Rising Voices Fellows Respond to Parkland
Edited by Emma Mair
In response to the Parkland school shooting on February 14, 2018, JWA’s Rising Voices Fellows decided to put their minds together and do what they do best: write. These are the stories of teenage girls from all over the United States, who have grown up after Columbine, after 9/11, and in the age of gun violence and terrorism.
“Here we go again.”
These aren’t the responses of a compassionate nation. They’re the words of a class of high school seniors who are just so goddamn tired of our morning caffeine fix coming with a daily dose of tragedy.
Later, once we’ve had a few hours to digest, we’ll talk about it. Hushed tones and solemn emails from the principal, extra emergency drills added, effective immediately. But conversation is like dry coffee grounds. The hot water, the action, is missing. We’ve grown weary of words, which cannot begin to justify, rectify, or satisfy. We’re slipping, more quickly than we’d like to admit, into a terrible pit of indifference.
I was 12 years old when the Sandy Hook shooting shook the country. That’s the first school shooting I remember being old enough to comprehend. Before that, the threat we hid from in monthly lockdown drills seemed no more real to me than the whispered rumor that the third-grade lockdown was real, that there was a man with a gun across the street from my outdoor public elementary school.
Rumors. Ghost stories. We were fascinated by it all. Classmates who had personal connections to the 9/11 tragedy wore their families’ stories like badges of honor, lending them a sought-after importance in our class discussions. It wasn’t until Sandy Hook that the sadness and fear started to seep in.
Years later, after so many shootings, so many tragedies, at a time when my community is raw and recovering from natural disasters completely unrelated to gun violence, we’re just done. We’re tired of placing blame, and we’re tired of people telling us it will be okay. It occurs to me, in one class period, that the monsters are due on Maple Street. Teachers whisper about mentally ill people with guns, forgetting their person-first language. The witch hunt silently begins for the mentally ill student of who people say, “Anything could set them off. They could just pull a gun…”
At the same time, teachers refuse to discuss mental health in normal settings. A novel that concludes with the protagonist committing suicide cannot possibly be about depression. We don’t talk about it.
The mixture of fear and frustration that used to move us to protest now weighs us down in our seats, pulling silent sheets of a cold apathy over our sunny Californian high school.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” they’ll tell us, a week after the fact. “Come talk to us about it.”
But the time for talking is come and gone. It’s time for action.
Every morning, I have to walk through the metal detector at the entrance of my school. I used to think about how inconvenient it is that I have to go out of my way every morning just to tick the box that says I don’t have anything more dangerous than a stapler on me today. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot since the Parkland shooting is how easy it would be for a student to sneak a weapon into the building. School shooters probably don’t worry about formalities.
I was in the fifth grade when I had my first lockdown drill. We learned how to hide in the corner farthest from the door, curling into ourselves to look smaller. I was in sixth grade when I had my first real lockdown. We were in the cafeteria, and suddenly, it was announced that there was a man with a gun at the community college across the street. There was no room to crouch on the floor, so we hunched over at our tables. I tried to figure out how likely it was that a killer would make his way up to the fourth floor. When I realized that one of my family friends in the grade below me wasn’t in the cafeteria, I started to panic a little. Around me, other kids were crying, texting their parents, or shutting down completely. After about two hours, the lockdown finally ended.
Since that day, we’ve had many lockdowns. A few years ago, my baby brother started attending my school, and now every lockdown is accompanied with fear for my life and his. When I hear about school shootings, the first thought I have is: at least it wasn’t us, at least not this time. It’s an awful thought to have.
I am afraid. I am sad, and disgusted, and ashamed of my country. Most of all, I am angry. Our elected officials are paid off by the NRA, so the likelihood of common sense gun control going into effect is slim to none. A centuries–old amendment, which was written at a time when guns took a minute to load, is endlessly held up as an excuse for doing nothing.
Something I’ve heard from a few people, and feel myself, is that this time feels different. The victims are speaking out, loudly, and pushing hard for gun control, and for the respect for their lives that they deserve.
