The contrast couldn’t have been greater. Flashing on one screen were the rigid faces slogans and fear-mongering screed of NRA spokesmen, culminating with the iconic image of the now long dead Charlton Heston holding a rifle above his head and chanting “From my cold dead hands!”
On the other and on the live stage below were the young, amazingly eloquent and life-affirming faces and voices , one after another, of high school students and others from across the country who gathered in Washington, D.C. yesterday to ignite nothing less than a true Childrens’ Crusade to take back their country from those same few but powerful “cold dead hands” whose choke-hold on American politics for decades has prevented any reasonable gun-control legislation.
Combining a healthy blend of passion and reason, their repeated call, “Enough is Enough” as well as the spoken and unspoken theme underlying all their messages–“Choose Life– reflected, at times, both the religious fervor and sophisticated political sensibility which characterized and energized the Civil Rights, Free Speech and anti-war movements which transformed America more than a half-cent
Dominating both the rhetoric and the blizzard of signs being waved in the bright Washington sunshine was a truly refreshing and deeply American faith in the power of individual citizens to effect change. While calling for a ‘revolution’ in politics and society, and while calling-out, sometimes by name, politicians who reflexively do the bidding of the NRA and the powerful gun lobby, these young citizens assumed and asserted their right to protest, demand and, most importantly, achieve the change and protection from gun violence they and a great majority of others want and need from their government.
Nowhere in sight was the cynicism, resignation and apathetic acceptance dominating the current political scene. Nor the angry, demeaning tweets and name-calling. Instead, the flavor was one of optimism and hope. Of belief that the system, though corrupted by deceit, wealth and privilege, could be reformed by the sheer will of the people expressed through the ballot box. With the Capitol dome as backdrop, and tens of thousands of marchers cheering and chanting in front of them, along with sister demonstrations occurring across the nation and world, at that moment it truly seemed possible.
Why the massacre at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High has produced this level of response when all the others, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and elsewhere have quickly faded from public consciousness, with only “thoughts and prayers” from elected officials as a result, is still unclear. As are the ultimate political and policy outcomes that will emerge from this latest tragedy. What is clear, however, is that a corner seems to have been turned in what has appeared up to now to be an intractable debate. Suddenly, room and pressure may have emerged for the passage of effective legislation on background checks and the availability of assault weapons.
The voices were neither fearful nor devisive, not nationalistic or exclusionary, but fresh, authentic and full of promise–a hopeful and idealistic America we’d almost forgotten and which we’ve longed and needed to hear again.