Emma Gonzalez | JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
I participated in my local community’s March for Our Lives protest on Saturday, March 24th to show solidarity not only with the students in my community but those who were marching around the country and world speaking out against the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. It was truly an inspiring day. After the march, I came home and starting watching the coverage of March for Our Lives on cable news. I was fortunate enough to watch Emma Gonzalez deliver her powerful six (6) minute and twenty (20) second speech in real-time.
Like a good Millennial, I immediately opened Facebook and posted the following status update:
“The speech Emma Gonzalez just delivered is quite possibly the most powerful political moment I have experienced in my 32 years on this earth. There is a power in silence that forces you to reflect with that voice in your head and that is uncomfortable. Thank you, Emma, for this moment.”
Students in the United States and around the world marched in nearly 800 cities. The March for Our Lives protests were historic and the nearly 800,000 students who marched on Washington, DC quickly became the largest protest of students in Washington, DC since the Vietnam era. As I watched the young people take the stage to deliver their remarks, I realized I was witnessing something truly remarkable. It is rare that we actually experience the “I was here when” moment and are able to reflect upon them when it is occuring. Scholars and historians will be writing about the March for Our Lives protests and the students and youth of this moment will take their rightful place in the history books.
In the days, after the Parkland Massacre, I did what I always do in moments after tragic incidents of gun-violence mass murder. I prepared to engage in what I have called “America’s Ritual of Thoughts and Prayers.” Every time a mass shooting occurs we rush to offer our “Thoughts and Prayers” and pay our respects to the victims and quickly move on until the next incident of gun violence mass murder. We have become conditioned to these automated responses. In many ways, we can simply copy and paste a response we previously issued. However, this moment seems different. The students of Parkland and their contemporaries around the country are reminding us that we are the ones we have been waiting for. The momentum of these students is inspiring. What is even more promising is that this movement is expanding and becoming increasingly inter-sectional.
The students of Parkland recognize that their fight is aligned with the students of Chicago. The students of Chicago fight is aligned with the students of South Central. The Students of South Central fight is aligned with those in rural America and so on. Gun violence in America is an epidemic. Mass murder, gang violence, street crime, suicide, and accidental gun death is a plague that has infected the United States. I believe we have found the surgeons who are prepared to treat our chronic condition.
The power of this movement lies in the fact that many of its students and youth leaders have stared down the barrel of a gun. They have felt the bullets ricochet down hallways, street corners, and playgrounds. They have experienced extreme loss of loved ones and friends. In some cases, they learned to defend themselves from guns before they learned to read, as in the case of Edna Chavez. Students like Naomi Wadler face down hard truths about gun violence at 11 years old. A student like Chris Underwood has stated that gun violence stripped away his childhood. But something more meaning is also occurring, Alex Wind reminds us that Joan of Arc was 17 years old when she fought back English forces and Mozart was of eight years old when he composed his first symphony. Monumental change can happen at any age. The students and youth of this movement are #woke. They are fired up. They are ready to go. They have something to say. They are set on treating the chronic illness that is gun violence in the United States. I am living for it.
Profound political moments are relatively rare but I am glad that I am fully experiencing the moment we currently find ourselves in. Malcolm Gladwell would call this The Tipping Point, “when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold tip and spreads like a wildfire.” I will proudly join Emma Gonzalez, Enda Chavez, Naomi Wadler, Chris Underwood, Alex Wind, and the millions of people around the country in crafting a better future for the United States and future generations. Three simple words inspired a movement to elect a president and those same words are being used now to demand action to curtail America’s Gun-Violence problems.
YES, WE CAN.
Johnny V. Boykins is a scholar, political opinion writer, podcaster, bow tie aficionado, foodie and amateur chef, map collector, US Coast Guard veteran, and husband. He earned his M.A. in diplomacy and security studies from Norwich University, and a B.A. in political science and communications from Eckerd College. He currently lives in Tampa Bay, Florida.