Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I WILL FOLLOW YOU: Some Thoughts on the New Student Activists

         In the spring of 2000, I visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  It had been 25 years since the end of that war, decades since over 50,000 of my generation and millions of Vietnamese had been killed in that conflict. The passage of time notwithstanding, tears sprang to my eyes as I approached the memorial.  

         When my 15-year-old, looking worried, asked why I was crying, all I could manage through my tears was, “This is my generation.” I could not then, and still can not, adequately describe what a trauma that war had been for my generation. 

         We went to war or watched our peers go off to fight a war we did not understand. We heard the nightly body counts on the news.  We marched.  We sang protest songs. We wrote letters. And while we protested, the generation before us sent more of the boys of my generation (and boys they largely were) off to fight in this war that, we now know, our leaders believed could not be won. 

         We were young. Very young. We thought we could change the world.  Maybe our protests helped to end the war.  I'd like to think so.

         Why do I bring this up now?

         Because I am watching another, much younger generation take up its fight. After Parkland, something broke loose in these kids who have spent their entire lives with the shadow of school shootings hanging over them. We have failed them, so they must take up the fight for their own safety themselves. 

         Today I went to the high school from which my daughters graduated over a decade ago.  I went to bear witness to a student walkout.  I arrived at 10 a.m., just as a portion of the student body began to leave their classrooms along with students all over the country.  They walked out in remembrance of the students and faculty killed at Parkland.  They stood (mostly) in silence for 17 minutes – one minute for each of those killed at the Florida school.

         Tears came to my eyes as I approached the crowd of students, just as they had 18 years ago in front of the Viet Nam War Memorial.  I couldn't stop crying.  I cried for their youth and their bravery and their idealism.  I cried because we have not protected them. I cried for the ways every generation fails the next.  I cried for my frustration with the cowardice of our legislators. I cried for the long, hard fight these kids have ahead of them.  And I cried for the trauma they will re-experience when they visit a future memorial for gun victims. 

         But most of all, I cried with pride.  These kids have given me hope at the end of a long dry spell where hope was hard to come by.  They are passionate.  They are articulate.  And soon they will be voting. 

         So, please, let us join them on March 24 at the March For Our Lives.  Let us show them that they are not alone, that we do not value the rights of gun owners over the right of our children to attend school without fear.  Let us redouble our efforts to get assault weapons out of the hands of civilians.  Let us be there at the moment of turning when meaningful gun reform is enacted by every state.  

         Last month, I submitted this letter to the editor of the New York

         “I have a dream that one day all members of Congress will
         refuse to accept donations from the NRA, and that they will
         convene a bipartisan committee to determine within 30 days
         the best ways to prevent future gun deaths.  In my dream,
         both chambers of Congress pass comprehensive gun legislation
         soon after the committee’s report.  In the conclusion to my
         dream, the Justices of the Supreme Court, upon receiving a
         challenge to the new legislation, re-read the Second Amendment
         and come to their collective senses, recognizing that this
         amendment was meant to provide for militias at a time when
         the country did not have a standing army, and that, in any event,
         the militias were meant to be “well-regulated.” [1]
         They didn’t print it  -- maybe because I’m no Martin Luther King, Jr. or maybe because they receive over 1000 letters a day.  If I were to write the letter today, it would simply state:  "Thank you.  Thank you to the youth of our nation for raising your voices.  I am so proud of you. I am so sorry that we have let you down.”

[1] The text of the Second Amendment:  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."