Note: My first draft was written on the afternoon and early evening of March 24th. Pneumonia intervened. The piece was completed in May.
This is not a publicity stunt, a single day in the span of history. This is a movement, a movement relying on the persistence and passion of its people.
. . . We are not here for breadcrumbs. We are here for real change.
Delany Tarr – this afternoon
If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking.
. . . We can, and we will, change the world.
David Hogg – this afternoon
The March For Our Lives this afternoon (Pacific Time) in Washington DC, hours ago as I write on this March 24th. Where I live the sun has not yet set on the moment Naomi Wadler faced the whole world, unintimidated. No need to describe her. She’ll be familiar to you as she speaks:
“Hi. My name is Naomi and I’m 11 years old. Me and my friend Carter [Anderson] led a walk-out at our elementary school on the 14th [of March]. We walked out for 18 minutes, adding a minute for Courtlin Arrington, an African-American girl who was the victim of gun violence at her school, after the Parkland shooting. I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington. I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here to represent Taiyania Thompson, who at just 16 years old was shot dead in her home here in Washington DC. I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant beautiful girls full of potential. It is my privilege to be here today. I am indeed full of privilege. My voice has been heard. I’m here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names because I can. And I was asked to be. For far too long, these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I’m here to say ‘Never Again!’ for those girls too. I’m here to say that everyone should value those girls too.
‘If there is a book that you want to read but
it hasn’t been written yet, you must be
the one to write it.’
- Toni Morrison
“People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I am a tool of some nameless adult. That’s not true. My friends and I might still be 11 and we might still be in elementary school, but we know, we know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol, and we know that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.
“So I am here to honor the words of Toni Morrison: ‘If there is a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.’ I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told — to honor the girls, the women of color who were murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand that these girls and women are never forgotten. Thank you.”
A youth spoke from the crossfires of Chicago, D’Angelo McDade, age 18: “For we are survivors. Let me say that again for you: For we are survivors. We are survivors of a cruel and silent nation. A nation where freedom, justice, equality and purpose is not upheld. A nation where we do not live out the true meaning of our creed. When will we, as a nation, understand that we are not here to fight against one another, we are here to fight for life and peace? When we will as a nation understand that nonviolence is the way of life for courageous people?
“Dr. King once said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ Which now leads me to say that violence cannot drive out violence, only peace can do that. Poverty cannot drive out poverty, only resources can do that. Death cannot drive out death, only proactive life can do that.”
A few sentences on, Mr. McDade said: “For we are survivors not only of gun violence, but of silence. For we are survivors of the erratic productions of poverty. But not only that, we are survivors of unjust policies and practices upheld by our Senate.”
And you’ve got to love Cameron Kasky: “My generation — having spent our entire lives seeing mass shooting after mass shooting — has learned that our voices are powerful and our votes matter. We must educate ourselves and start conversations that keep our country moving forward and we will. We hereby promise to fix the broken system we’ve been forced into and create a better world for the generations to come. Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”
The reader no doubt knows the context of these remarks, but just to be sure of our ground: The March For Our Lives responded to a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the municipality of Parkland, Broward County, Florida, U.S.A., where, on February 14, a person — whose name you shall not read here; if fame is what he wanted, this isn’t where he gets it — a young male, a human being, armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic weapon, purchased legally, massacred at will. Seventeen dead, seventeen wounded. A regular feature of American education for about two decades now. Children shot in their schools, their churches, their neighborhoods. As usual, powerful men, including the 45th U.S. president, sent “thoughts and prayers” and anything else that cost them nothing — but this time their complacency was publicly revealed as naked moral depravity. These young people know why and how mass murder happens and they can tell you the price to the dollar; they can tell you, in impressive detail, how this is about the gun industry buying power in our legislatures from politicians who are shameless with rationalizations as so many children die.
This time, the unpredictable happened: From the afternoon of the massacre to this very afternoon, the survivors of this massacre — and all who join them — refuse to behave as our American population has behaved for so long: These people do not assume they are powerless.
Nor, unlike recent generational waves, do they wait for some orator/politician to rally and lead them. They orate exceptionally well themselves, thank you, and they lead themselves.
The very night of the Marjory Stone Douglas High massacre, several students gathered at Cameron Kasky’s house, pounded out their intentions and principles, and named their movement MSD Never Again. Already, as I write, these people have forced a gun industry-supported governor and legislature to significantly alter Florida’s gun laws. And, as the stats come in, there is no serious dispute that The March For Our Lives is the largest student protest in American history.
Makes the rest of us look fuddled and wan.
I don’t believe what I’ve seen today is a media blur. I kept thinking, Look at what history is doing! Rising up through the blood. Because they’re ready. You can see that. One after another, from here and from there, black, brown, white — ready. And no one anywhere has seen a march, a demonstration, an array of speeches, so inter-gender, inter-racial, and sincerely attempting to be inter-class. They begin leagues ahead of where we ended, we of back-in-the-day.
