March For Our Lives Washington D.C.

March For Our Lives Washington, D.C.
Photos by Greg Tarkey

They’re lazy. They think basic tasks are beneath them. They spend far too much time on their phones. And they only care only about themselves. Sound familiar? This week alone you may have read or heard someone taking this approach while speaking about March For Our Lives.

However, this sentiment is not new. Nor is it specifically about the March for Our Lives students. For centuries older generations have held similar views toward younger generations.  In the 4th Century BC, Aristotle wrote: “They have exalted notions, because they have not yet been humbled by life or learnt its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful dispositions make them think themselves equal to great things – and that means having exalted notions… They think they know everything and are always quite sure about it; this, in fact, is why they overdo everything.”

Town and Country Magazine published a letter in 1771 that read, “Whither are the manly vigour and athletic appearance of our forefathers flown? Can these be their legitimate heirs? Surely, no; a race of effeminate, self-admiring, emaciated fribbles can never have descended in a direct line from the heroes of Poitiers and Agincourt…”

In 1993 the Washington Post wrote, “What really distinguishes this generation from those before it is that it’s the first generation in American history to live so well and complain so bitterly about it.”

In 2001 TIME magazine wrote, “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own and they crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.”

12 Years later TIME Magazine ran a cover story on the millennial generation. The cover featured a young millennial women laying on her stomach holding her phone up to take a selfie. The cover read: “The ME ME ME Generation, Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.”

On March 25, 2018, NRA host Colion Noir (who is either 33 or 34) released a video in which he said, “From where I’m standing, it looks like a march to burn the Constitution and rewrite the parts that they don’t like in crayon.” Radio Host Kevin Mccullough felt that the students lacked the education to enter a policy debate, “little more than a junior high-level education under their belt,” he said.

Writing for The Federalist, David Harsanyi wrote: “these kids understand that they attend schools that are safer than ever in a nation that has bequeathed them more freedom and wealth than any other group in the history of the world.”

We saw something different. We heard something different. And we felt something different.

WHAT WE SAW AT MARCH FOR OUR LIVES.

On March 25, 2018, we saw with our own teary and emotional eyes that the younger generation are anything but lazy or beneath any task. And sure they might spend a lot of time on their phones, but they aren’t just playing games. They are connecting to one another and organizing and preparing to make a significant change because they care about more than themselves. They are thinking about all of us and all future generations.

We were not the only ones who stood on sunny Pennsylvania Avenue fighting back the tears as we listened to

Photo Credi: Greg Tarkey

students speak. We were not the only ones who got emotional while watching the videos that helped explain the complex issues around America’s gun debate. No one yelled at one another. No one got upset if someone wanted to

get through the crowd. We did not witness any pushing or shoving. Instead, we observed people of all ages and all background discuss complicated issues with one another. We were part of a community. Strangers were chanting together. We were talking to one another and sharing our experiences with each other. What we saw was the positivity that can follow such horrific events.

There were thought-provoking protest signs carried by people of all ages and backgrounds. They included: “When I grow up, I want to be alive.”; “We’re Voting”; “Protect Kids Not Guns”; “One Child Is Worth More Than ALL the Guns on Earth.”; “It’s the Guns, Stupid”; “Enough Is Enough”; “Peace”; “I Can’t Believe We Are Still Protesting This”; “Your Silence Is Killing Us”; “2nd Amendment: Written When a Black Person Counted as 3/5 Of A Person. Things Change.” ; “Protect Kids Not Guns”; “My Kid’s Safety > Your Guns’ Safety”; “Teachers W/ Guns Don’t Protect Kids, Legislators W/ Courage Do.”; And “I Am Marching for My Grandkids.”

Photo Credit: Greg Tarkey

A young girl, no more than 5, carried a sign down Pennsylvania Avenue that read “Am I Next?” Her brother carried one that read “Protect Me Not Guns.”  Their mother was very visibly proud yet looking in her eyes you can tell she was scared. Just behind them, a high school kid held a sign “We Take The Bullets AND The Blame?” And just beside him, another high school student from another school held a sign that read: “As A Black Boy I Hope 1 Day I’ll Have As Many Rights As A Gun.”

Hundreds of students stood united on the stairs of the National Archive building. Some flew all the way from Hawaii to demand common sense policy. A sign read “If I die in a Mass Shooting For The Burial – Drop Me on the Steps of the NRA.” All together we watched as students from Los Angeles, Chicago, Virginia, New York, Parkland, Newtown, shared their different stories with similar outcomes on why they made it Washington, D.C. to be part of this pivotal moment.

When emergency vehicles had to get through the crowd, we saw people quickly respond to let them through. We saw younger people helping older people walk through the crowd. When the TV Screens flashed the names of 3 kids who had gone missing, we saw people genuinely try to see if any of those kids were by them. We saw a lot of love and respect.

