Randi Kreiss

Follow their lead or get out of the way

Posted

They emerged from the ashes of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school massacre on Feb. 14. They tended their wounds, reached out to one another for comfort, and somehow drew purpose and energy from the trauma they had survived.

Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and so many others ran out of the building that day and set out on a path they never could have imagined when they’d opened the school door that morning.

How to explain the moment? What created the critical mass? The fury at government intransigence and the brilliant use of social media could have coalesced after any of the ghastly shootings this country has endured. Most of us expected dramatic change after 20 first-graders and their teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Since then, we witnessed and eventually tolerated many more shootings, in schools and churches and movie theaters around the country. Nothing moved the needle. No really effective movement emerged to change the hearts and minds and greedy souls of our elected officials. Until Feb. 14.

Why now? Why this group of survivors? They say “enough is enough,” but enough was enough after Columbine, and even before that horrific school shooting.

Perhaps it’s a perfect storm. A savage attack on innocent kids, a rising tide of support for gun control and, in particular, the individual teenagers who witnessed the shooting and came together in an unstoppable wave. It’s quite remarkable and thrilling to see the evolution of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas teen leaders.

Within hours and days, these kids appeared on every talk show, sat for interviews with dozens of publications, met with congressional leaders, gave dozens of speeches and became celebrities, even as adult celebrities like Oprah and George Clooney and Michael Bloomberg stepped up, reached out and opened their wallets to the movement. The teens organized and participated in the March 24 March for Our Lives that swept millions of people around the world onto the streets, demanding effective gun-control laws.

I feel nervous for Emma and David and Cameron and their group. It has all been so quick and intense and distracting from the tragedy they survived. I hope they’re getting good support at home, and I really hope they’ll find quiet time to process the loss and the notoriety that followed.

Teenagers have often been the catalysts for social change, from Alexander the Great to Joan of Arc to Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman in the ’60s. The heroic deeds of their youth are not always predictive of success or happiness in later life. But they had their moment and hour, and the kids from Parkland are in the spotlight now. I want us to appreciate all that they do, to “get” their message and help them act on it. And I want us to remember that they’re still teenagers, and not fully grown into themselves yet.

The political activists, artists and musicians of the ’60s helped change the course of history and found themselves changed in the process, not always for the better.

A good story: When I was a student at Lawrence High School in the ’60s, Ira Magaziner was a strong-minded student activist at a time when most of us just worried about our grades and followed the rules. He got suspended for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. He went on to Brown University, where he revolutionized the curriculum, led various protests and graduated as valedictorian. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he met Bill Clinton and went to work with Bill and Hillary, focusing on Hillary’s health care initiative.

Magaziner was willing to put himself on the front lines of protest when he was just a kid. In later life, he continued to do good and do well. He comes to mind because he was a rabble-rouser who was also grounded.

I hope the Parkland kids can survive this turmoil and come out of it healthy and validated. I hope that this time the push for gun control has legs. The teenage leaders are savvy in that they know they have to use their votes to effect real change. They are pros at social media and publicity. Witness David Hogg turning the tables on right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham, who taunted him about college rejections. He immediately launched a campaign to get her Fox network advertisers to abandon ship. And it’s working.

Feb. 14 was a day of reckoning for the unsuspecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. The tragedy — random and unexplained — became a catalyst for change. These kids have been wounded, but they’re choosing to channel their grief into action. I think about the lines from “Invictus,” by W.E. Henley:

“… Under the bludgeoning of chance/

My head is bloody, but unbowed …”

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.