Emma Gonzalez’ Speech and the Future of America

Even from my distance in suburban Sydney, Australia, thousands of kilometres away, the turmoil of American politics feels all too real in the digital age of instant news. As commentators have noted, Australia does not have a gun problem, so unlike the USA. So the Never Again MSD (standing for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) student-led gun control movement wouldn’t happen here.

The medium and long-term impacts of the social, cultural and political vectors of the current moment of American gun control debate are almost impossible to predict. But some things are clear already: there is a generation of previously unknown young American student leaders who are passionate and articulate, wielding an unexpected political and moral power that does not appear to be dissipating.

At the “March for Our Lives” Washington DC rally on 24 March, we witnessed one of the more powerfully affecting – and astonishingly short – political speeches of modern times. Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and one of the movement’s leaders, spoke for about 7 minutes. Rebecca Mead (The New Yorker) describes the impact, and makes some astonishing historical and cultural comparisons:

But it was Emma González, a Stoneman Douglas senior, who provided the afternoon’s most memorable moment….. González, who is small and compact, and who wears her dark hair cropped close to her skull, spoke for just a couple of minutes, offering an emotional name-check of the students who had died. Then, lifting her eyes and staring into the distance before her, González stood in silence. Inhaling and exhaling deeply—the microphone caught the susurration, like waves lapping a shoreline—González’s face was stoic, tragic. Her expression shifted only minutely, but each shift—her nostrils flaring, or her eyelids batting tightly closed—registered vast emotion. Tears rolled down her cheeks; she did not wipe them away. Mostly, the crowd was silent, too, though waves of cheering support—“Go, Emma!” “We all love you!”—arose momentarily, then faded away. She stood in this articulate silence for more than twice as long as she had spoken, until a timer beeped. Six minutes and twenty seconds were over, she told her audience: the period of time it took Nikolas Cruz to commit the massacre.

The best speeches, we now know, are mostly short, serving to respond to the moment and to inspire future action. Gonzalez’s speech may soon join the panoply of these greats.

Never have I seen someone wield silence so effectively. In hearing – or rather not hearing – her speak, you were forced to meditate on what happened and what had delivered this unlikely group of young people to the force of what had previously been one of the most intractable issues of American politics.  (Jelani Cobb, interviewed by Dorothy Wickenden, New Yorker Politics and More, WNYC radio and podcast, 31 March 2018.)

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One Response to Emma Gonzalez’ Speech and the Future of America

  1. Memorable yes, but falling on some very deaf ears.

    Independent noted that David Hogg, one of the most outspoken survivors of the Florida massacre which left 17 dead, has been likened to the dictator who orchestrated Nazi Germany’s mass murder of six million Jews. Addressing a crowd of thousands at the Washington DC March For Our Lives rally, the teenager welcomed demonstrators to the revolution for stricter gun laws and called for politicians who are supported by the National Rifle Association to get their resumes ready.

    Far right sites like Breitbart claimed Mr Hogg’s decision to finish his speech by triumphantly raising his hand in the air was reminiscent of Hitler’s Nazi salute. Alex Jones, who is the founder of InfoWars and has been dubbed America’s leading conspiracy theorist, attacked the rally as a “Hitler Youth invasion” and branded Mr Hogg “the chief propagandist in the left-wing fascist ‘Hitler Youth’ army.” Alex Jones also released a video depicting Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez as member of the Hitler Youth.

    The idea of calling idealistic and perhaps left wing students as “fascist” and “nazi” is absurd enough. But by not listening to Hogg and Gonzalez etc, the pro-gun lobby is pushing the next generation of voters further away.

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