Not a moment, but a movement
When Emma González, the now-famous face of the survivors of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting, fell silent during her speech in Saturday’s massive “March for Our Lives” event, she stayed silent — for over six minutes.
She had started by remembering each of the 17 victims of the shooting, and then she fell silent. And stayed silent.
At first the protesters — hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, DC, with millions more in many other protest sites in the United States — thought she had been overcome with emotion; tears were streaming down her face, and both the cameras and the microphones caught her labored breathing.
Then the protesters saw the silence as an opportunity to shout encouragement; “Go, Emma,” the crowd went. Still she stayed silent. Then other protesters took up the chant, “Never again,” and it swelled and then subsided, after about a minute. Still she stayed silent.
The silence was uncomfortable, awkward, eloquent but in an inarticulate way; what did it mean? Why was González, a leader of the students, not saying anything?
Finally, around six minutes and 20 seconds after she had started, an alarm went off, and Emma spoke again.
The time she spent on stage, she said, was the same amount of time the killer spent killing the victims that horrifying day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
If there was a moment that captured the meaning of the March for Our Lives movement, it was that speech, or rather that moment that was one part speech and three parts silence, which brought home as never before the nightmarish reality of the massacre.
Six minutes is not a long time — except when it is six minutes of awkward silence, or six minutes of a killing spree.
As the writer Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate: “Emma González’s extraordinary, uncomfortable, unexplained silence was one of the most transformational political moments of my lifetime precisely because it was impossible to understand in the moment what exactly was taking place.”
It was the most powerful response possible to the rising chorus from the American right, that the students from Parkland were following a script.
As became clear last Saturday, they and millions of other students across the United States were not doing any following; they were firmly, graciously, painfully, taking the lead.
Some protesters carried the same sign or the same message: The March was not a moment, but a movement.
Unlike other mass shootings that bedevil the United States for obvious, easily avoidable, politically polarized reasons, the Parkland shooting has continued to dominate the news cycle several weeks after the massacre.
The main factor must be the leadership of the Parkland students, who have been highly articulate, media savvy, and emotionally mature.
Dave Pell, the online wit and self-described “managing editor of the internet,” offered a second reason why the March for Our Lives event was different from other postshooting moments: “This march — and this moment — is about guns, yes. But it’s also about Donald Trump.”
Pell, who publishes a popular daily newsletter called NextDraft, starts with González.
“Go back to that first Emma González speech. Her most important line was ‘We Call BS!’ Of course that refrain would be the cry of the next generation. They have come of political-age in an era when BS is being flung at them nonstop. It’s unprecedented and it’s unavoidable.”
He adds: “And the call of the march? Enough is Enough.”
Floundering in the “American carnage” which Donald Trump described in his inaugural speech with an extraordinary lack of self-awareness, millions of Americans had reeled from the chaos, the nonstop scandals, the sheer incompetence of the Trump White House.
Who would have thought that the exact opposite of all that would be found in a movement led by traumatized teenagers, calling BS, saying enough is enough?
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