Photo Credit: Greg Tarkey

Yes, there were performances too from well known singers, but we did not find a single person who came to D.C. to see any of them. They came to hear from the students. They came to be a part of something. And most importantly they came to make a change.

WHAT WE HEARD.

At March For Our Lives, we heard well thought-out solutions based on personal experiences, statistics and an acknowledgment of past failures. We heard from the leaders of this movement, all young, all with connections to gun violence and advocacy. We heard silence from the crowd when each speaker spoke. And we heard from older audience members how impressed they were by each speaker. It was almost as if it was the first time anyone over 35 decided to listen to anyone under 20. They acted pleasantly surprised.

“I learned how to duck from bullets before I learned how to read,” Edna Chávez said. “For decades, my community of South Los Angeles has become accustomed to this violence,” she explained.  “It is normal to see flowers honoring the lives of black and brown youth that have lost their lives to a bullet. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face and come to an understanding of how to resolve them.”

Telling her story, Chicago native May Middleton said, “When he finally turns to me, he comes toward me, and I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t think. He pulls out this silver pistol and points it in my face and said these words that to this day haunt me and give me nightmares. He said, ‘If you say anything, I will find you.’ And yet I’m still saying something today.” She went on to firmly state in a way only a great orator can, “Guns have long scared our children. Join me in sharing my pain and my anger.”

The Parkland Students made sure that this policy fight was not just about them. They acknowledged that this is an issue that does not affect just them. Not only their community. And not only high school students. Perhaps the speaker who left us speechless and the most inspired was 11-year-old activist Naomi Wadler from Virginia.

“I am here 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,” Miss Wadler said.  “I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential. For far too long, these names, these black girls, and women have just been numbers. I’m here to say ‘Never again’ for those girls too.”

The student organizers that spoke in front of hundreds of thousands and millions more on television were exceptional orators, but that alone was not what impressed the millions who listened. It was their understanding of the fight that lies ahead. No one implied that a quick fix was possible. No one said that a solution was possible in the coming weeks, or months or even years. If there was any core message, it was that. This fight will be tough. This fight will be long, but they are in it.

‘This march is just the beginning of a movement that will last a very long time,” said Parkland survivor Rebecca Schneid. “We understand that this is a marathon and that we’ll be fighting for years. We’re just getting started; now we have to use our rights as voters to make things change. Politicians will see that we aren’t going away.”

We also heard a lot of love for those who we lost. From brothers and sisters to fellow students, you don’t have to be shot at or shot to be a victim of gun violence. Loss reverberates through families and communities. It took Stoneman Douglas High School student, Samantha Fuentes to remind us of just that.  She led the crowd in Happy Birthday to her friend Nick Dworet who we lost in Parkland.

But perhaps the most impactful thing we heard was silence. Emma Gonzalez took to the stage and stood in silence for minutes, representing the time the shooter was killing her classmates and reeking havoc on their community. That chilling silence where you could hear a pin drop and all you could do is tear up with Emma because for that moment although you did not experience what she did, you felt her pain. You saw her pain. You felt the pain of all people who have been victims and survivors of gun violence. And you agreed enough is enough.

HOW WE GOT TO MARCH FOR OUR LIVES D.C.

Last month I interviewed my friend Colin Goddard for a post on Highlark titled “Will The Kids Be Alright: A New Generation Takes the Lead In America’s Gun Control Debate.” Goddard was shot multiple times while in his Spanish class at Virginia Tech. He and I spoke at length about what survivors like him were thinking and feeling while watching Parkland unfold.

Once published I forward the post to my friend Greg Tarkey, a photographer based in New York. Greg immediately called me to discuss what he read. We spoke for nearly an hour. He then suggested attending the March For Our Lives rally in D.C. Without hesitation, I agreed. I felt I had to be there.

Greg and I headed to D.C. a day early to attend a student forum hosted by the Brady Campaign. Students from across the country, piled into the Hart Senate Office Building to discuss gun legislation. What we saw were students, just like everyone else, torn on gun policy. We witnessed these students, some from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, begin to understand why this is a such a complex, at times heated, issue.

When asked if people should be allowed to carry a gun, most students said yes. They felt, with a few exceptions, that people had the right to do so. But when you asked if assault rifles should be banned or if we should have tighter background checks the answer from an overwhelming majority was: ‘yes.’ When asked whether they felt comfortable with guns in their homes about 70% said no. And when asked if they felt comfortable with arming their teachers it was nearly 100% no.

Washington, D.C.
Stoneman Douglas student Cas gives a young supporter a hug. Photo Credit: Greg Tarkey.

