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.
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.)