On March 24, 2018 the people of the United States of America rediscovered their collective power and took their first steps as a nation towards understanding the power of silence.
According to the Times, as many as 800,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest gun violence and to advocate for stricter gun control policy, and satellite protests were held in all 50 states throughout the country.
For the first time in years, the people of this country displayed something that looks quite a bit like solidarity — perhaps even the precursor of unity.
The protests throughout the country — and throughout the world — brought people together from a vast array of backgrounds, political persuasions, religious beliefs, and political affiliations.
Defying stereotypes, veterans, hunters, and responsible gun owners of all persuasions came out in force to support common sense gun control policy and to actively work against the NRA’s attempts to use their lifestyles and choices as excuses for not enacting stricter policies.
Mothers with school-aged children and mothers whose children died before finishing school all came together to protect our future generations — and the children themselves attended en-mass to fight for their futures.
They may still be learning many of life’s skills and lessons, but these children are not struggling to understand why change is necessary, nor do they fail to comprehend who is responsible for the lack of accountability.
And to their credit, the white, affluent students of Parkland kept checking their privilege every step of the way, using their platform to elevate the voices of communities often ignored by the media and the government alike.
The moment in which it became truly obvious that the infamous Generation-Z is in fact a generation of incredible, glorious, inclusive, intersectional revolutionaries was quite arguably the moment when the granddaughter of legendary civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Yolanda Renee King, took the stage and stepped into the shoes of her grandfather.
Proving that she was born into a strong and ancient tradition of activism and oration, King, at 9-years old, stepped onto the stage without any cue cards, without any adults — with just a microphone in her hand — and declared,
“My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun free world. Period.” – Yolanda Renee King
Concise. Powerful. Simple.
She then engaged the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people in a call-and-response that surely would have made her grandfather proud:
“Spread the word! — Have you heard? — All across the nation, — we are going to be, — a great generation!” — Yolanda Renee King
Each of these moments was powerful — loud and forceful — each speaker demanded to be heard, and their voices echoed around the world.
But the speaker who left an absolutely indelible mark on both the march, as well on the country and the world, is — at least in my opinion — the one who spoke the least.
Emma Gonzalez quickly became one of the most prominent of the Parkland survivors with her instantly-viral slogan, “We call BS!” and has been leading the charge against gun violence ever since.
At the #MarchForOurLives, however, Gonzalez took on a quieter, more somber tone, and left the audience, well…for lack of a better word, speechless.
“Six minutes and about twenty seconds. In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 were injured, and everyone, absolutely everyone in the Douglas community was forever altered.
Everyone who was there understands. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands. For us, long, tearful, chaotic hours in the scorching afternoon sun were spent not knowing.
Her powerful imperative, the command she issued to the world in that moment, was backed by so much silence; the silent tears that she shed, the silent thoughts and prayers that have been sent to every headlining community that has suffered gun violence, the silent influence of the NRA’s money, the silent dismissal of gun violence and police brutality in communities of color, the silent choices made by American voters who elected politicians backed by the NRA, the silence of our government officials, and most importantly, the silence of the dead.
In that moment, in her silence, she allowed the dead to speak.
In her silence, she showed the world how quickly things can change.
In her silence, she changed people’s minds and touched people’s hearts.
Because grief and suffering need no language, they are emotional experiences that transcend all borders and speak to our shared humanity and our need for progress and compassion.
Her silence changed the world; her silence helped others find their voice.