Since this was Greg’s first trip to Washington D.C., I made sure to show him around. Outside of White House, we came across students from Flordia protesting. They were holding signs and demanding gun legislation as they blasted “Shine” the piano ballad written after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting by students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Pena. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman watching these four students with tears coming down her eyes. Those tears that are noticeably sadness mixed with pride. She was the mother of one of the students protesting. That same student who is a student at Stoneman Douglas. I asked her a few questions.

What was that day like for you? “I’d go 15-20 minutes between texts not being able to hear from them,” Casey,  mother of two Stoneman Douglas students said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t keep track.”

Casey made the trip up with her son, Cas who along with three other students stood in front of the White House demanding action. They stood there as many took photographs of them. We saw other kids their age and younger give them hugs. 30-minutes prior they saw President Donald Trump take a helicopter from the White House to head out on vacation.

Did you ever think something like this would happen in your community? “No,” Casey said. “We moved from Kansas City in 2016 and picked where we were living based on Stoneman Douglas High School because we wanted that high school.”

I asked Casey about other school shootings and how she felt then versus how she feels today, “My heart broke for all those parents, but it sorta felt like ‘ what can we do?'” she tells me. “Columbine felt like a one-off. You thought ‘oh that’s horrible, it will never happen again like that.’ And now these kids have us thinking we can actually do something, it’s not just something horrible that happened, and we’re all helpless. That’s been the change for me. And it’s the kids who showed us that.”

“It’s putting a real face to this,” she goes on. “Instead of just a news report. These kids don’t want it to be forgotten. I remember a few days after the shooting, Cas said to me ‘people are going to forget us, they probably already are forgetting’ and it broke his heart. And then they haven’t because these kids won’t let anyone forget. They won’t stay silent. They won’t let anyone forget.”

I asked Casey if her political views have changed since going through all of this, “to be honest I didn’t follow politics as much as I should have,” she said. “I am at fault as all the people are who only voted in presidential elections and I didn’t consider the other ones. Now I am regretting my choices for not voting.”

HOW WE FELT.

Perhaps it was the capitol in the background. Maybe it was that we were walking distance to iconic, historic buildings like The White House, Lincoln Memorial, and The Washington Monument. Or perhaps it was because we were at the epicenter of March For Our Lives, but that day, March 25, 2018, was deeply emotional. Following the march, Greg and I followed crowds to the mall. I remember saying to him, that I had a lot to say about this March but needed time to think about it. I wasn’t alone.

Washington D.C.
Photo Credit: Greg Tarkey

 

Unlike other rallies and protests that I’ve attended this one ended differently. Sure people were tired and exhausted, but in this case, people were deeply moved by what they just experienced. Each one of us felt like we had a purpose coming out of this march. A goal of spreading what we saw and heard. We learned a lot. We leaned a lot from the students who spoke and the informative videos that explained the actual issues behind the 2nd amendment and gun-safety. And it was clear what the student organizers were asking us to help them do. We all received clear directions, to sign a petition, register to vote, vote them out, and write to our congressman. There was little talk about taking people’s guns away.

There was no mix-messaging like you find at other rallies and marches.  The objective was clear. Our purpose for being there was clear. We felt reinvigorated. We felt inspired. And it is time for us to get behind them and bring about change.

 

You have heard it before. And in case you hadn’t, Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg reminded the March For Our Lives crowd: Alexander the Great conquered countries at age 18. Joan of Arc turned a war around at age 17. At age 19, 17th Century French Mathematician Blaise Pascal developed a calculator. Alexander Hamilton became Washington’s aide-de-camp at age 22. Mozart wrote his first symphony at age 8.

It was Gilbert du Motier who turned the tide of the Revolutionary War at just 19-years old. A 20-year-old Mary Shelley published ‘Frankenstein.’ Linda Brown, a third grader, was at the center of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. A dozen of the original signers of the Declaration of independence were under the age of 35 including Thomas Jefferson.

Washington D.C.
A protester speaks to the media following March For Our Lives DC. Photo Credit: Greg Tarkey

And at the age of 26 a young man from Atlanta, Georgia named Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycott. Eight years later he went on to lead the March on Washington. He delivered one of the most iconic American speech of all time. Another member who made up the civil rights’ Big Six is John Lewis. At 19, Lewis became a leader in the Civil Rights Movement along with King. Lewis went on to become one of our most distinguished and respected Congressman. He still works tirelessly serving Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. And he’s been an outspoken advocate on gun-violence. He led a sit-in protest over gun control in the house chambers during the summer of 2016.

Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his wife Coretta Scott King instilled her and her husband’s morals and virtues in their four children. Those children went on to have children of their own. On March 25, 2018, nearly 55 years after Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream speech,” his 11-year old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King joined March For Our Lives students. She said to the crowd, ‘My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. I have a dream, that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.’

She then led a chant in which the crowd joined: “Spread the word. Have you heard? All across the nation. We are going to be a great generation.”

And a great generation they will be.

 

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