Needless to say, I survived two years of junior high without getting into a fight. There were a few close calls but I walked away unscathed from 360 days of junior high purgatory. You could not pay enough money to go back. Those thoughts and feelings could fill a whole other blog post.
In 1999, the unthinkable happened. On April 20, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School, killing 12 students and one teacher. They injured 21 additional people and three more were injured trying to escape. Then, they turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide. They were 18 and 17 years old, respectively. I remember watching the horror of it all as it played on my t.v. It was awful. I had already graduated high school and was posing as an adult at a big kid job when the Columbine shooting occurred. I remember, after the shooting, waking up early to go to work and feeling fear. Fear of Eric and Dylan, which is weird, cause they were both dead. But, it wasn't fear of the individuals, rather, fear that they had existed and there might be more people like them.
A few years later, I was away at college living in Salt Lake City. My very first roommate and I were talking about our stints in high school when she told me that her school would have drills, not earthquake drills like my California school, but school shooting drills! This blew my mind. Children would practice hiding in case a gunman were to threaten their time dissecting a frog in Anatomy class. I could not conceive that necessity. I had plenty to fear at school from the age of 12-18, but not once did I think that one of my classmates had the ability to get a gun, let alone bring it on campus.
Unlike junior high, I LOVED high school. I was always having fun. I had a lot of friends, I went to all the parties, I was a cheerleader, and most of my teachers liked me. It was one big social event and I was a butterfly. Thinking back on it, I remember how everything seemed so important. EVERYTHING. It's silly now. I realize how unimportant everything was, but at the time, I felt like every decision I made was so critical. Fortunately, I had a plethora of friends. Family was more of how I thought of them. Some of my chums knew me better than my family members. They weren't just my buddies that I palled around with. They were my therapists, my confidants, my partners in crime. I would lie to their parents for them if they asked me to, whisper the answer to number three during a quiz, passed HAND WRITTEN NOTES during passing period that I spent the better part of Language Arts class creating, put them in the trunk of our friends car to get them off campus at lunch and other dumb things. I wouldn't do those things to be a rebel or to prove that I could break the rules. I did them, because I cared.
I don't discuss politics, just as a rule of thumb. There is always someone out there who wants to tell me I'm wrong or go through a laundry list of why I should believe the way they believe and to me, it's just not worth it. I consider myself educated. When there is.a political stand to be made, I gather all the facts that I can find and try to side one way or the other. More often than not, I'm standing in a gray area. An area where I see how both sides are right OR how both sides are wrong. I know it sounds wishy-washy, but politics are a difficult thing for me to get a grasp on.
I felt the need to attend the Walk For Our Lives March. My main goal was to interview people and write a journalistic article, which I did. But also, I felt the need to be a part of something that is bigger than myself. I don't have an answer. Do I think we should reform gun laws? Yes. How do we do it without infringing on the rights of the American citizen? I don't know. I do know that children need to stop being shot at. It sickens me that a tragedy such as Sandy Hook, did not convince the government that we need stricter gun laws. 20 children between the ages of SIX and SEVEN years old were gunned down. They were babies. And, what of a person that commits such an offense? Let's talk about that elephant in the room. It is high time we started addressing mental health. No sane person sees a first or second grader as the enemy. It is 2018 and mental health should not be taboo.
I certainly wasn't troubling myself with politics in high school. The most political worry I had back then was, did Bill Clinton have sexual relations with that woman? And, yeah right he "didn't inhale". Other than that my biggest worries were, when are those pinstriped pants at Esprit going on sale? Which boy should I kiss at the party? And, are we going to beat Norco at the football game? *spoiler alert* we did not beat Norco the 4 years that I attended.
Something that I learned at the Walk For Our Lives March is kids today have a lot political views and they don't care who the President is sleeping with or what he's smoking. They want their voices heard and they are not stopping at that. They are registering to vote and are prepared to vote out those in government who are not willing to protect them. Not only are they going to vote them out, they are going to run against them. Pre-teens, teens and young adults are tired of being scared to go to school. They don't want to live in fear of their classmates or the unstable kid who graduated two years ago.
