Last Saturday afternoon, outside the US embassy in Berlin, hundreds gathered to lend their support to the March For Our Lives rally, the global student-led protests needing no introduction. It seems bizarre that this conversation is still happening, and the fact that huge swathes of the population see such a discussion to be wholly necessary makes it all the more deserving of our attention.
The venom and vitriol directed at those who, from all legal standpoints, are technically children, has been at best something of a demoralising experience. Emma Gonzalez – one of the more outspoken survivors of the Parkland shooting – has been subject to verbal abuse of the most appalling vein by men and women who, in some cases, are quadruple her age. From doctored images depicting the teenager tearing up a copy of the US constitution to accusations of Nazi sympathy, the hormone-fuelled outbursts of some of North America’s most prominent media figures and politicians is rather post-ironic in itself. Such apparent adults are somewhat at risk of becoming mouth-breathing caricatures of themselves – not that this is anything we need to worry about. After all, the past two years are all most likely part of a simulation for an extended episode of Black Mirror anyway.
Name-calling and relentless whataboutism (Fox News, I’m looking at you) isn’t going to change anything – the fable of throwing stones at somebody in an attempt to force mutual agreement springs to mind. The ideology that the age of these activists invalidates their right to an opinion seems rather warped. If these young people are old enough to be shot and killed in their schools, then they’re old enough to have a valid reaction to it – particularly if it’s an experience they’re already all too familiar with. Logically, it makes more sense to cooperate with one another rather than to blindly support something that Rupert Murdoch happened to sneeze out and smear across a Teleprompter.
Unlike their detractors, the teenage protesters have time on their side – one of the more impassioned student activists I spoke to yesterday was making plans to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. She responded to the verbal abuse from a few passers by with far more rationalism and dignity than can be said for her older pro-gun counterparts, and conveyed to me her and her classmates’ exhaustion. Tired of two to three lockdown drills per month; tired of trying to determine whether or not her government values profits above her safety. As was plastered across a number of banners at the weekend, who cares about a child’s life when we have enough thoughts and prayers to go round? After a deafening seventeen seconds of silence (please excuse the cliché), protesters staged a die-in to a soundscape of rallying cries for common-sense gun laws. To quote the organisers of the Berlin event, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is not a generation of entitlement, but on of empowerment.
In a time of non-existent leadership in the white house, it’s refreshing to see such action coming from those who in a few years may well be replacing them; Saturday’s rallies were a stark reminder that congressmen are employees, and can be relieved of their position if they fail to meet the requirements. When we ignore all the partisan bullshit for a brief moment, it becomes clear that these are children approaching with outstretched arms the adults who put them on this earth, asking them for their help. These activists may not be old enough to have their voices fully heard in November, but they most certainly will be voting in 2020.
Elizabeth is a freelance writer currently living in Berlin. She drinks too much coffee and is a contributing correspondent for UK-based music and arts magazine Dash Majesty.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Jacyshyn-Owen