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Challenge 11: March For Our Lives: Washington D.C.

Background:

Through and through, I am a creature of habit. My planner is the most important purchase of the year and I thrive off my Sunday night organization session where I outline my upcoming week in multi-colored pens. I have certain habits for grocery shopping and laundry and when I like to study foreign languages.

These routines, much like running and writing, keep me grounded and focused. But at some point, routines can become too much. It isn’t until you’ve stepped outside of yourself for a day or a week that you notice how much you’ve missed. You know that feeling of taking a long weekend trip? Suddenly, Saturday seems to last forever as you forget about buying bananas and bread and focus on enjoying wherever you are.

All this is to say that while I appreciate some of the structures I’ve given my life, I can’t help but wonder what’s just outside the box. The new idea for Sunday blog posts is to write about one experience I had in the previous week that was out of routine, that wasn’t predictable, that made me think a little differently about myself and the world I live in.

Challenge 11: March in Washington D.C.

From a very young age, we were taught not to talk about religion or politics. It could be rude or offensive and therefore it became taboo. Fortunately, this post is about neither religion nor politics. It’s about human decency, common sense regulations, and protecting our future. This post is about the March for Our Lives.

On February 14th, 2018, a gunman opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That day began as a normal Wednesday. I went to work. I checked the news alerts I receive on my phone. I ate my packed lunch. That afternoon, I went for a short walk around the block to give my eyes a break from the computer screen. I had an apple in one hand and my phone in the other as I decided to use this time to catch up with my dad. He told me there was a shooting in Florida.

I came back to my desk and pulled up the breaking news. I came home from work still following the story. I fell into my evening routines, my heart still sick over the information being telecast across the world. I could feel myself becoming angry and discouraged and, dare I even say, hopeless. How could we live in a country that continues to allow this to happen? How could massacre after massacre occur in our churches and movie theatres and concerts and schools and no real change be enacted? How could 17 people leave for school and not return?

Then something remarkable happened. The students fought back. They used their voices. They said enough.

Within days of the shooting, a reckoning began in this nation. Students organized. They rallied. They planned. They self-educated. They wrote to Congress. They grieved. They spoke out.

I’ve been following this story very closely and had already marked my planner for the March 24th, 2018 “March for Our Lives.” I live in New York City. We’re pretty good at marches and demonstrations. Then I received an email about an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. In a spontaneous almost shrug kind of way, I asked my friend and we decided to go. Admittedly, the night before we left, I wondered if we were silly to take a bus to the nation’s capital when we could have our voices heard in our own city. Should we have donated to Everytown for Gun Safety or the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence or the March itself instead of buying a ticket to take the bus? (Update; both are important things to do. Check out the links. Donate).

Regardless, we were committed and at 3:30 in the morning, my alarm went off to prove it. The trip to D.C. was uneventful and as my friend and I clambered off the bus, we found another young woman who had made the trek solo. (Check out her blog here). We introduced ourselves and soon our party of three was walking from the bus parking lot to Capitol Hill.

March 24th, 2018 was a beautiful day. There was a slight cool breeze and a warming sun and everything just felt right. As we approached the Mall, we saw signs and protestors and lots of orange. Then, at noon, the rally began.

There were performances by artists like Andra Day, Common, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Platt, Vic Mensa, and Jennifer Hudson. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, took the podium. There were videos projected on the screen to lift up voices that may not have been able to attend the event including a group of Veterans who support banning assault rifles for civilians and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Drama club students from Parkland wrote a song called Shine which they performed live on stage. It was beautiful and I highly recommend taking a listen.

An estimated 800,000 plus individuals showed up in Washington D.C. There were over 800 sister marches in every American state and across the world in every continent except Antarctica.

One of the most remarkable things about the march was the inclusivity. What these Parkland students have been able to accomplish in a little over a month is astounding. What people often forget is that there are young activists in our inner cities who have been fighting these battles for years. In a truly impressive manner, I watched the students of suburban Florida check their privilege and share the stage. This wasn’t just about their school’s horror.

They opened the stage to a young lady named Naomi Wadler who at just 11 years old said, “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don't make the front page of every national 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."

Parkland recognized the platform they had been given and used it to expand beyond their school. They shared the stage with activists from Baltimore and Chicago and Washington D.C. In a “bigger than us” moment, the rally held space for everyone from every background regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or any other differentiator that those who divide would like to assign to us.

Some of the most chilling signs were the ones held by those who had been there before. I saw signs from a Columbine survivor and from a whole group of Sandy Hook survivors. Students from Newtown High School presented the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a banner of support and love. It was an incredible gesture while at the same time being utterly heartbreaking. Here were these students, forever bonded by a horrific event that should never have been able to occur.

Shortly after news broke of the shooting on February 14th, I was chatting with a close friend and explaining my frustrations. It was easy to feel helpless in those first hours. I asked him where our Martin Luther King was. I told him I felt like we were standing on the precipice of history. We talked about who the Rosa Parks of our generation might be, swapping ideas of activists who have inspired us. Little did we know who was about to step onto the scene.

Three days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Emma Gonzalez took the national stage for the first time. What followed was her rallying cry that echoed across the country and in a matter of hours turned viral:

“(They say) that us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works — we call B.S.!”

Emma became the voice for a generation. She is the rallying cry we need.

On Saturday, March 24th, 2018, I watched Emma Gonzalez take the stage to a thundering cheer. And then silence. If you have the chance, I encourage you to watch this video – the full video of her speech. I encourage you to focus on it in its entirety and to not allowed yourself to get distracted by anything else but this incredible young woman. Take a listen and then keep reading.

On Saturday, March 24th, 2018, Emma Gonzalez walked onto the stage at Washington D.C. “Six minutes and about twenty seconds,” she begins. “In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 were injured, and everyone, absolutely everyone, in the Douglas community was forever altered.”

She says the names of her classmates and then a little over 2 minutes into her speech, she stops talking. Experiencing this live is something I will never forget. In the video, she stops speaking at 2:10. At first it seems like a purposeful pause but after 30 seconds of silence, the audience shouts and cheers a bit. After a minute, people begin to clap. Two minutes into the silence, the tension begins to surround the city as some individuals start chanting, “Never again!” It slowly begins to sink in to the crowd that this isn’t just a pause for emphasis. She isn’t trying to regain composure. She is taking us to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She is redefining what it means to be powerful.

People around us begin to cry. Others hold up two fingers in silent peace. Three minutes into her silence, the chanting has stopped. On an international stage, Emma Gonzalez has silenced the world. She stands in front of hundreds of thousands with more grace and dignity than I have ever witnessed. Tears run across her cheeks but she stands tall. She is angry. She is hurting. But she is a woman who knows her power and is not backing down.

A small alarm chimes on her cell phone and she speaks, “Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and twenty seconds. The shooter has seized shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”

I have never experienced anything like that and can’t imagine I ever will again. In the words of Hamilton, “History has its eyes on you.” This movement is compiled of moments like this. Real change is compiled of people who didn’t accept the status quo. A safer future is compiled of tangible actions over thoughts and prayers.

We hear you. We see you. We support you. To quote Cameron Kasky, one of the young Parkland activists, “Welcome to the revolution.”

Love always,

Liz

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