The weather was perfect. The sun would peek through moving clouds as local students began the opening ceremony with instructions on how to peacefully participate, where to find the table to register to vote and a run down of the mornings activities. One by one, students spoke to the crowd with the confidence of lions, each of them roaring for change. The message I took away, these kids want to feel safe and protected at school and they are pleading for the government to do something. If something isn't done, they will not walk away with their tails between their legs. They are prepared to vote out offending individuals and take over political positions to get their way.
Through tears of conviction, one student said, "We feel scared when a fire alarm goes off in our school because we don't know if it's real or a trap to get us out of our classrooms."
It was hard not to get choked up as students plead, not just for change, but for their safety. Another student commented, "Any movement is better than none."
After the opening ceremony, the march began. Something that surprised me, we marched through traffic. There was a ton of security and volunteers directing us, however, the streets were not blocked off that we walked down. I can see how irritating that might be for a soccer mom trying to get her van full of kids to their game, but this was my first rodeo so I just went with the flow.
There is always one guy.
When you and your friends plan to crash a peaceful protest, but they're at home cleaning their guns.
Just because this was a peaceful protest, doesn't mean we tip toed through the streets of Riverside quietly. There were a handful of chants being shouted for all to hear. This is where my internal struggle began. First, I didn't chant, which is difficult, because the cheerleader in me loves to synchronize rhyming shouts with a crowd, but I'm still in that gray area. I want gun reform, however, I don't want to take away gun rights. Although, I don't know a good reason for anyone to own an assault rifle. Second, as a faux journalist, I couldn't justify chanting and remain biased so that I could write an informative article instead of one that tipped the scale. So, I marched, I took photos, notes and video. My heart was definitely in it. I thought about my three nieces and nephew and how I just want them to get an education on not witness their friends or teachers being blown away during third period or worse, being in the direct path of a bullet.
We marched a giant square and ended back on the steps of the courthouse. I worked up (a lot) of courage and approached six different protesters and asked them all the same two questions:
Do you think the Parkland kids are appropriate leaders, and why?
"Yes, the Parkland students truly understand what's happening and what needs to change in the future, plus they have a powerful voice." - Mauve, 17
"Yes, they are the most recent victims, they're young and young people are the future." - Bobby, 45
"Yes, they've been baptized by their experience and possess an empathy that is needed." - Michael, 24
"Perfect leaders. They transcended any sort of partisan politics of this and embody commonality of Americans. They are the perfect voices to get us passed this." - Daniel, 29
"Yes, through showing us that we can make a change, we are able to stand up for ourselves." - America, 14
"Yes, they had first hand experience and they can tell us how it feels to be threatened." - Eliana, 14
What are you hoping will be a result from this protest?
"I think there should be stricter gun laws. There is no need for people to own semi-automatic guns. I hope more people register to vote." - Mauve, 17
"Get rid of assault rifles and other guns. Make it harder to get guns. I hope this is a movement and not a moment." - Bobby, 45
"I hope that more protest get organized, the problem needs to be taken more seriously." - Michael, 24
"I hope to sustain civic conscience and energy passed this stage to the ballots. Vote craven politics who are part of the NRA out of office." - Daniel, 29
"That guns won't be allowed in public places, and for kids to feel safe. Kids won't feel like they might die." - America, 14
"More kids will be involved, leaders will come forth and better change." - Eliana, 14
The closing ceremony began with a moment of silence for the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School where in a crowd of hundreds of kids the only sound heard was an airplane overhead. Then each of their names were read out loud. Five butterflies were brought out, each representing Change, Hope, Perseverance, Courage and Action. They were SUPPOSE to flutter up into the sky, lifting with them the spirits of all in attendance, but it just wasn't sunny enough for them to take flight. So, the butterflies protested. The students had to walk them down the steps, out of the shade and encourage them to enter into a world where 16-year-olds own guns.
Susan "Don't @ Me, Bro!" B.