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Sunday, March 25, 2018


They refuse to be tributes

by Tom Sullivan

Survivors of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School refuse to be the gun lobby's tributes. In March for Our Lives events held Saturday across the country, hundreds of thousands of students, parents, victims, and supporters called for legislative action to bring U.S. gun violence to a halt.

Emily Witt of the New Yorker described the main event in Washington D.C. as "a massive outcry against extreme violence delivered with a mix of pop sentiment, corporate coöperation, and an awareness of the socioeconomic privilege that allows certain voices to be heard louder than others."

Ironically, the loudest voice said the most with silence. Wearing an olive jacket and ripped jeans, Emma Gonzalez signaled that she and her friends had not come to the capitol city to play by Washington rules. When Gonzalez took the stage, she carried a timer set to the time the Parkland, FL shooter used to murder 17 of her classmates. After briefly recounting the ordeal she and fellow student experienced, she read the names of friends whose voices would never again be heard. Then Gonzalez stood staring, tears streaming down her face in steely, unmoving silence for over four minutes until her hidden timer beeped at six minutes and twenty seconds.

"Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job,” Gonzalez finished to cheers.

It was a silence as eloquent and powerful as speeches given by men memorialized up and down the National Mall. "Emma Gonzalez just gave us the mic drop of all time," tweeted The Atlantic's Charlie Pierce. "Loudest silence in the history of US social protest," added Mother Jones' David Corn.

While Gonzalez's stoic poise stunned viewers, survivor Samantha Fuentes, 18, spoke loudly by losing her composure. In an angry speech, Fuentes said, "Day in and day out our kids are getting shot up. At the moment we speak out, we are scolded that we are not old enough. It is as if we need permission to ask our friends not to die."

Fuentes herself was shot in both legs during the rampage. She continued, "Lawmakers and politicians will scream guns are not the issue, but can't look me in the eye...."

Uttering that trigger word (no pun intended), Fuentes vomited on stage. She was also struck in the face and has shrapnel behind her eye.

"I just threw up on international television," she smiled upon continuing. "And it feels great!"

Fuentes finished calling for policy changes and asking the crowd to join her in singing "Happy Birthday" to Nicholas Dworet, a fellow Stoneman Douglas student Fuentes said was shot in front of her. On Saturday he would have been 18.

Here in Asheville, 16-year-old Anna Dittman, another Stoneman Douglas survivor, took the stage at the local rally. Tears streamed down her face as she relived the moments when she and her sister ran for their lives, then she read off the names of dead classmates.

The emotions are still raw and unfiltered. That is what makes them hard to ignore. The Parkland survivors have known real fear, seen real death. Being "not old enough" is what makes them politically so dangerous to the gun lobby. The have no incomes to protect, no elections to lose, no rich donors to please, and no powerful lobbyists to fear. Least of all the National Rifle Association, which, exhibiting more fear than these students, continues to attack them. The authenticity of the protesters sets in sharp relief the hackneyed and desperate actions of the gun lobby.

Just as white men long dominated this country as if it were their birthright, the NRA has dominated Washington. That power may finally be eroding. The gun lobby worships the Second Amendment almost as an idol, as if it needs guns to give it courage. The Parkland survivors need none to fuel theirs.

In the aftermath of the 2014 shootings in Isla Vista, California, Joe "the plumber" Wurzelbacher posted an open letter to survivors' families insisting, "your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights." But none of those rights are absolute. The document with which this country was founded asserted "self-evident" truths, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Those words are not from the Constitution. They are not law. But if they are not to be discounted as meaningless, they should temper the absolutism of the gun lobby.

The right of gun advocates to be happy in wielding weapons of war does not outweigh others' right to live. Let them cry, "But my rights!" Everybody has rights. The mounting numbers of dead had rights. Not everybody is so single-mindedly selfish as to assume their rights take precedence over their neighbors'. Every day across this country, people whose rights are in conflict stand before judges and juries whose job it is to decide in each case whose take precedence. That's how laws work ... if we are still a nation of them, which today is in doubt.

Because the law has failed, as the Parkland protesters know too well. They mean to do something about it.

David Hogg has had enough. The student activist told the crowd at yesterday's rally the student movement means to make gun violence a voting issue. Only eighteen percent of first-time voters, he said, vote in mid-term elections. Not this time:

"Who here is going to vote in the 2018 election?" he asked. "We are going to make this a voting issue. We are going to take this to every election, to every state and every city. We are going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run, not as politicians, but as Americans."

"Because this is not cutting it," Hogg said, pointing behind him to the U.S. Capitol building.
He described adult failure weeks earlier in terms less broadcast-friendly:
“When your old-ass parent is like, ‘I don’t know how to send an iMessage,' and you’re just like, ‘Give me the fucking phone' and you're like, 'okay, let me handle it.' And you get it done in one second. Sadly, that’s what we have to do with our government; our parents don’t know how to use a fucking democracy, so we have to.”
Let the NRA bray. Its threats suddenly sound as hollow as those uttered in Munchkinland by the Wicked Witch of the West, to which Glinda replied, "You have no power here! Begone, before somebody drops a house on you, too."

It won't be a house. It will be ballots. It will just feel like a house.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.