We are sorry…
We are sorry for all that is happening to you, not just the gun violence and the mass death that you face everyday on every news feed, nor just for the ever looming threat you must live under, wondering if your school is next, nor for the fact that you are destined to grow up in a time when mass shootings and school massacres are so common that they barely register in the American conscious anymore. Not just for those things, but for the fact that you -as minors- have now become the target of those older than you, those who no longer remember or understand what it means to sit in your seats and live at your lunch tables. These are the people who stand apart and isolated from your everyday lives, looking back on their own youth with the delusion of adulthood, and simultaneously minimizing your opinion while oversimplifying your lives.
We are sorry, that when you organize, march, and protest for the sanctity of your own lives; for the right to live and pursue an education in peace and safety that you are persecuted by those same distant people. “Well, maybe if you were nicer to that boy, than he would not have killed all those people,” they may say. “Maybe if you sat with him in the lunchroom than they would not have tried to shoot you,” some will chastise. “Maybe if you didn’t bully your peers in the first place this would never have become an issue,” they will write on their news feeds as others “like,” and “share” their opinions.
For in their eyes, not only are you, dear students, the victims but the perpetrators, as if this was some karmic wheel of action and reaction. Do not be fooled by these voices, they are merely making their excuses for their own complacency. Do not believe them, for bullies existed in their youth as much as they do today and yet they never worried about being shot in the cafeteria line. Do not take them at face value, for they a demanding a certain type of maturity from you, which cannot even be reliably shown by our own President.
Now we are not saying that you should be a bully, or that you should not try to help those peers around you who are feeling sad and lonely. It takes a special type of courage -especially as an adolescent- to step out of your own fears and comforts and reach a hand to those in need. In a world of high school popularity and hormones it may often feel as if there is no greater risk to do so, and yet it could yield the greatest of rewards, a new friend. After all, in 2013 according to the Center for Disease Control suicide was the second leading cause of death in Americans from ages 15 to 34, and the third leading cause in children ages 10 to 14. It is a problem, however it does not delegitimize your anger or your voice when it comes to gun control, anymore than your age does. After all, do you know how many students die of firearm related injuries each year, according to the CDC? The answer is that we do not know, because the CDC is discouraged by Congress and those in power who are propped up by the NRA from keeping statistics on gun related injuries and death. Thankfully, the Journal of Pediatric Medicine is under no such restrictions, and estimates that on average, 1,297 children die each year from a gun-related injury in the US. And between 2012 to 2014 on average, 5,790 children in the United States annually received medical treatment for a gun-related injury -including suicide attempts.
We are sorry, you are being blamed and scapegoated for a problem you did not create, and shouted down and insulted for proclaiming a solution that is politically inconvenient to those in power, regardless of how correct it may be. Please know, dear students, that you will never please these people, nor should you try. They are the ones who will criticize you no matter what, whether your movement be anarchy or peace. They will find their reasons to deride it and underestimate your agency and intellect, if only to cover up for their own laziness. However, that is not a reason to walk away. There will be many many defeats on this road -especially on this issue- but do not become jaded as so many generations before you have. Do not give up your voice out of frustration or spite. School is meant for education, but there are learning opportunities throughout life, and you will be handed no greater teacher than defeat in the face of power. Learn from the hurdles ahead, fall down, lick your wounds, but get back up and keep going.
We are sorry, but for your efforts will be called immature, your intelligence will be questioned, and even your patriotism. You will be told to shut up and sit down… Do neither. For you do not just become an American citizen when you turn 18. No, you are born an American and if you are old enough to be killed in your school, your home, your neighborhood, your own backyard, than you are old enough to have an opinion and a voice. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, these are not just rights granted to adults of legal voting age. In fact, they are not rights granted to just American citizens, they are self-evident and inalienable rights of all people. Always remember that, and always fight for it.
We are sorry, dear students, that you are being asked to grow up sooner than you should, and to take on adult problems and responsibilities before your time. Yet, if there is one thing we have learned from you, it is that you can surprise us with your intelligence, your thoughtfulness, your openness, and your passion. Change -real change- has always come from the young, and it has always had to be fought for. This era is no different, other than that the students and adolescents of today have the most technological, informational, and ethical power of any generation that has come before. Your voice is strong and far reaching, use it.
Lastly, we are sorry that this has become your burden to bear. We are sorry that this has become your hill to climb, and yet we are not sorry that you are the ones who will lead on this issue.
Whether you are a student or not and you would like to help, please consider lending your voice in the NYC March For Our Lives event, this Saturday. And as always make sure to keep calling, writing, and pestering your representatives on this incredibly important issue.