Children in schools shouldn’t have to fear for their lives. Hopefully, if we really push this issue enough, and put real pressure on our elected officials, they won’t have to.
This past August, I stood shivering in the pouring rain watching my favorite bands perform at Lollapalooza in Chicago. With Lake Michigan on my left, the glistening skyline of Michigan Avenue on my right, and the bodies of hundreds of thousands of music fans keeping mine warm, I felt welcome and content. I never once feared for my safety or contemplated that the motives of anyone in the crowd could be anything other than to enjoy the music. I never once pondered what the people inside the buildings towering over me were doing.
When I first heard about the shooting that occurred only two months later at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, my heart sank. The lives of 58 innocent people were taken, and in a setting where I had just felt so safe and sublime. The massacre felt all the more real when I found out the same man who committed the deadliest mass shooting in the US to date had reserved a hotel room on Michigan Avenue overlooking the very festival I attended. It so easily could’ve been me.
Music is made to bring people together, not to tear them apart. Schools not only educate kids to help create a better world, but also serve as safe havens for those who feel isolated and alone. Sandy Hook was sugarcoated when explained to me; after all, I was only eleven when the tragedy occurred. The 2013 shooting at Santa Monica College made me understand that gun violence is not a distant problem affecting a certain group of people, but it still didn’t feel like my problem to fix.
It took over 200 more school shootings over the following four years, and shots fired at the thing that brings me the most joy, to make me realize that gun violence is my problem. It took the strong reactions of activists and victims after the Parkland Shooting in February 2018 to make me hopeful that my generation can, and will, fix this.
Guns are not a new concept, yet lockdown drills were not at all routine for my parents or for prior generations of Americans. Gun violence is not a mental health issue; gun violence is a gun issue. We will not rest until this problem is solved, because we have had #ENOUGH.
By the time I’m up in the morning, my dad is usually already off to work, and I see my mum for less than five minutes as I rush out the door to make my bus. She always yells, “Have a good day!” and I always mumble a monotonous, “You too,” back to her. We never say I love you. We never hug goodbye in the morning, because I’ll just see her when I get home. Won’t I?
It pains me to think that those seventeen kids whose lives were taken in Parkland probably went about their mornings in the same way: telling themselves that they’ll just see their parents later, talk to them then, everything will be fine. But they didn’t get to see their parents later. Instead, their parents saw their babies’ bodies mutilated and torn by the bullets that passed through them, on a day that was supposed to be about love.
I’m only seventeen. But in my short life, I’ve seen countless mass shootings, countless acts of terrorism, and countless innocent lives taken. Similar to the way that my parents remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when two planes flew into the World Trade Center, I can recall where I was and what I was doing for many of the mass shootings that have marked my childhood. The crippling fear that my parents felt when they couldn’t get a hold of my zaida who was flying to Texas the morning of 9/11, is the same fear that I feel when I think, what if my school is next, and lately, when is it going to be me who doesn’t get to say goodbye to my parents? I’m only seventeen. My life shouldn’t be a waiting game, but somehow it has become one, and I’m really fucking sick of it.
Charlotte Bacon. In December of 2012 I told myself I would never forget the name Charlotte Bacon. I’ve never met Charlotte Bacon and I never will because on December 14, 2012, Charlotte was murdered in her first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Charlotte was one victim of 28, but I vowed to never forget her. There I was, a 12-year-old vowing to never forget the name of a 6-year-old whose life was stolen from her because someone had access to a gun, access to an elementary school and put two-and-two together. How are we okay with this?
Almost five years later, I woke up on the morning of October 2, 2017 to a CNN notification about a shooting at a concert in Las Vegas. Another one. Another person who had access to a gun, access to a concert, and put two-and-two together. But this time, it was somehow deadlier than the last. How are we still okay with this?
This is a list of every mass shooting of 2018 thus far. Now check it again in a week. And then the next week. And then in a month. I’ve been following this list since the Las Vegas shooting, and the numbers only continue to go up, and fast. I’ll look at it and think to myself: “What the fuck? How have there been four mass shootings with 12 people dead since the last time I checked three days ago?”
