Today, March 14th, 2018, thousands of students are walking out of school to protest gun violence on National School Walkout Day.
On my first day of university back in 2004, I proudly walked on to campus sporting a black T-shirt featuring President George W. Bush’s face and the words “Not My President.” A form of protest? Yes, but you could say that this was pretty normal for me. Being raised amongst open discussions of political and social issues molded me into a pretty political teen.
This was before the days of Twitter and Facebook providing constant streams of information, so I had to get facts the old fashioned way. Every evening from 4-7 p.m., our living room television was tuned to the evening news. While working on homework, helping with dinner, or doing chores, I’d watch with my dad. Often times, he’d take the opposing point of view and we’d debate. For my dad, it wasn’t enough for me to have an opinion; he wanted to ensure that my opinion was backed by reason.
No doubt, being encouraged at an early age to find support for my opinions shaped me into the informed person I became. I wasn’t excluded from the dialogue or belittled for what I believed in because I was young. Instead, I was motivated. I developed a critical mind and learned to stand by my convictions, no matter who questioned them.
It’s this spark of early activism that makes me feel so united with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who have become prominent gun control activists since surviving a mass shooting on campus. But while I was protesting the war in Iraq and the government’s response after Hurricane Katrina, these students are speaking out for their lives, for the right to simply go to school without the fear of assault rifles.
And it’s a conversation that’s far from over.
Since the Valentine’s Day attack on their school, these students have kept their cause — stricter and more regulated gun control — in the public eye. Having just survived this horrific attack, only to be harassed and threatened online, these students understand that enough is enough; no child should have to fear for their life in what should be a safe space.
While the Stoneman Douglas students have a huge wave of support behind them, they also have plenty of people — read: adults — who find fault with their actions. These objectors argue that teenagers aren’t able to build or sustain a nationwide movement. Despicably labeling the Stoneman Douglas students as “crisis actors” manipulated by anti-gun groups, they don’t consider it possible that these young adults are capable enough to lead this national cause. But they couldn’t be more wrong.
Frustratingly, this is the same mentality that many adults have concerning children in general. I realized this when I shared my plans to participate in the March For Our Lives with my children — a march on Washington organized by survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting to fight for improved gun control.
Like any delicate subject, not everyone wants to talk about this. And not everyone thinks it should be discussed around children. So, when I mentioned that I’m marching with my kids during the local gathering of the March For Our Lives, I had more than a few concerned adults question that decision.
“The world is such a scary place,” they said. “Kids need a place away from this talk.”
But most of all, I was told that my kids were too young to worry about gun violence.
It should be mentioned that my kids aren’t teenagers like Emma González or Cameron Kasky. One of them isn’t even old enough to be in school yet. Still, my two oldest children have participated in more active shooter drills in their short lives than I ever needed to. And as soon as my little one starts going to school, learning what to do during a mass shooting will be as natural as studying his ABCs.
So yes, this conversation very much includes them.
Tragically, if kids are old enough to be victims of gun violence, then we have to give them all the information and political support we can to help them survive. Realistically, every school-aged kid is going to encounter some sort of discussion regarding mass shootings. It could be a mass shooter drill or a gun violence seminar at school. Maybe they will overhear a conversation about the next shooting or read about the legislative fights on gun control policy. Either way, there’s no escaping the issue. And one question remains: Are we — as parents, family members, teachers, and mentors — going to be part of the conversation as well?
By talking to our kids, it creates an environment where they can ask questions and safely share their concerns. And it gives us the opportunity to answer them in the way that they deserve. I know my kids are scared. I know they are just as confounded by this violence as I am. But acknowledging and listening to that fear makes all the difference.
The March for Our Lives movement was started by students — and the gun reform movement has been led by teens for years — so it’s only natural that kids will be the ones to bring about the permanent solutions we need. Until then, we must give them all the support we can offer and be witnesses to their revolution.