On Saturday, March 24, I filled a 55-person bus with friends and their teens and we made our way from Richmond, Va., to Washington D.C. for the March for Our Lives. When our bus returned home, more than 13 hours later, I asked everyone to email me their most memorable or meaningful “March Moment.” Many moved me to tears. Here’s mine:
One of my most meaningful “March Moments” was when I realized I shouldn’t be holding up the end of our banner that declared “NRA: This is What a Tipping Point Looks Like.”
I’ve been holding that thing at gun violence prevention events since 2015, when my daughters and I painted it so that I might protest with friends outside NRA Headquarters on the third anniversary of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Without anyone even saying anything, all the adults – partly out of fatigue – gradually stepped off, leaving our teens to hold the banner, along with the signs they had created. It was an unspoken, but hugely symbolic, transfer of power and trust. I realized all those kids had been raised to stand up and speak out for social justice. I looked at them – as dozens upon dozens of people stopped to photograph them – and felt, for the first time, in that vast crowd, that the “tipping point” on this issue had really, truly, been reached. And it was because of these kids.
There were so many moments that bear mention. So much inspiration. So many tears. Samantha Fuentes asking us to sing “Happy Birthday” for Nick Dworet. Fierce, little Naomi Wadler declaring herself a voice for the countless black female victims of gun violence. Edna Chavez of South L.A. showing us what leadership and our future looks like. Jackson Mittelman from Newtown who was so fed up and angry and wanted change NOW! I loved him for it.
For that matter, I loved every sign that said “Fuck” because that’s where I am right now. “Fuck Guns – All of Them” was held high by a pissed-off woman from Newtown. An old white guy in a baseball hat with a trim white beard looked like he was right out of central casting for “NRA member” yet held a sign that said, “Guns DO fucking kill people.” I wanted to kiss him. And all those clever signs contrasting gun legislation to laws that control women’s bodies. I loved every single one.
So many things… SO MANY… made me feel so ashamed. The stories and voices of the black and brown kids whose daily trauma has failed to compel me to attend vigils or protests in their own neighborhoods. The fact that, despite five straight years of gun violence prevention efforts, I haven’t really affected meaningful change. I personally haven’t been clever enough or worked hard enough to stop this. Just restoring an assault rifle ban might have saved lives at Pulse, Las Vegas, Parkland…
Adults have failed and I felt that shame acutely and repeatedly. We have failed this generation and our nation. We have failed. And these kids are thrust into a situation where they have to take the wheel. But thank God for them.
Hope… hope… hope…
These kids are amazing. These kids are our future. We have such a bright future.
My own daughter – who turns 18 this summer and heads to Virginia Tech, a college that gun violence turned into a hashtag – was among the thousands of teens privileged to register to vote at the March. I know she will never forget that.
Finally … Emma’s silence.
I will never ever forget 800,000 people going silent. (Chills… just writing that.) And then chanting “Never Again.” And then going quiet. And then weeping.
It was about then that I joined several of those around me who put their fists in the air. And that felt SO good, as though Emma Gonzalez was our own, real-life “Mockingjay.”
I looked around and silently implored everyone to put their fists up. I envisioned and longed for a movie scene with a sea of raised fists. But only a fraction held fists aloft.
Then, with my fist still in the air, I stared into Emma’s face on the Jumbotron. I watched her tears and admired the strength and character and ethnicity in her beautifully fierce face and her defiantly shaved head.
As a speechwriter, I began to wonder what she was up to. This long silence began to feel like a risk. What might her next move be?
And then, slowly, some of the fists around me began to transform into peace signs. And that makes me cry, just to write it. And a few hands that had chosen not to go up as fists now felt invited to join the other hands… in peace. And I stood there – in silence – struggling with what to do with my own hand. Fist or peace? Because I’m so damn ANGRY about this.
Fist… fist… fist… It’s all I’ve had for more than a year.
And Emma continued to just look out at us. And she needed… demanded… deserved… both anger and compassion. But, in that silence – that reverence – peace just sort of won out. After hours of listening to these tortured teens, it was so, so evident that we all just needed peace.
So my fist relaxed. And it felt a little like giving up. It felt like the right thing to do, yet it felt like a surrender, and I sort of felt like a failure. It felt as though we adults were – in that moment – relinquishing leadership responsibility to these magical kids. And as my two fingers went up, my head went down. And I gave Emma peace. And I gave the world my peace. And I cried.
Photo credit for the two images above: Kenan Potter