‘Too big to hide in a closet, too small to vote’

Youth march for their lives against a vicious gun lobby pushback

Canadian students express support their U.S. counterparts with solidarity rallies
Photo: Working Families Party

A few days ago, thousands of students across the United States walked out of school to protest the lack of comprehensive gun legislation. This defiant day of action, held on Mar. 14, took place exactly one month after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and staff dead and just as many injured.

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Following #NationalSchoolWalkout on Twitter, I cheered them on, listened to their speeches, and marvelled at their eloquence, determination and desire to make a change. With no ties to lobbyists like the National Rifle Association and no incentive other than to make their lives and the lives of the next generation of students safer, these students are fighting for what is right. And they are determined to follow through on a movement they won’t let die.

“Their right to own an assault rifle does not outweigh our right to live. The adults have failed us.”

One tweet that particularly punched me in the gut was posted by a New York librarian who shared what her friend’s daughter had said when she asked her to explain what the walkout meant to her: “I’m walking out because I’m too big to hide in a closet and too small to vote.”

Faced with such earnest reactions, I find the retaliation of some NRA supporters — insinuating that these kids are being used like pawns in some malicious political game, or even accusing them of being paid actors — deeply offensive.

Criticized for taking on the NRA

If the “adults” are upset that these kids appear too polished, too political, too vocal, and socially conscious beyond their years, they have only themselves and their ludicrously lax gun laws to blame. I’m confident that these kids would have preferred to have stayed kids a little while longer, instead of organizing national rallies. But they did not have that chance. They’re out there protesting because they’re afraid of getting shot at school. The kids we see leading protests had to bury schoolmates, have lived through mass shootings, and still have friends fighting for their lives in the hospital, while they watch the White House proposing the most meagre of gun-safety measures that will serve as nothing more than a band-aid on this gaping wound of a problem.

How can it be that at 18 you’re not allowed to buy beer, or rent a car, but you can legally purchase a weapon that can maim and take a life?

Eighteen-year-old student Matt Post, who made it very clear that this was not a partisan issue, gave an incredible speech during the walkout. He concluded by saying, “Their right to own an assault rifle does not outweigh our right to live. The adults have failed us. This is in our hands now, and if any elected official gets in our way, we will vote them out and replace them ourselves.”

The NRA, meanwhile, is suing the state of Florida for raising its rifle-buying age — to 21 from 18.

So some of the same people ridiculing these kids as immature and too naïve to understand the gun legislation debate are also suing the state of Florida for these kids’ “right” to have access to these guns. Is that not the height of hypocrisy?

How can it be that at 18 you’re not allowed to buy beer, or rent a car, but you can legally purchase a weapon that can maim and take a life?

What’s most upsetting is watching these young teens do battle, not only with the NRA and the GOP, but with biased media commentators and gun addicts who are mocking and undermining them every step of the way. Many of the same adults who probably don’t think twice about depicting these millennials and Generation Z kids as lazy, naïve, entitled and selfish are now belittling them for getting involved and using their voices to fight for a better future.

Much to their chagrin, these students are eloquent, intelligent, passionate, and social media savvy. They have fought back with determination and they have made it very clear that, if they won’t be heard now, they will be heard at the ballot box when they come of age to vote.

March for Our Lives

The National School Walkout will be followed this weekend by the March for Our Lives on Mar. 24, which will also have solidarity marches here in Canada including in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.

“We wanted to help keep this in the media,” says 22-year-old McGill law student Phil Lord, co-organizer of the Montreal event. “Obviously the more people participate, the more attention it brings to the issue and the more likely that something will get passed.”

Lord also revealed that a few alumni from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (some who have brothers or sisters attending the school right now) are currently studying at McGill and have reached out to the march organizers because what’s unfolding in the U.S. right now has affected them deeply.

“Even if legislation doesn’t go through immediately, change is already happening, because the change in perceptions among most people is certain to lead to change later,” Lord adds with confidence.

He’s right.

On the day of the school walkout, veteran newscaster Dan Rather tweeted: “I have seen social movements for change — the Civil Rights Movement, protests over the Vietnam War, the fall of communism in Europe, apartheid in South Africa. This is often how a new reality begins.”

A new reality happens when you can imagine one.

Canadian novelist Mavis Gallant, who was in the streets of Paris during the student-led uprising of May 1968, wrote: “The collective hallucination was that life can change, quite suddenly and for the better. It still strikes me as a noble desire.”

These students have experienced, first hand, how life can change quite suddenly, and — sometimes tragically — for the worse. They have every right to practice civil disobedience and march to demand a better, safer future. They deserve all of our support.

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