A day to listen

It is easy to become cynical and to say that there is nothing new under the sun. The writer of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes is one example. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) I am not sure, but I think that I find myself thinking similar thoughts a bit more these days than was the case when I was younger. It is possible that a touch of cynicism comes with aging.

I think, however, that we may be witnessing something new in our country. Arguments about gun violence and what to do about it have been raging for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it seems like people are so entrenched in their opinions that there is almost no shifting of opinions. After every mass shooting there is a spike in debate about gun violence followed by inaction. This has happened over and over again.

Google searches on the topic of gun control spike in the 48 hours after a mass shooting, but they fade almost as quickly. Within a week it is almost back to normal levels. This has been the case in mass shooting after mass shooting: Aurora, San Bernardino, Southerland Springs, Las Vegas, There have been a few exceptions. The President of the United States got involved after Sandy Hook and interest remained higher for a longer period of time. The President’s comments after Charleston also caused a spike in interest for a while. Other politicians speeches and actions will keep public interest higher for long after some tragedies, such as was the case after the Orlando shooting.After the shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students dead, however, the debate has lasted longer and interest has continued to spike. It is too early to tell whether it will be like the other cases, where there is interest and talk followed by inaction, but something about our current conversation seems different.

What is different is that the conversations are being led by students. The voices we are hearing are the voices of victims. For what seems like the first time since Columbine, the nation is being forced to understand that there are always more victims than just the number of dead bodies that make up the official count. Every witness to school violence is a victim.

We count the numbers: 13 dead at Columbine, 26 dead at Sandy Hook, 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Those numbers are real and stark and significant. But there are always more victims. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours.

They are also victims. They have experienced trauma. They will never be the same. And this time, they are speaking out.

Today is a day to listen to them.

Half a million are expected to participate in the March for our Lives Rally in Washington DC. There are similar gatherings set all across the nation. Here in Rapid City, the numbers will be smaller, but what will be shared in common with larger marches in larger cities is that the event is being organized by and led by students.

It is easy for me to count the days since the Parkland shooting. It occurred on Ash Wednesday. Holy Week starts tomorrow. During the season of penance and prayer, I have tried to listen very carefully to the Parkland survivors. Several things are clear.

The students do not all agree. Some favor stricter gun laws. Others do not. Some are in favor of arming teachers, others are not. But they are respectful in their conversations. They are careful with their words. They are quick to listen. They understand that they are all hurting - all grieving - all victims.

They are asking us to listen. Innocent children who have been attacked are asking us to listen.

It is easy to dive into the debate. It is easy to express our opinions. It is easy to end up in a shouting match with people whose position is different from our own. I’m sure there will be a bit of that as today plays out. Here in Rapid City and in other places there will be counter protestors who are organizing because they feel that the March for Our Lives movement threatens their rights. But our old arguments are not the focus of tis day.

The students want us to know that change can happen. The student’s vow of “never again” is a solemn pledge of victims to those they have lost. Their message is simple: “We are students who wish to be safe in our classrooms.”

It is a reasonable request.

Unlike the oldsters like myself, these students are digital natives. They grew up with access to computers and smart phones and they are experts in the use of digital media. You don’t have to attend one of their rallies to hear their message. They use tools of organization that we sometimes don’t understand and often use with a kind of gracelessness that is unknown to youth who have always know a digital world.

Here is the question for us today as we listen to those who participate in the March for Our Lives Rallies. Are we willing to reconsider our positions when we are respectfully asked to do so by the youth of our nation?

Are we willing to listen?

One of the strengths of the students is that they are unattached and unaffiliated. They don’t belong to the major political parties. They aren’t members of the big lobbying organizations. This is a strength. As long as they remain independent, the longer they will succeed in getting our nation to listen to their message.

Today is not the end of the conversation. This is not the last rally. The road to meaningful change is long and fraught with pitfalls. But today is a good day to start.

I, for one, will listen.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!