Voices of sorrow, voices of hope

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

by Blair Bless

In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, new heroes have emerged. They are the young men and women who survived and have made their horrifying experience a defining moment in the lives of all Americans.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are demonstrating more commitment than their government when it comes to putting an end to unregulated access to weapons of mass destruction, which is exactly what AR-15s and similar, modified semi-automatic firearms are.

Young people are mobilizing in a way not seen since the Vietnam War. They believe that lives are at stake, and unresponsive leaders — fueled by special interest campaign contributions — are thwarting any effort to do something about gun violence.

Florence Yared, a 17-year-old survivor of the shooting, spoke at a protest in Tallahassee this week. Addressing members of Congress, she said, “You are directly responsible for every community that has lost people to gun violence, and you have the power to change this. If you don’t, then we will change you.”

That has become a rallying cry among many in Florida where, on Tuesday, less than a week after the massacre, state legislators voted down an attempt to revive a ban on assault weapons, much to the horror of many of the young survivors.

Their senator, Marco Rubio, has said that most of the tougher gun restrictions being proposed wouldn’t have prevented the slaughter at Stoneman Douglas. The response of many Floridans? They flew a banner along the coastline proclaiming “Shame on you Marco Rubio and NRA.”

Last month, the president urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to run for the U.S. Senate, saying “We need business guys like you.” The implication being that “business guys” make for strong, decisive leaders. Yet, when asked about gun control and a ban on assault weapons, Gov. Scott chose to point a finger and place blame squarely on the shoulders of the FBI. Gov. Scott can personally move gun control legislation forward, but takes no responsibility and shows no leadership. He has, however, earned an A-plus rating from the NRA. 

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez said, “These people who are being funded by the NRA are not going to be allowed to remain in office when midterm elections roll around.”

If more articulate young people like Ms. Gonzalez and fellow student David Hogg (who right-wing media has shamelessly branded a “crisis actor”) step forward, unresponsive politicians from both parties will be voted out of their jobs.

Young people are speaking up all over the country. Many of them will be at the polls for the first time, in November, exercising their right and their ability to bring about real change when it comes to gun control and who represents them.

Many of their peers, however, are NRA members. They will fight for their beliefs as well, and continue funding that lobby in the future. Rather than do battle, both sides must come together. Their elders clearly cannot address the issue of guns and gun violence reasonably, nor are they willing to turn their backs on, or close their purses to, one of the most powerful group of lobbyists in America. Perhaps these boys and girls on the threshold of adulthood will succeed in a way we “grown-ups” have failed them. Their voices will not be silenced, nor will their attempts to bring reason to the issue of gun violence be thwarted.

The Vietnam era saw the emergence of political activism among the nation’s young. In time, many members of their parents’ generation marched beside them, hopeful that together they might unify our country.

Today, we stand on a precipice. We can look out and see a brighter, safer future on the horizon — a future without weapons of war on our streets. Or we can continue forward, leading our children by the hand as we step into the abyss.

Fortunately for all Americans, the courage and political might being displayed by today’s young men and women bodes well for a more enlightened time in decades to come. A new spirit of hope has arisen.

BLAIR BESS is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.