This image is sealed on my heart and my mind. Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Parkland school shooting, at the podium of the March for our Lives in Washington. She took to the podium for 6 minutes and 20 seconds. After speaking briefly, naming each victim of the shooting that took place in February, she fell silent. Purposefully silent. A silence filled with rage, focus, remembrance, passion. As the tears fell down her cheeks, the rally also fell silent, punctuated only by occasional chants of ‘Never Again’ and supportive cheers. There is power in words, but there was even more power in the courage of that young woman, standing in front of a world audience in silent defiance. In a silence that was louder than all the chants and the cheers that had been heard over the day. Her phone alarm beeped and she spoke once more, stating that 6 minutes and 20 seconds had passed – all the time it took for 17 people to be killed in a rampage by one young man with an assault weapon, ending her speech with these words: “Fight for your lives before it is someone else’s job.”
The moment was powerful. Remarkable, even. A powerful call to action to all the law-makers who have not acted – who have blood on their hands – said with over 4 minutes of silence. There have been many great orators of our time, but none, I would wager, who would have been as brave as to stand in silence for 4 minutes in front of a huge crowd. In future years, I feel like we will look back at what Emma did yesterday with just as much awe.
As the New York Times said of the marches: ” They made music. They made a scene. They celebrated the political power of noise itself. But it was the silences that were the most striking: silences that were strategic and symbolic. The young—the very young—women who spoke on Saturday made the silence awkward. They made it shameful. They made it powerful. They made it, above all, speech.”
The Parkland shootings have galvanised a nation of young gun control activists in ways that are far greater than previous years. With the history of gun violence that exists in the USA, it is shocking that this has not happened before, but sometimes there comes a time where there is enough momentum for change to feel like a real possibility.
Martin Luther King, Jr said, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
This revolution is youth organised, youth led, and is a powerful show of just how incredibly smart Generation Z are. These are the young people who have grown up in full knowledge of social media. These are the young people who have grown up with the omnipresent internet, cable news and open media. They have seen the repeated devastation that comes from lawmakers not acting. They know enough is enough. They know how to make their voices heard. They know how to keep their message being broadcast. Doubt them if you dare.
They are unstoppable. They are incredible.