lifetime.
How we perceive these issues, how our knowledge about them originates and grows, how they are prioritized and addressed by the government, how much we allow them to continue to negatively impact our own individual lives and our collective lives is a process.
In every instance, fundamental change begins with individuals, their acts, their effort and their voices. From Martin Luther King, to Rachael Carson, to Ralph Nader, to Malala Yousafzai, to Daniel Berrigan, to Nelson Mandela, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, it takes action by someone or some groups to begin to ignite change through the system and disrupt the status quo.
Often that disruption requires extreme courage, severe personal sacrifice and loss by the agents of change. Death, prison, scorn and being ostracized are often the penalty meted out.
Despite so many mass shootings in America from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Las Vegas – multiple mass shootings unlike any other country in the world – how gun violence is perceived, managed and addressed has yet to meaningfully change – until just maybe, now.
February 27th, 1968 was a turning point for the Viet Nam War. It was on that date that “the most trusted person in America” – CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite editorialized on air that the war the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam was not winnable. It is reported that President Johnson, upon hearing Cronkite’s words, said “If I have lost Cronkite, I have lost middle America.” A week later, Johnson announced he would not run for reelection. A short five years later the U.S. ended its war in Vietnam.
It may be possible that these kids – starting with the students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School – are both Cronkite’s trusted voice and Johnson’s lost “middle America” as well.
And it might be wise for elected politicians today all across our country – from most of the state legislators in Georgia to the U.S. senators and representatives – to understand that their time is up unless they start making the rational common sense changes so long sought by the vast majority of Americans in response to the out-of-control gun violence our country is suffering. The changes are going to happen with or without them.
Unless they take action and soon, they too might consider, like Johnson, not running for reelection.
“Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”