Watching the news on Valentine’s Day about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, my mind raced back ten years—Valentine’s Day 2008. That year, too, broadcasts broke a story of horror mid-day, shattering a holiday celebrating love. A young man with a shotgun and two pistols had killed five students, injured seventeen and shot himself at my alma mater, Northern Illinois University, in a lecture hall where a few decades earlier I had taken many classes. More than one student in my preferred section of seating didn’t make it. At any random stroke of time one of those casualties could have been me, could have been one of my friends, could have been my second cousin who was a senior at NIU at the time. I wasn’t there, but I was. I was in the shot. It goes without saying the 2008 shooter was mentally unstable. You don’t kill kids if you’re fine. But nine years after Columbine, all I could think of was how did he GET THOSE GUNS? Why did we in a modern society HAVE THOSE GUNS? From then on I voted with my anger. A pro-gun stance by a candidate was no longer just “on the list,” it was enough to reprioritize a lot of other issues. As an adult, I had standing—the power of a vote. I’d waited a long time for that standing, thought it was enough. Thought, as we said back in the day, the system would work if we were just part of it. Alas…
Hell No, We Won’t Go
Back in 2018, I put down the remote, and my mind raced again, back farther to a time when I didn’t have that power, to a time when, like the Florida kids, I didn’t have standing. Those issues of that era propel the characters in my novel, The Fourteenth of September. The details were different, but the essence was the same—a complex issue standing in the way of life for children. In the time of the Vietnam War, another generation were teenagers. The average age of draftees was nineteen; voting age was twenty-one. Life expectancy under fire was measured in seconds. We were being killed, and those who should have protected us—our government, our institution—were mired in what ifs and, as we said, were “part of the problem, not the solution.” Our WWII-era parents were upset but not so much that they were mobilizing to successfully vote out the hawks. At Kent State, legal guns were turned on us. No, not the same as mass school shootings, but we knew what dead kids dropping around us felt like. We knew how the endless series of more and more dead bodies terrified us, whether in a jungle far away or in a school demonstration gone bad. Yep. Got that. It could be me. Or, you right next to me. We were in the shot. Remember?
THIS IS BS! … but in good way
Today, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, and a generation of other young people are also without standing and very much in the shot. Gonzalez, a wonderfully outspoken girl from Marjory Stoneman Douglas called it like she saw it, and she’s right. She cuts through the crap of all the “why not” reasons—"The Domino Theories” of gun control—and gets to the core of how it should be seen—as bullshit!—and I finally feel that real change has a chance. The response of these amazing, angry kids from Florida is so tragically familiar, and wondrously hopeful.
For the first time in a long time, all the ingredients for real action are in place.
Fear—they’re targets and they’re being killed. Anger—they aren’t being protected by the government and institutions that are there FOR THAT REASON. Disappointment—many parents are trying to vote out the gun guys, but the lobbies are strong and multi-issue voting hasn’t worked. Outrage—those of us with influence have had enough time and sufficient opportunities to do something, and we haven’t. Lack of power—they don’t have the vote. And, it’s personal. They are in the shot.
These are the factors that in my day stopped a war. These are the factors that ended racist Jim Crow laws in the South. Today, these are the same factors that can stop guns. These kids are making us understand, with fury and social media, and more than a few tricks from our day. I smiled in solidarity as they walked out on March 14th, and plan to do it again every 14th, just like our Moratoriums Against the War.
Things are already starting to turn. There’s even talk of moving the voting age to sixteen. As Laurence Steinberg said in the New York Times on March 2, “The proposal to lower the voting age is motivated by today’s outrage that those most vulnerable to school shootings have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented.” Sound familiar?
Wild in the Streets or Protesting at the Polls? Our Choice
In 1968 a popular movie came out called Wild in the Streets. Kids took over. The new President was only twenty-five. People who hit thirty were dosed with LSD, draped in white togas and left to wander through the forest. It was a cautionary tale. Things can get pretty outrageous when you aren’t being listened to. No BS.
I don’t think we should get rid of everyone over thirty, nor am I ready to say the voting age should be sixteen without a lot more thought. But I am here to say that we—the anti-war generation—knows how to do this, and we can help by marching with and voting for these kids, in their place, on their behalf and in every sense of the word.
We Can Still Change the World
This all means we can STILL change the world. That rallying call was the obligation of my generation—our noblesse oblige, if you will, for being the first generation living in enough freedom to follow our passion. We knew how to do it—we stopped a war. We lowered the voting age to eighteen. We didn’t think we could do it, but we did.
These kids can stop the mass shooting war raging around them. But without standing, they need our help. This is a time for marching and voting.
Be their proxy. This week and beyond vote for candidates who know where guns belong—and where they don’t. Join the students in the streets on March 24th. Join them anytime on social media. With all of us standing for and beside them, even the NRA can stand down. And the world will change.