Last week, Nikolas Cruz took an AR-15 to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire. He attacked students and faculty alike, and when the day was done, he'd left 17 dead.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, predictably, sent his "thoughts and prayers." Over the weekend following the shooting, Floridians attended massive gun shows in Miami and Broward County where thousands of weapons could be purchased privately with little regulation. The cycle that has become the new normal — another school shooting, more thoughts and wishes, politicians giving their lukewarm sympathies, and nothing changing at all — seemed to be running its course again.
And then Emma González, an 18-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas who witnessed and survived last week's atrocity, stepped up to the microphone, opened her mouth, and spoke. She spoke with truth and rage and eloquence. She spoke with a righteousness rarely heard in today's America, and she reminded an entire nation what it sounds like when the people decide to stem the tide.
"Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving," González said in a speech she read from the back of her AP Government notes at a rally in Fort Lauderdale Saturday. "But instead, we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see."
She made all the arguments that the gun lobby hates to hear. She pointed out that guns in this country have changed since the drafting of the Bill of Rights, but the laws, for some reason, have not. She listed countries such as Australia, Canada, and Great Britain, where their histories of mass shootings ended with the passage of stricter gun laws. And she called out the politicians who are bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association, including our poor excuse for a president.
González said that if Donald Trump were to give her his halfhearted condolences for what she experienced and hold the line that there was nothing that could have prevented such a tragedy from happening, she would respond by asking how much money he'd been given by the NRA.
"It doesn't matter," she immediately added, "because I already know. Thirty million dollars! And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? If you don't do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you."
The voice of this brilliant, pissed-off woman speaks for her generation. For years, the conservative establishment that appears to hold the Second Amendment dearer than the lives of American men, women, and children has kept that voice at bay. It has been spoken in little more than a hush for years, since the Baby Boomers' era of protest ended with the Vietnam War.
American liberalism can often feel like being the victim of American conservatism. Gun policies that don't make sense get our kids killed. Marriage laws and bathroom laws single us out and persecute us. A president who makes little effort to hide that he is a racist, misogynist, bigoted idiot makes us feel worthless as minorities, as women, as LGBTQ, as a people. Far too often, it feels like all of this is being done to us and like there is nothing we can do for ourselves.
Emma González just showed the nation that that's not true.
From the very first words she spoke, González radiated tenacity, strength through pain and grief. Even as she wiped tears from her eyes, her voice never faltered. It only rose. In the moments when she was angriest, she left listeners with goosebumps. Her anger is inspiring. It is a call to arms that says victims do not have to be subjected to the whims of victimizers, that they can stand up and speak in a voice that is unyielding and say, "No more."
She declared that textbooks would remember Marjory Stoneman Douglas High as the last school shooting because she and everyone else standing with the victims would make it so. And next month, on March 24, students will mobilize in Washington, D.C., and in cities across the nation to demand change at an event organized by González and fellow survivors of the Parkland shooting. They are calling it the March for Our Lives.
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"They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS," González raged, inspiring a call-and-response from the crowd. "They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS."
Her speech is a poignant indictment of every lie that puppets of the gun lobby have told over and over again in the wake of every mass shooting in recent American history, but that's not why it's so significant. What makes this an historic moment is that it comes from a teenaged survivor of horror, a young woman who not only defies but also destroys the stereotypes of apathy and naiveté that she and so many others like her have been cast in for years.
In her voice, in her fury, and in her strength, González reminds us that no one in this nation is powerless and that anyone can effect change if they get angry, get loud, and get active. And that is exactly the reminder this country needs right now.
"If you agree," she said at the very end of her speech, met by roaring applause, "register to vote. Contact your local congresspeople. Give them a piece of your mind."