In the fairy tale, it took a small child to cry out that the emperor had no clothes.
In our real-life horror story, it’s teenagers who are spitting truth to power. We adults watching them are holding our breath. Is this what it’s finally going to take? After we tuned out the pain of parents whose babies were slaughtered in classrooms, will we listen as the kids who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting march and beg for their lives?
You better believe America is listening.
It’s the honesty, moral clarity and raw emotion of these students’ message that is a gut punch: Their friends were murdered. They nearly died. They want action.
“The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us,” survivor Emma Gonzalez said in a speech that shook the nation. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS.”
Any parent who has argued with a teenager can tell those politicians what they’re up against.
Teenagers own righteous indignation. They don’t believe you when you tell them something can’t be done. They have a fierce loyalty to their friends. And most of all, teenagers have amazing BS detectors. They can spot a phony so easily because they spend most of their days in high schools surrounded by preening and posing.
These kids couldn’t bear to hear the phonies start their “thoughts and prayers” chorus after the nightmare they escaped.
Parkland Strong decided Never Again.
We should get familiar with some of their names: Emma “We call BS” Gonzalez, David Hogg, Sarah Chadwick, Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tarr, Jaclyn Corin, Alfonso Calderon. Some of them are too young to vote, but they are changing the debate. They’ve focused their grief into fighting for gun reforms that the vast majority of Americans support, like universal background checks.
And they’ve given the cause a voice that should ring awfully close to home for any parent.
Unbelievably, a right-wing smear campaign has started against these young survivors. Their principal had to issue a statement confirming they are his students and not paid crisis actors, like nutjob conspiracy theorists have alleged.
Hey, kids: They’re freaking out because they’re scared you might actually change things.
These survivors traveled to Tallahassee and watched while Republican lawmakers refused to even consider a bill that would ban assault weapons, like the one used to murder their friends. They’re planning a nationwide demonstration, a March for Our Lives, on March 24.
I hope they focus on a date even more critical than that march: Tuesday, Nov. 6, around 250 days from now. I hope they ask groups like the League of Women Voters about countering voter-suppression tactics, and that they create massive voter registration drives and make plans on how to get voters to the polls.
This is Generation Z, which makes up a quarter of the U.S. population. They are a larger cohort than the baby boomers or millennials. They will be a tsunami at the polls when they hit 18, but they are realizing their power even before that.
It’s because they know firsthand how outrageous it is that an expelled teenager could legally purchase a semiautomatic weapon that killed 17 of their classmates and faculty. They know how much the NRA donates to their legislators. They’ll find out that President Trump’s budget proposal cuts $12 million from existing background check systems. They may already know that Trump signed the repeal of an Obama regulation after Sandy Hook that would have kept some mentally ill citizens from buying guns.
They are fighting in the immediate aftermath of trauma. They are fighting alongside the memory of their friends. They can spot a phony a mile away.
You know who’s listening and watching them even more closely than those hoping they fail? Mothers ready to defend them, like Rebecca Kerley, a kindergarten teacher in suburban St. Louis whose daughter is a junior in high school. Kerley received a terrifying text from her last week when rumors of a threat floated around the high school, causing panic. School officials determined it was not a credible threat, but that didn’t ease the fears of many students and parents so soon in the aftermath of a mass school shooting.
“They’re not doing enough to keep us safe,” Kerley’s daughter said. “Something else needs to be done. I shouldn’t be scared to go to school every day.”
Kerley, who’s had to practice intruder drills with her 5-year-old students, knows this is true. She has her eyes on the students around the country stepping up and saying “enough.” She knows this constant fear of mayhem and death in schools is not OK. None of this is OK.
These high-schoolers’ bravery will make us braver. They are inspiring us to speak louder and demand action. We can’t protect them in their classrooms, but we can defend them from the trolls and internet bullies trying to tear them down.
Right now, these teenagers have our attention. Right now, they are getting headlines.
We won’t let their voices fade.
Get ready, NRA-bought politicians: They can see you.
And they’re calling you out.