The power of youth: a new generation of Americans are ready to challenge the powers that be
Just over a week ago, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the only public high school in the Miami suburb of Parkland, Florida, fled, hid, and watched as 17 of their classmates, teachers and administrative figures were brutally murdered by gunfire at the hands of a former student. That student will remain nameless, as he has gotten enough attention for his actions.
This isn't about the shooter. This is about the survivors, the students.
One week removed from the horrors inside the halls of what should be a sacred, protected place of learning, those students stood up to the government they feel - and quite honestly have - failed them.
The community joined those survivors and parents for a CNN-hosted town hall Wednesday night, anger and frustration expressed in their voices as they stood up to the National Rifle Association and challenged lawmakers for gun reform. Republican senator Marco Rubio stood with democrats Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, both of whom support a ban on assault weapons like the one used in last week's shooting. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump, who did not appear at the town hall but held a White House listening session Wednesday with survivors of school shootings, called for a ban of bump stocks that turn semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic ones.
Rubio, who has received over $3 million from the NRA, lobbied for raising the age limit for purchasing AR-15-style weapons.
"I absolutely believe that in this country, if you are 18 years of age you should not be able to buy a rifle," Rubio said.
In the most poignant moment of the town hall, Stoneman high junior Cameron Kasky pressed Rubio to turn down future donations from the NRA.
NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch also participated, calling the shooter an "insane monster" who should not have been able to get a firearm. She claimed that she was fighting for those students, but she was persistent in calling for laws to stop people with mental illnesses from purchasing these guns and accessories. A problematic take at best, given that only 3 to 5 percent of all violent crimes is attributed to serious mental illness, and the large majority of gun violence towards others is not caused by mental illness.
Senior Emma Gonzalez took Loesch to task, asking if she believes it should be harder to obtain those weapons and modifications.
Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez were not the only students standing up to the establishment. Alfonso Calderon called out Loesch for not "living in reality" and tip-toeing questions. When asked about President Trump's suggestion of arming teachers and staff with weapons to increase school safety, Calderon lambasted Trump's "terrible idea."
Senior Ryan Deitsch recalled growing up with active shooter drills that had him hiding with his teacher and classmates for three hours after a shooter came to his town. Seven years later, he says, he was in a closet with 19 other students fearing for his life.
"Why do we have to be the ones to do this?", Deitsch asked Sen. Rubio. "Why do we have to speak out to the Capitol? Why do we have to march on Washington just to save innocent lives?"
They shouldn't have to. Last week, those students watched their friends and classmates get killed while they feared for their own lives. If they wanted to stay silent and cope with the pain of that awful day, it would've been reasonable.
Instead, they showed the courage to take on President Trump, some of Congress' most powerful politicians and the mouthpiece of the NRA, and made a more pure, impassioned plea for gun laws in this country than a majority of the leaders we have voted into office.
Did I mention most of those kids can't vote yet?
But soon, very soon, they will be able to. Some will be eligible to vote in this November's midterm elections, and most of them will have a say in the 2020 Presidential election.
"We are the people of America - we the people are the ones who change this country," Calderon said. "We the people are the ones this country is made for and run for. We the people elect who (the NRA) pay to stay in office... Change will come."
The students at Stoneman Douglas High School are leading a generation of people that are prepared to confront a government who has lied and conned their way into office, to demand action from every person of power with the ability to change the society that has left them unprotected, or else.
These are our future leaders. They are powerful, and they refuse to be silenced.
America, get used to it.