How do you speak up when you are not sure your voice will be heard? If you are looking for inspiration, take cues from the students of Stoneman Douglas, who are what will likely be the single most traumatic incident of their lives and refusing to be quiet about it — organizing rallies, giving interviews, and forcing everyone to talk about something that is as old as our nation itself, and frankly, overdue for a change: our gun laws.
When I first heard news of the shooting, I knew how the next few weeks would go. America would mourn for the children struck down, young and vibrant and full of life. We would send our thoughts and prayers. There would be a Twitter hashtag for the victims and the community. There would be 24-hour coverage of the incident, and thorough research into the background of the sick perpetrator of these crimes. The debate about gun violence would be resurrected. The same people would say the same things. And, ultimately, nothing would happen.
But the Parkland survivors have changed that. They are refusing to accept thoughts and prayers. They are demanding change at a higher level, getting their message out everywhere. And they are refusing to be silent, even as alt-right trolls try to devalue their messages, calling them and are refusing to believe that teenagers could have sensible ideas about politics in this country.
It is not an easy journey. They are up against a systemic national gun culture that is ancient and seemingly unmovable. Even as they rally and cry out with the purest wish of preventing tragedy like they underwent, they have experienced as many people who wish for them to stop as those who wish to spur them along.
As the students cried from the balcony at the Tallahassee state capitol, lawmakers the motion to even debate gun control. Senator Marco Rubio and a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association at the for the survivors had the audacity to run circles around questions the students asked, refusing to deliver straight answers, including one on whether or not they supported bump stocks to make semi-automatic weapons fully automatic.
What is the value of a child in this country? Children are touted as the future, as the reason we build and innovate, as the people we are trying to create a better world for. But it has become increasingly evident that the United States doesn’t truly value its children. If the United States valued about its children, assault weapons would be banned. If the United States valued about its children, politicians would not accept donations from the NRA. If the United States valued about its children, mandatory background checks would be in place. If the United States truly valued its children, a teenager who is unable to legally drink alcohol would not be able to buy a gun.
Those who disagree make false equivalences, comparing gun laws to prohibition. In a with the students of Stoneman Douglas, Rubio argued that the banning of guns will not deter people who actually want to buy them. To this I say: a politician who does not believe in the power of law is hypocrisy of the highest degree, and that people who tout this idea always seem to forget it when they push for laws banning abortion, or controversial topics that they personally believe in. People also say that if the had guns, this wouldn’t have happened. In reality, there is no way to really know for sure whether having a gun in a stressful situation will prevent deaths or just cause more casualties. Shootings are messy and chaotic, and there is no guarantee on outcome, and it is not worth taking a chance to add more guns to a situation which should have zero weapons in the first place. It is common sense that fewer guns will lead to fewer gun deaths. And if we cannot accept this, positing that gun deaths will continue to happen no matter what, we are all responsible for the next mass shooting. We are all complicit.
This ineptitude of our elected officials and leaders inspires a particular sense of hopelessness. Gun violence in the United States has reached dizzying, almost unfathomable numbers. On an , 96 Americans are killed by guns. The fact that nothing has been done is disheartening and can lead to disillusion with our political system.
But look around you and realize that the world is a far better place than you think. Think about those that rushed to donate blood after . Think about the influx of donations to help those wounded and lost after . Remember the efforts of the Stoneman Douglas students, fighting even as I write this.
You too have a bigger role to play than you may think. Remember what you have felt every single time you have woken up to news that a school, a church, a public space has been shot up. It becomes a fuel for your actions and a catalyst for the change that needs to sweep over this country. Write letters to your senator. Join a campaign for a politician that you support for the 2018 midterm elections. Donate blood to the Red Cross for survivors and those in need. Go to the We Call BS: Princeton Rally for Gun Reform being held on campus on March 14. Most importantly, don’t stop talking about the things that matter to you. Keep yourself informed about the issues of today. Let knowledge be your shield and sword in the fight to change this country. And slowly, things will change.
Change is not a faucet, nor is it a flood that levels cities in a single instance. It’s a steady drip that over time can erode even the strongest of institutions.
Sometimes it feels as though our voices are just a shout into the void. But the minute that we stop shouting is the minute that we relinquish any hope of being heard.
Anika Yardi is a first-year from Gaithersburg, Md. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.