(And that’s as it should be; it means that we did our job — for a time. The Civil Rights movement, Women’s Lib, Gay Lib, the Green movement — in The March For Our Lives we see a change-of-consciousness that has its roots in all that happened between the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and the close of the Vietnam War in 1975. )
Excepting Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King’s granddaughter, who for a few moments cheered the crowd on, the speakers ranged in age from 11 to 19. (That’s never happened before.) The 21st is their century. They spoke to the present in the name of the future; in the midst of a historical emergency that they face with originality and courage; and in so doing they’ve entered history. The future will live up to them or fail them; we, their elders, will live up to them or fail them; and they will live up to themselves or fail themselves. Be all that as it may, the future met its judges this day.
America has not seen such generational enthusiasm, intelligence, and nerve in half a century.
… we know better than to think of history as a
spectator sport. That is what history never is.
Whatever these March For Our Lives people do with the future, and whatever the future does with them, will be important for every single one of us. Important, yes, even for the old, like myself, War Babies, “red diaper babies,” Boomers — not all of us, but those of us who tried — we know better than to think of history as a spectator sport. That is what history never is. And it isn’t too late to be brave. Brave in belief, if nothing else. Even the bare genuine quality of one’s attention matters, adding or detracting from the shine, the momentum, of the present moment. Cynicism drains the moment of possibility; belief increases possibility and makes the moment stronger. It’s time to choose sides once more and the place of honor is with MSD Never Again.
It’s a great afternoon.
Now I hesitate to write of how Emma González took the stage — and I mean, she took it. What Ms. González did was televised around the world and is preserved on YouTube; you don’t need my descriptions; nor can a description match the elegance and power of her action. Still, consider:
No one has ever used the medium of television as Emma González did earlier this afternoon: she looked the camera in the face, and thereby stared at all of us, and created a silence in which we could not help but participate. In that participation, every one of us watching, in DC or anywhere, was naked of spirit as she spoke forcefully with the purest language of spirit: silence.
It’s more than half a century since Dr. King’s March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom, August 28, 1963. King told us his dream. Emma González was solemnly radiant with hers, a dream that came to us beyond words, communicated with the strength, originality, and firmness of purpose that we shall all need for what’s coming.
Silence is anathema to television. There’s nothing that panics a producer’s control room like unexplained and unscripted stillness — and the stillness of Ms. González seemed to go on and on.
The medium is the message? Not the way she used it. Ms. González turned the medium on its head. She enforced a silence by her firm stillness and steady eyes, minute after minute. As her silence went on, uneasiness spread in visible waves through the crowd. What is she doing? Has she frozen? What’s going on? (Imagine students at MSD High hiding in closets, so still and so very quiet, so scared: What’s going on?) Nothing was spelled out, nothing was certain, as we experienced Emma González’s silence alive on this one day and never again, for it’s very different when you know what it’s about in advance, and how it ends; when you do not know, as we did not, you’re drawn upon a journey the outcome of which may be like nothing we’ve ever seen.
Then she said what she said, and we understood, and then one camera followed her off the stage as she kept her eyes straight front, looking neither right nor left, and she wasn’t walking, she was marching.
Ms. González was, if memory serves, the last speaker before the finale: Jennifer Hudson’s gospel rendition of (and this really surprised me) “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” To revive Bob Dylan’s anthem of half a century ago, and make it new, and make that stick — I was almost too stunned to enjoy it. Then came more speaking, not speechifying, a kind of gushing, by people who simply did not want to leave that stage and I don’t blame them. They’ll have this footage to look at for the rest of their lives — and that may be more difficult than they now imagine, for this is a lot to live up to.
But I want finally to dwell on an earlier moment, Demi Lovato’s.
A person my age can’t be expected to know, or have heard of, Demi Lovato. Looking her up after the event, I was particularly impressed by what she’s made of: Mexican, Native American, English, Irish, “distant Portuguese and Jewish ancestry,” and “one percent” African [Wikipedia] — a white nationalist’s nightmare and/or a marvelous American dream.
The song she sang . . . I learned a lot very quickly from her song and from the camera as it panned the crowd while many young women and a number of young men sang along about how you could strip them of anything, strip them of everything, break them like glass, tear them like paper, but they shall rise again — “like a skyscraper.”
The oldest of today’s speakers were infants on September 11, 2001. The rest were not yet born. They don’t live in reaction to 9/11. They didn’t see the towers fall. They watched a tower rise. So while it may seem strange to many of us, it’s not at all strange to them that they know by heart an anthem of renewal called “Skyscraper.”
Michael Ventura © 2018. All rights reserved.
Michael Ventura is a writer who lives in the mountains of Northern California.