For the past two weeks, I’ve heard nothing but: “It’s time.”
It’s time to address gun reform. It’s time to listen to young voices. It’s time to do something. I have heard it on every news source – TV, radio, web and print. I have heard it in conversation with people of all political perspectives. I have heard it as I pass others on the street.
I know this sudden call to action should be inspiring, and in a way it is. But my first reaction is deep-seated frustration. I was 11 when Columbine took place. A freshman in college during Virginia Tech. A graduate student when Sandy Hook occurred. Notice, by the way, how the names of so many schools have become nouns used to denote an event of mass killing, rather than of a place of learning.
In between all these events were countless other shootings of varying degrees of fatality, interspersed among the benchmarks of my childhood and the years I and all Millennials came of age, like guideposts on a timeline, both pre- and post- 9/11, the new version of B.C. and A.D.
As a student at Lakewood High School, every morning I would get out of the car with fingers crossed, hoping the security guard with the metal detector wand wouldn’t be at my entrance that day. I didn’t know why, but having this stranger wave a wand over my person made me feel incredibly anxious. I know now that I felt that way because it was a totally unnatural circumstance. Being screened for guns every day is a constant reminder that entering your school, a place of learning, is dangerous. It’s like saying, “Good morning, Samantha. We’re worried that you could be shot today.” And that was the reality. It still is.
Millennials have not been taken seriously by older generations. They have cast us as frivolous, lazy and self-absorbed in an attempt to undermine any valid opinions we might have, particularly when those opinions involve hot button issues. Sadly, it has worked. Any time I tell someone my age I write a column about Millennials, they laugh and ask me if I write about selfies, brunch and avocado toast. Because people in my age group have so thoroughly bought in to the stereotypes that they don’t even realize they’re Millennials. And when I tell them that is indeed what they are, they almost always say, “But I’m not like them.” And I have to do my best not to chuck my avocado toast in their face.
Millennials have endured years of mass shootings, many at our schools. But now, after a disturbed young man murdered 17 children and educators at a school in Parkland, Florida, suddenly it’s time to be serious about keeping our kids safe in schools. And, while I’m incensed that it took so long for consensus that gun regulations at least need to be reexamined, I have to put a stopper in my exasperation and acknowledge that the sudden call to action is not because all the events that preceded it were unworthy. Rather, it is because of the perspicacity of Generation Z.
Change takes time. Millennials grew up in the dawn of widespread Internet use, and we adapted to it. We took ownership of it. But Generation Z? They grew up with the refined product. They were born into and understand the full power and fury of Facebook and Twitter just as well as any Russian operative trying to thwart an election. And as a result, they’re now making their voices heard en masse, as we have seen survivors of the shooting in Parkland do over the past few weeks. They’re mad. And they know how to go viral.
And guess what, Millennials? We don’t have to agree with them on everything, but we need to support them.
Older gens have propagated stereotypes to silence Millennials as soon as we came of age, and they’re pulling the same thing on Gen Z. Internet trolls and far right activists have claimed that survivors of the Parkland shooting are paid actors. One conservative commentator, Dinesh D’Souza, even implied that they were entitled whiners, tweeting, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs” in response to a Buzzfeed reporter’s tweet of an Associated Press photo that he captioned, “AP photo of school shooting survivors watching Florida lawmakers vote down a bill to ban assault weapons.” The children pictured were in tears.
The idea is the same method that has been employed against Millennials for years – to disarm the power of their voices via belittlement. As the adults closest in age to these children, we must refuse to follow this lead. We must uplift them. Carry them on our shoulders if we have to. In solidarity, outnumber those screaming to drown out young voices.
It doesn’t matter if we fully agree with them or not. The point is, they should not be silenced simply because of their age. And when there is a problem in this country, we should hold the first amendment near and dear to our hearts and support those who choose to use it – including if we also hold the second amendment there as well.
These children are, as all children always have been, our future – whether you like it or not. And right now, our future is standing up to say, “Help us. We’re dying.”
I think that’s worth listening to.