I was honored yesterday to travel with a group of my students to Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Our Lives. Like the movement itself, the entire trip was their idea. They wanted to go. They organized it. They talked to administration. They found chaperones. They figured out the busing and worked to raise the money. I was there because they asked me to chaperone and I was proud to march alongside them. I’ve had people asking me what it was like or about pictures I took or things like that. At the end of the day, I seemed to be able to say more with this short reflection than I could with anything I’d put on a Twitter or Facebook post.
All day I kept thinking how proud I was to be working at a Catholic Mercy school where our administration was so behind this event. I was proud, a few weeks ago, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement echoing the calls for common sense gun reform they’ve championed for years while praising the students of Parkland for their work saying, “The voices of these advocates should ring in our ears as they describe the peaceful future to which they aspire.” I was proud when the Mercy Education System of the Americas (MESA) praised students for participating in the walkout and called on all the Mercy schools in the U.S. with the means to do so to gather in D.C. so we could pray and then march together. But most of all I was, and remain, most proud of the students – my own and the hundreds of thousands like them in D.C. and all across the country – who marched and cried out for laws drafted in the name of compassion, common sense, and nonviolence as opposed to letting corruption, apathy, and death continue to chart the course for our country.
Being there was important to my students so twenty-five of them gave up a Saturday – a Saturday that could have been filled with homework or practice or Netflix or any number of other things – to board a yellow school bus at 2:30 am to begin the eight hour ride to Washington D.C. to add their voices to the call for nonviolence. They needed to say; with heart, mind, body, and spirit, that enough was enough and human lives are worth more than ideology of death. We were off the bus a little after 10:30 am. We gathered to pray with the other Mercy schools present before beginning the walk to the event. Given the size of the crowd, we never made it past 9th Ave but they stood in solidarity – cheering, applauding, chanting, and allowing themselves to be moved by the emotional nature of the event and the speeches – for four hours. Then we walked back to the bus, got on again around 4:30 pm, and began the long drive home. There wasn’t a single complaint or lamentation. It was an incredible day where inspiration bloomed when exhaustion was natural. It was an honor and a blessing to stand beside them.
But it wasn’t a day simply for speeches. The message of the March for Our Lives was clear – for change to happen you must register to vote and then you must vote. Chants of “Vote them out!” were accompanied by people all through the crowds with forms to register new voters. The Parkland students are increasingly aware that gun violence is a problem that is often addressed differently – when its addressed at all – depending on your race and location. With this growing knowledge they have worked to build coalitions with groups like Black Lives Matter. Gun violence is an epidemic in this country, growing worse all the time, and these students are ready to proclaim “Enough!” and work to help a new day dawn.
Being a little older, a little more jaded and cynical, I may not be naïve enough to believe implementing real solutions to the horror of gun violence in this country is as close as these students see it. We adults look at how powerful the gun lobby has become, how deep the roots of systemic oppression go. We will commit ourselves to the cause without ever really expecting to see change in our lifetimes. But these students are too young to know they are “beaten” and this is why they will win. Hinduism teaches it’s our teenage years where our greatest spiritual growth is possible because it is a time when we reject all limitations. All of these students know the road to a better world is long and hard to walk but it is a road they will journey and a battle they will win because they know they are right and they believe they will win.
Sure, the NRA may try to demonize and diminish them. Ideological sycophants like PA’s former senator Rick Santorum may try to criticize and trivialize their actions by saying, “How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that.” And sales of bullet proof school supplies may be on the rise as many adults heartbreakingly believe this is a more logical fix than changing our gun control laws. But all of these people will find themselves on the wrong side of history.
When the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Messianic Age, the period of peace and justice to come, he says, “Justice shall be the band around his waist and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them” (11:5-6). When the new age of nonviolence arrives, when God’s will is followed on Earth, it is the youth who will lead us there.
When the people tried to keep the children from Jesus we see, “Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it’ ” (Luke 18:16-17). As I’ve written before, the Kingdom of God wasn’t a vague reference to heaven but a socially transformed world, made over in the image of God. And if we don’t approach this world like children do, we won’t be able to find our way in.
This is what the NRA and all the politicians and people who slavishly follow them are missing. These students are prophets and God is on their side.
I wanted to let these prophetic voices speak for themselves, so I’ve included several of the speeches from the rally in D.C. below. My criteria for selection was simply the speeches that came immediately to mind when I thought back on the power of the day. I’ve put the videos in the order they spoke. I encourage everyone to watch the speeches below and to seek out the others. We ignore the prophets among us at our own peril and we do the work of God when we heed their call.
Cameron Kasky condemns the unacceptable negligence of our politicians in regard to the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines as well as their doing nothing to pass universal background checks. He reminds these politicians the time to step up and fix this has come because, if they don’t, “the voters are coming.”
Edna Chávez, a seventeen-year-old who’s lived her entire life in South Los Angeles, speaks to the everyday reality of gun violence. Tragically, it’s not just an every-so-often attack at a school, church, or movie theatre. People are dying every day in places like South L.A. or Chicago and this must be addressed.
David Hogg called the students present to register and to vote in the 2018 election. If the youth turn out to vote, the corruption that holds sway can’t survive. He championed one of many of the day’s clearest messages – “NO MORE.”
Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler called us to “tell the stories that aren’t told” by speaking on behalf of “the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every newspaper. Whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”
Mya Middleton, a sixteen-year-old, spoke to the reality of gun violence in Chicago and addressed how, “Guns have become to voice of America.” Refusing to allow fear to control her, she reminds us all of the power of our voices.
Emma Gonzalez, who in many ways has become the semi-official face of this movement after her empassioned speech calling “B.S.” on the politicians who refuse to do anything, was the final speaker of the afternoon. Her words were brief and powerful.
I was moved to tears on more than one occasion, listening to the power of these young women and men’s words and thinking of the reality we have allowed to shape their lives, a reality which has forced them to grow up too fast. As a result, they are taking matters into their own hands. They have stepped up because so many of us haven’t. And others are joining their cause, adding their voices to their cries. As I said above, I was so very proud of them. We, as adults, have failed. We’ve said there’s nothing we can do. The NRA is too powerful. Our politicians are too corrupt. We get upset. We grumble. Maybe we even call our representatives…but nothing changes. We allow ourselves to be stopped short. That’s not good enough for these students. That’s not good enough for my students either as well as the hundreds of thousands who joined the March for Our Lives all across the country. Because of that, you can feel the change in the air.
I could say more…but why? It’s not me anyone should be listening to. We, as adults, have let this happen. Now these students have decided ENOUGH. Things must change. So, if you haven’t listened to their speeches already, please do. Listen to the ones here and look up the rest. It’s these young women and men we need to listen to. These are our prophets. It’s them we need to follow.