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OpEd: A March for the Ages

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Photo credit: Oliver Jones / CNN.

The opening line of the 1966 Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper” is “What a drag it is getting old.” So it goes. I am getting old, and a respiratory infection grounded me last weekend.

So, with hundreds of thousands of Americans and South Floridians marching against gun violence in Washington, DC, I was sitting on my spoiled ass watching it on a big screen 85 inch HD TV. But there is nothing like being there. Still, the living room is better than an emergency room.

As a student who joined in anti-Vietnam war marches in the Capitol in 1968, 50 years ago, I felt this event was equally historic. Over a half million young Americans were going to take a mass shooting and turn it around into a rally massing their generation in a noble cause. I wanted to be there.

These young men and women represent a movement that did not exist six weeks ago. But thanks to social media, now when you say, ‘Enough is Enough’ and reach a vast Internet with those words, half the world can hear you in less than a day.

Our own group of students from the suburban, quiet communities of Parkland and Coral Springs have launched their own ‘Arab Spring’ in less than thirty days, faster than it takes a veteran on Medicare to get an appointment with a local endocrinologist.

Ironically, as it applies to SFGN, wouldn’t you just know that the boldest voice of this new movement turns out to be the president of the Gay Student Alliance at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

You did not know Emma Gonzalez existed three months ago. Today, she is on the cover of Time Magazine with more followers on Twitter and Facebook than the entire National Rifle Association. Three months ago, she did not even have a Twitter account.

Last Saturday, in Washington, DC, this young woman shared a stage with Congressman John Lewis, a man who shared a similar stage a half century ago with Dr. Martin Luther King. On April 3, 1968, 50 years ago next week, Dr. King was gunned down by a high-powered rifle too. Saturday, his own 9-year-old granddaughter spoke at the rally, preaching love and an end to the cycle of gun violence wreaking havoc from coast to coast.

The senseless slaughter must end, and if it is to do so, it will begin with this determined lot of students making their voices heard nationally. They were met in
DC by victims of senseless violence from across the country, from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Colorado theaters and Vegas concerts.

One of the walkers in New York was a man named Paul McCartn-ey. You may know him. He quietly put on an overcoat and took to the streets, and when asked by a reporter what motivated him, he simply looked at the journalist and replied: “You may know that one of my close friends was once shot and killed by a gunman just a few blocks from here.”

No, America has not forgotten what happened to John Lennon in December of 1980, 38 years ago. But what the students of Marjory Stoneham Douglas have done in 30 days since the massacre on their campus is galvanize a generation of citizens to say “No More” and “Enough is Enough.” Over 800 cities were so represented across the globe. And it has only been a month.

Who amongst us is not proud of what these young students have done to stir the conscience of our country? I mean, other than Ric Santorum whose mindless comments about kids learning CPR would be a better use of their time. No, Ric, you are so wrong. These kids have spent the last month moving the sands of time.

Most of the news coverage in South Florida last week would normally have been a hedonistic, self-indulgent music festival in Miami called Ultra. Not this year. Cause and conscience and community won out. Instead of flashing lights, we got a gun shooting survivor herself, Jennifer Hudson, to sing Bob Dylan’s

‘The Times They are a Changing’ on a national stage, a moment few will ever forget.

The kids are alright. Growing older means passing the torch to a new generation of leaders. For years, the answers have been wrong. Too many graves, too many lives silenced by too many bullets prove that. Let’s listen to these strident students. We had our chance. We blew it.

Are Bill Nelson and Rick Scott really running against each other for United States Senate in Florida this year? Please. I would rather put both up in a space shuttle. I would rather vote for Cameron Kasky or Emma Gonzalez then either of those two.

One young high school speaker who had graduated Newton Elementary School reminded every adult over 45 that he had spent his life growing up in classrooms that had weekly “mass shooter” drills, I guess in between home room and Math. No, that was not my life five decades ago.

We had fire drills for sure, and when I was real young we would hide under our desk in case the Russians wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on us, but it was never a real threat that kept us from playing stickball in the schoolyard. We turned 15 without targets on our back. We were never scared daily.

My message to these students is to stay your course and keep the candle lit. Don’t get sidetracked or dissuaded by disappointments or defeats. They are impostors you can beat back.

You and your movement are now more popular than the president or the NRA he has already caved into. You are fighting for life tomorrow while he is fighting hookers he screwed over yesterday. But you don’t need him. You have each other.

Every generation has its calling, to end racism, fight for universal suffrage, equal rights, shut down a war, or save the environment. Nothing came easy, not even getting seat belts in cars or cigarettes out of airplanes.

You found your mark. It is to end the darkness and demons of gun violence, which has claimed too many lives too often for too long. Take back America for the rest of us. Shut down the violence. You can only do it while you are here, and those days are never certain.

You never know when your ticket is going to be pulled. So, while you have passage and passion, a voice and a vote, let it be heard. Let peace begin with you. The road is rocky. That’s life. Go out and build a new tomorrow today.


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