The Students Are Coming

I stood in the dark, flat back against a concrete post. I didn’t want to obstruct anyone’s view. And I didn’t want to infringe on the teen-led forum in front of me. But I definitely wanted to be there.

I stood back in awe of the three Bethesda-Chevy Chase (BCC) High School students on stage telling congressional leaders how to stop gun violence. My own BCC daughter would not have recognized me, her social justice activist mom, hanging quietly back to hear every word these teens were saying.

On National Walkout Day, close to 1 million students exited their schools to show support for the 17 people slain on February 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, and demand that Congress enact gun control legislation. According to many accounts, it was the largest demonstration held by teenagers since the 1960s.

In front of the US Capitol, one student activist drew shouts from thousands of her peers when she demanded:

“If you can speak, speak. If you can march, march. And when you can vote, vote. So there will be no more silence!”

Her powerful words echoed those of BCC students at an event they created and organized the night before the walkout. Called Time of the Teenager and part of the Conference of the Contemporary American Teenager, the forum drew more than 300 people, four television cameras, gun control advocates and others to Studio Theatre in downtown Washington, DC.

The hour-long panel discussion included BCC students Sophie Cobb, Gabriela Jeliazkov and Julien Cary; Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland; school psychologist Dr. Eric Rossen and school safety specialist Edward Clarke. Nick Anderson of the Washington Post moderated, and Mary Beth Tinker held court with students and adults throughout the evening. Tinker is a free speech activist who, at age 13, demanded her right to wear a black armband in school to protest the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court agreed.

Burness worked with students and visionary teacher David Lopilato to put together the event at Studio Theatre, but the students brought the substance and the vision. Their goal was crystal clear: let Marjory Stoneman Douglas students know they were stepping up to help carry, grow and strengthen the national movement to ban assault weapons. And send a message to Congress that they were not going to back down. They succeeded.

So, I stood back that night, impressed with the strength, clarity and hope of these students. I was grateful they allowed me to play a small part in their movement. And I can confidently say to the NRA and the legislators in their pocket that if your strategy is to wait them out, it isn’t going to work.

Forget the cherry blossoms. The students are coming.