Let them mourn. Let them march.
In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, I’m deeply bothered by the stream of comments coming not only from pundits and talking heads on news networks, but from people I know and care about in my Facebook feed regarding the student marches and walkouts to protest gun violence.
“Generation of Tide Pod eaters.”
“Just another reason to get what they want when they want. This isn’t going to bring awareness! It’s going to make them a target!!!”
“Political parties are now using minorities and any group they can muster to force their will on the people … This should be considered child abuse.”
Trying to find a proactive way to grieve should not be mistaken as teenage rebellion. Thinking of these heartbroken and hurting students as mere political pawns is insulting to them.
Our future generation is often accused of being irresponsible, entitled or lazy. Now one more school must come to terms with the deaths of fellow students and educators after a mass shooting — and no other country deals with as many mass shootings as the U.S. does — and a notably student-led effort to make sense of it and move forward with action is being ignorantly criticized.
Some adults say that they will not allow their child to walk out in solidarity. Or that kids just want to skip class. At least a smattering of teachers is adamant any student who walks out on March 14 or April 20 risks a failing grade.
There is a distinct overlap between the adults who wish kids would achieve something and those who discourage this activism. So which is it? Do you want them to step up, or do you want them to shut up?
Sitting in a car on a recent Saturday morning, riding with friend who teaches here in Maine, I listened while she described an active shooter drill. “The first time the shooter — the guy had a pellet gun and we all had helmets on — the first time he came we were told to try hiding in the corner or take cover. All of us were shot except one, and the only reason she wasn’t shot was because the guy who was shooting messed up his shot and accidentally shot one person twice. So the next time, we had to barricade.”
Later she talked about how, if they managed to disarm a shooter, they had to put the weapon in a trash bin when they brought it out so they would not be mistaken for another active shooter. The good guy with a gun versus bad guy with a gun gets complicated when you don’t get to wear signs saying who’s who.
Yes, a march or a walkout is not a magic wand. Nothing may come of it. But a potential lack of results is only made greater by a disappointing number of people who have the gall to insult intelligent young adults who have been passionate and eloquent even as their faces are still wet with tears.
Let them march.
Better yet: March with them.
March with the students who go to the funeral of their classmate, teammate, prom date.
March with the teachers who purchase out-of-pocket classroom supplies on their way home from a special Saturday morning “active shooter” training session.
March with the parents who wonder if their child will become another face in a news story. March with the parents whose children are already collateral damage in a debate disturbingly unique to our country.
The greater issue is not due to any one thing. Mental health certainly factors in. I hope those in positions of political power who argue that it’s about mental health and not guns will back that claim with action to increase mental health care support. Regardless, no single ban, regulation or change in mindset will be the solution.
But we have to talk about it. If it’s too early to talk, it is definitely too early to condescend to anyone trying to turn pain into progress. Every time someone says “it’s too early to talk,” it is ironically spoken at a time when it is already too late.
If you cannot or will not march with them, so be it. But don’t you dare mock them. Don’t you dare insult them.
And definitely don’t underestimate them.
I will be marching with them.
Elizabeth Lardie Gilbert is a journalist, playwright, actor and Maine native. Her work has been featured in Dispatch, The Times Record, BUST magazine, and the Australian literary journal Unsweetened.
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