by Kate Reeves, LiveGirl Mentor / New Canaan High School Junior
The Power of One Voice
On February 14, 2018, I along with most of America was devastated to learn that yet another mass shooting had occured. Devastated, but also angry. Phrases like “another” and “again” and “I’m not even surprised” kept bubbling up in conversation about the tragedy with my peers, and I felt intoxicated by the idea that we had become used to this. The question of “how many more lives will it take?” seemed to lose its power as I realized that our nation had in fact become more numb rather than more driven in response to each incident. It was as if this kind of thing had happened so frequently that people that people had become immune to allowing themselves to get emotionally invested because they had been conditioned to learn that no outcry evokes a response from our government.
However, this time it was different. The cycle was broken and the sheet of silence shattered by the voices of the Parkland Students themselves. When Emma Gonzales called BS and David Hogg called out legislators for their inaction, students around the nation called for better gun safety laws with them. By speaking out, the Parkland students empowered fellow youth nationwide to do the same. The more strong voices people hear, the more comfortable people feel becoming one of those strong voice, and that is what has been so powerful about this movement.
I, too, felt a sudden need to start speaking out, louder than ever. While I have always taken a firm pro-gun-safety-law stance among political debates with my friends or in conversations in history class, I became aware that this was not only a time to know you’re opinion, but to share it with people who never asked to hear it. I became angry enough – motivated, I should say – to finally do so when I was driving out of DC with my mom. Every news channel we flipped through was talking about Parkland. We drove past the Washington Monument, which is a thin rectangular column surrounded at the base by 50 American flags. All 50 flags were at half mast, and that hit me like a stone of emptiness. It got me thinking about the enormity of the problem… how many mass shootings there have been, how many people have died, how many times people have heard about it, how many times people haven’t heard about it, how many stories were left unfinished, how many voices were left unheard?
So I started writing a poem. The first line I wrote was “I’ve heard too many moments of silence, I’ve seen too many flags at half mast”, and the rest of it spilled out from there. As soon as I got home, I took a video of myself reading the poem and posted it on facebook. It was terrible quality, and as most people do when they listen to recordings of themselves, I realized I was not a huge fan of the sound of my voice, but I felt a need to say what I needed to say despite this. I was honestly really scared. I come from a conservative town, so most of my facebook friends are kids from school who I know have different political views than I do, and posting poetry videos is certainly not the social norm, so I was unsure about how it would be received. As soon as I posted it, though, I didn’t have any regrets. The response from my school and broader community was positive, and I was beyond impressed with the conversation that followed in the coming month.
An Intense Desire for Change Among Youth
Perhaps, what I was most surprised by on a local level in the past month, is that people who I know are conservative, were voicing their support for common sense gun laws. The sentiment of support for gun-control among kids at school became extremely apparent on social media when people were sharing articles about gun safety, getting involved in facebook groups to organize a school walk out, or sharing events such as art galleries and marches to raise awareness and rally support for gun control. As teenagers, we are used to using social media to post pictures of our ourselves and friends, but this awakened us to a much more practical and powerful tool that we had lying at our fingertips. There were many parents that went against their party lines on this issue as well. That being said, there was still a vocal group of parents that criticized student initiatives for change in gun policy, saying that they were being brainwashed by left radicals or that our methods of change were not effective. Despite this, most of the student body figured out that, while the best way to gather support from those who agree with you is with words, the best way to gather support from those who disagree with you is with action. There is no possible way to convince the entire country, the entire town, or even the entire student body that gun control is necessary, but it is certainly possible to prove to all those people how much support there is for it. The fact that so many students were willing to depart from their own party views on this particular policy gives me hope for democracy and America. It shows that we have a generation of thinkers, not followers. If people can dare to think differently than their parents or think outside of a set category of beliefs, that is one of the most inspiring things for the future of this country.
“Listen like you’re wrong, speak like you’re right”
My favorite expression, “Listen like you’re wrong, speak like you’re right” was the perfect model for conversation around this topic. The great thing about the movement for gun-safety largely taking place in schools through young people is that our minds and opinions are still forming. Our eagerness to learn by no means stops stops in the classroom. In order to make progress in a democracy, we need to be receptive to other people’s ideas, and that has been both one of the hardest and most rewarding parts of this movement in our community. It is difficult to “listen like you’re wrong” when you are so passionate about a topic that you’ve researched it, spoken about it, and prayed over it. Yet, it is a key aspect of building your own opinions and getting other people to listen to you. While I’ve been advocating for increased gun-control, I’ve become more aware of how much mental health plays a role in this issue as well. I never gave the mental health argument much thought before, but now I’m working to increase my educational awareness on the issue. I see kids playing video games with semi automatic rifles in their free periods at school all the time, where they get excited about shooting the virtual character of their friend, and I think, this is certainly part of the gun problem! If we have a society that breeds kids to enjoy shooting, than redefining the American mentality around violence is something we need to start considering. We definitely won’t find a solution to one of the biggest problems in our country with an “either, or” approach, so if people would acknowledge when arguments from their “opposing side” are valid, it would lead to a much more cooperative society and effective government.
Once, though, you’ve opened your mind and affirmed which views you hold truest, don’t hold back from sharing them. The degree to which students can inspire each other was clear when about 1000 students poured out of NCHS on March 14 in solidarity with the students of parkland and around the country for the National School Walkout. I’ve learned just how powerful one voice can be. And if that is just the power of one, imagine the collective force of all of us.