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November 2018


Emma and Marjory: Calling "BS" a century apart
Susan Rubenstein DeMasi


  Grant Campus gun control Day of Action
This peace sign display, designed by FA member Kerry Carlson along with student protest leader Sabrina Spotorno, was placed in the library lobby on the Grant Campus as part of the March 2018 Day of Action. (photo by Susan Rubenstein DeMasi)

"It is as if there were places and times in which human activity becomes a whirlpool which gathers force not only from one man's courage and ambitions and high hopes but from the very tides of disaster and human foolishness which otherwise disperse them."

I came upon these words shortly after the Valentine's Day carnage that left seventeen students and staff members dead after yet another school shooting, this one in Parkland, Florida. I couldn't help but think that "a whirlpool which gathers force" could easily describe the surviving students who have been leading young activists nationwide—including those at our own campuses—in protesting gun laws that only made sense when the most dangerous weapon available was a musket.

That these words were written almost eighty years ago by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the namesake of the Parkland, Florida, high school, is fitting.

Douglas, known for her work as an environmentalist who helped save the Everglades, was also a social justice and civil rights activist who advocated for the poor and fought for women's right to vote. "I got a really good idea of political action," she said, when she campaigned for women's suffrage in front of the Florida Legislature in 1916. "It was like speaking to blank walls. All they did was spit in the spittoons." The bad-mannered lawmakers did not stop this 5-foot-tall indomitable force of nature from continuing to speak out. By the time Douglas died in 1998 at 108, she'd written over a dozen books and received the Presidential Medal of Medal of Freedom for her environmental conservation efforts. The wild portions of the Everglades named in her honor remain the largest such areas in the eastern United States.

"Places and times"

Just about a century later, another young woman—also small in stature, and similarly, a powerhouse of fury, emotion and passion—emerged from the gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to give voice to the fight against gun violence. Emma Gonzalez, then a high school senior, captivated a worldwide audience at the March for Our Lives Rally held in Washington D.C. shortly after the massacre.

"Whirlpool which gathers force"

Born just a year after Douglas died, Emma Gonzalez, along with former classmates David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and others, created the #NeverAgain movement, galvanizing students nationwide. Within days of the shooting, Gonzalez spoke out, and "We call B.S." quickly became the rallying cry for the movement. Writing for Harper's Bazaar, she told readers that she spoke "for those who don't have anyone listening to them, for those who can't talk about it just yet, and for those who will never speak again. We are grieving, we are furious, and we are using our words fiercely and desperately because that's the only thing standing between us and this happening again."

Most recently, student activists have come together to help young people register to vote. Through the organization March for Our Lives/Vote for Our Lives, they are advocating for the election of "morally just leaders who will help us end gun violence in America."

"Human foolishness"

Every teacher I know wonders: Where would we hide, how could we safeguard our students and ourselves? We know in our hearts that no matter what security tactics we might come up with, our only "protection" is mere luck.

To many of us, our disillusionment is multiplied by the fact that one of our own local Congressional representatives—Lee Zeldin of the first district—promotes the NRA agenda. Two months before the Parkland shooting, he co-sponsored the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. If made into law, people from states that allow individuals to carry concealed and loaded weapons—including semi-automatic handguns—would be allowed to conceal-carry in New York. Essentially, it would override New York's more rigorous regulations.

Think of this possibility with the understanding that 12 states don’t require background checks or permits to possess such weaponry.

"And high hopes"

As I write this, I hear the news about the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and it's all too easy to feel hopeless. But I also remember the day last February when an SCCC student came to me to discuss organizing a protest about gun violence. She and the other students who planned and carried out the programs offered a much needed glimmer of hope.

The work of Emma Gonzalez and her cohorts hearkens back to the efforts of Marjory Stoneman Douglas who would undoubtedly join in with these determined young adults—our new national heroes—to call "B.S."

In the spirit of Marjory Stone Douglas, and in support of students everywhere, join the AFT in pledging to vote for candidates who will work with us in support of commonsense gun laws.

And on November 6, honor Emma and her friends: honor their stories, their hopes, their passions, their sorrows and their activism when you step up to the voting booth.