Editorial: The six minutes that will change the world
By Richard Gaw
And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters/ Are beyond your
Your old road is rapidly aging / Please get outta' the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin
Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A' Changin'
About halfway through Emma Gonzalez' beautiful, searing and mostly silent speech given before the hundreds of thousands who gathered near the U.S. Capitol at the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C. on March 24, a reporter for the Chester County Press looked into the eyes of the young woman he saw on his television. Under the enormous weight of the moment, with the nation and the world watching, she repeated the names of each of the victims of the Parkland shooting of Feb. 14 and the things they would never be able to do again.
"Everyone who was there understands,” she said. “Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands. For us, long, tearful, chaotic hours in the scorching afternoon sun were spent not knowing. No one understood the extent of what had happened."
Then Emma Gonzalez quieted the entire world.
Fighting back tears, she held her gaze like a warrior for a period of six minutes and 20 seconds and did not utter one word and soon, her silence became a wordless invitation to join her. We stared into the same injustice of murdered schoolchildren. We reflected on the massacres of Parkland and Sandy Hook and Virginia Teach and countless other acts of violence in our country. We raged against the callous machine of our nation's elected officials and National Rifle Association shills, whose tired cacophony of side-stepping excuses and reasoning has only rejected the argument to enforce regulation of military-style firearms, instead of initiate it.
Finally, we saw what Ms. Gonzalez lived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, when she and other students were held in the school auditorium for two hours while a madman with an AR-15 blew away 17 of her classmates and teachers.
In the silence, we asked ourselves, What would we do? What if those were our children?
In the one month since the shooting, Gonzalez and her schoolmates have galvanized their voices into a nationwide drumbeat of action, while at the same time they have been criticized by the political right wing of politics and the press. They have been accused of not being students at the school, but “crisis actors,” hired to sell the idea of firearm regulation. They have been severely and wrongly accused by the NRA and gun owners of attempting to dismantle the Second Amendment. Gonzalez herself has been the subject of disgusting comments made by internet trolls.
And yet nothing, not even the most powerful of dissenters, has been able to move her.
Gonzalez is a part of a new generation of Americans, many of them born after September 11, 2001, who are surging forward with defiance, often in the face of adversity, in order to keep NRA money from influencing politicians, while forcing the hand of elected officials to pass responsible gun laws. This month, the Florida Legislature passed a bill called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raises the minimum age for buying firearms to 21, establishes proper waiting periods and background checks, provides a program for the arming of some teachers and the hiring of school police and bars potentially violent or mentally unhealthy people arrested under certain laws from possessing guns.
Look into the eyes of this young woman and you will see a new conversation beginning, the war sword of defiance passed down to a hero in ripped jeans and a buzz cut and a militant jacket emblazoned with the words, “We Call B.S.” Look into the eyes of this woman and you will see the arc of the moral universe, once again bend toward justice. It is the world that your children will inherit.
About halfway through Emma Gonzalez' speech last Saturday, in those minutes when the world seemed to retreat deep into itself, the Chester County Press reporter looked into the face of the young woman on television, and he saw the next America. Silence, he thought, has never sounded so profoundly graceful.