As soon as I heard about the March For Our Lives, I asked Maggie if she would be interested in going. No promises, I said, but maybe we could get a cheap hotel in Maryland the night before and drive in just for the day. Later I asked Rick if he’d mind if Maggie and I went, and to my surprise, he said, let’s all go. Let’s make a trip of it and stay in DC for a few days. We had been several years ago, but she didn’t remember much of it. When we discovered that the boys wouldn’t be able to come, we decided to let Maggie invite some friends. That’s how I came to be in an overstuffed SUV going east on the turnpike. Sophomore girls do not know how to travel light.
From our lovely rental townhouse in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, I swear I passed Susan Stamberg on the street Saturday morning. We hopped on the Metro with our protest signs (Me: Arm me with Music, Art, & Theatre! Maggie: We have a right to learn without fear!) and found like-minded folks right away. When we got to Pennsylvania Avenue around 9:30, we were dismayed to find that we couldn’t get close to the stage. Fortunately there were huge video screens and speakers set up, so we claimed a spot on the curb near the Canadian embassy. We sang along with the playlist and read a myriad of clever signs as we waited for the main event at noon. It wasn’t until later, when we saw an aerial photo of the massive crowd, that we realized we were in the first twenty percent of the nearly 800,000 people jammed into the street. From the Capitol to the Ellipse, it was solid humanity.
I had been following the Parkland kids on Twitter since their first rally just two days after their town became the latest in a too-long list that began with Columbine and included Sandy Hook and Sutherland Springs. I’d seen Cameron Kasky and Emma González online, and I had quickly found David Hogg, Delaney Tarr, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, and many others. I was a little concerned that the rally would be mostly stars, although I was thrilled that so many famous people were directing attention toward the cause. I admit I fangirled when I found out that Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda would be performing “Found/Tonight”. But these kids… there are no words.
Student after student took the stage to speak about the ridiculous situation we find ourselves in, in which gun violence research is banned from government funding, in which geese have more protection from guns than average citizens, in which 12-year-olds can purchase semi-automatic rifles at gun shows without so much as a parent’s permission. The privileged, suburban, mostly white students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alternated with students of color from urban schools around the country who have faced gun violence every day of their lives. And as each one told his or her unique story, the case for sensible gun law reform grew stronger and stronger. Each and every one of them was poised, informed, and passionate. I hardly remember Common and Vic Mensa. Ariana Grande is an afterthought. Even Ben and Lin, as much as I adore them both, are not the memory that I keep coming back to.
When I think about the March For Our Lives on March 24, 2018, in Washington, DC, what resonates in my mind is the silence as Emma González stood, wordless, at the microphone. 800,000 people on Pennsylvania Avenue stood silently with her. We heard her sniffle and we saw enormous teardrops slide down her face on the jumbotron. We felt the deep pain of these children who have seen what no one should see. We felt the loss with them. And when Emma explained that from the time she took the stage until she spoke again, six minutes and twenty seconds had elapsed, the full weight of the destructive power of that weapon came to rest on all of our shoulders. The same amount of time the 19-year-old former student of MSDHS took to eliminate seventeen lives and forever alter countless others. The time it takes me to drive to the grocery store. Less than the time it takes to drive my daughter to school. Less than the time to drive to her school from the police station.
If, after hearing these children’s stories, you still believe that arming teachers is the solution, you are not listening. If you believe that semi-automatic weapons, large magazines, and bump stocks should be readily available to the general public, you do not understand the damage these weapons do to human and animal flesh. If you feel that universal background checks and three-day waiting periods place too much burden on sport shooters, you need to learn patience and planning ahead. If you think that your right to bear arms trumps the inalienable right of any human being to be alive, you need to have your head examined.
Contrary to reports in some outlets, the Parkland kids don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment. They just want to feel safe from gun violence in their schools, their neighborhoods, and their country. That’s why I went to Washington last week. Because I don’t think that’s too much for kids to ask from us.