The youth are ready for their parents and grandparents to step aside and let them lead on the gun debate.
Like thousands of activists before her, Abby Brafman is channeling her anger into action.
Last month, the recent graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School cried and worried from afar after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
She is tired of all the talk about small steps toward better gun laws. So am I.
Brafman and the activists of her generation want action now to make schools safer with or without the help of their parents and grandparents, who have been advocating for stronger gun laws since the 1999 Columbine massacre. And mostly failing.
“It’s time for you to get on board or get out of my way,” she told a room full of women leaders at a recent conference in Nashville, where she is organizing a walk on March 24.
This confident Vanderbilt University student doesn’t care that my generation has made a futile ritual of gun law advocacy — from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Umpqua Community College to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Later, when we talked in the hall, she was a little less poised and a lot more passionate. Nothing is off the table for her generation when it comes to combating gun violence.
A constitutional amendment to clarify the Second Amendment? Makes sense. Take guns away from people? Yes. Her opinion of why people own AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles? They are toys that, besides target shooting, have no practical use.
Whoa. Brafman is not worried about being politically correct like her parents’ and grandparents’ generations, which collectively have failed to muster the will to fight the NRA. But, as she points out, every child since Sandy Hook, when 20 6- and 7-year-olds were shot and killed in their classrooms, has been afraid in school their whole lives. That’s something many in my generation whose biggest school fears included being hit in the face with a dodgeball can’t understand.
Something changed Feb. 14. The next generation rose up and offered hope that something will happen. The amazing students who spoke out in Florida after the tragedy started the movement that is spreading to every corner of the United States, including Seattle.
Rhiannon Rasaretnam is a senior at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley who has no connection to Stoneman Douglas High. She hasn’t lost a friend or family member to gun violence. But the 17-year-old takes the shooting personally. She doesn’t want her sister, Dylan, a sixth-grader, to be afraid when she goes to school.
“My motivation is to create a safer future for all of the students,” said Rasaretnam, who is one of the organizers of the March 24 “March for our Lives” in Seattle. “So my sister and other children don’t have to grow up where school shootings are common.”
Gun violence isn’t the only motivation for these young people. Rasaretnam and her fellow student organizers also want to show teens they can make a difference. Even if you’re too young to vote, you can still march, donate, call lawmakers. And, of course, register to vote.
Rasaretnam and event co-founder Emelia Allard, 17, are planning on registering to vote in front of the crowd at their march.
Their message to older adults who want to help: march with us, donate to the cause, offer advice but don’t meddle with this movement.
The Facebook page Rasaretnam created for the Seattle march had thousands of likes before she told her parents what she was up to.
I’m loving the attitude of these strong young women. And not because I want to stand aside and let them do the work. My generation has failed to fix the problem of school shootings. We need fresh energy and their generation is anxious to give it.
Just two weeks after the shooting at her former school, Brafman, the Vanderbilt student, had a strong message when she spoke to more than 350 mostly middle-aged women gathered at the Women of Reform Judaism leadership conference in Nashville.
“Every single American will feel the pain of a mass shooting,” she warned. “Everyone will lose someone to gun violence. You will experience my pain, you will, unless someone does something …”
Her generation’s anger and fear began with the realization in 2012 that someone could carry a gun into an elementary school and kill first graders. The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, is a deep part of their life story.
“Yes, the children are angry. Yes, they are emotional and they are inconsistent and they are fearless. And we are geared for battle,” she said.
She encouraged everyone to keep fighting: “Be brash and gnarly and make a scene.” And if your child or grandchild tells you they are going to walk out of school to honor the Florida victims, ask them what you can do to help.
We have our marching orders.
Published March 14, 2018 in The Seattle Times