How many more Charlotte Bacons am I going to need to remember before we actually do something? How many more Charlotte Bacons need to die before our screams are loud enough for someone to hear? How are we (the Americans, the students, the teachers, the Congress members, the parents, the people) okay with this? Because, while we’re sitting around watching, people are dying.
Right after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, someone dropped a textbook in the hallway of my school. Nothing really happened: just a slip of a finger and the book hit the ground. Boom! All of the students’ heads snapped to the door. My heart was racing, my teacher rushed over to secure the door. A fucking book dropped and we thought that we were next. Because at this rate, there will be a next, and I sure as hell don’t want it to be me. But I don’t want it to be you either; just like I didn’t want it to be Charlotte Bacon. Why does there have to be a next? How are we still okay with this?
Every day my phone vibrates numerous times telling me that I have a new notification. I used to like getting alerts because they were usually texts from friends or a reminder from Facebook telling me about someone’s birthday. While these endless messages could get annoying, I never was scared to flip over my phone. But now I dread finding out what crazy and awful thing Trump has done, or who else was sexually assaulted, or how the Dreamers are at a greater and greater risk every day, or where the next school shooting has occurred.
Last year my school adopted a new emergency protocol, ALICE, specifically for active shooter situations. Every teacher, student, and administrator in the upper school took part in the training, which involved simulating possible scenarios and how to respond to them. When we first found out about the training I remember thinking; Seriously? I have to lose two free periods for this? When we actually participated in the training it felt like some sort of video game. I understood that this was a serious activity, but at the same time it seemed so unlikely that this would ever happen at our school. Since then there have been over 75 school shootings in high schools and universities. Gun violence isn’t just somebody else’s problem, not anymore. This is everyone’s problem now, and we all need to step up and work to solve it.
We shouldn’t have to be afraid to go to school. Our teachers shouldn’t have to be put in a position in which they are forced to act as human shields to protect their students. We need gun reform, and we need it now. We need politicians who aren’t being bribed to ignore these problems. The midterm elections are coming up, which have the potential to bring about real and positive change, but for those of us who are too young to vote, we can’t afford to be silent and let the older generations fail to solve the problems that they’ve created. We don’t have the vote, but we do have our voices, and we’re going to use them.
When my phone buzzed in the car on the way to school on February 23, 2018, I opened it expecting a playful snapchat from one of my friends. Instead, it was an emergency notification from my school telling all students to go home as school was being shut down due to a “security threat.”
After the Parkland school shooting, I had been exchanging rationalizations with my family and friends as to why a school shooting couldn’t possibly happen at my high school. But here was a former student who had posted a picture of a gun and bullets on Instagram, threatening “revenge” on my school.
Whether it seems like it or not, the threat of gun violence is a threat to every campus nationwide. No one is exempt from the danger presented by the current lack of gun regulation in our country, so no one should be exempt from the effort to reform it. When Americans go to school, or a concert, or a club, they shouldn’t have to wonder whether they will make it home. We cannot afford to let another tragedy pass by without doing something about it. Now is the time for action.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum and regardless of your thoughts on gun reform, America’s students are calling on you to protect us, and to help us feel safe at school. None of us should ever leave the house in fear that we won’t return home. If you are eligible to vote, please vote. Call your senators and representatives. Lobby on Capitol Hill, at your State Houses, on the streets. Join millions of students as they participate in nationwide school walkouts on March 14th and April 20th. March on D.C. or at your local March for Our Lives, organized by the Parkland shooting survivors. Kids can do a hell of a lot, but we need adults to stand with us. On behalf of America’s children, please fight with us for a safer America.
The Rising Voices Fellowship, a program of the Jewish Women’s Archive, is a thought leadership program for female-identified Jewish teens who are passionate about writing, Judaism, feminism, and social justice.
Crossposted on JWA’s blog.