I spent this weekend hiring a car with some friends and driving up to Grampians National Park in South Australia. We arrived just before sunset and climbed out onto the cliff's edge for the perfect view. Sandstone mountains, wildflowers and forestry stretched across the world, illuminated by the glow of the sun. I inhaled the cool, fresh air, appreciating the sense of freedom and the perfect calm within the moment. We would spend that night camping on the mountain-top, and it wasn't long before the black sky was filled with stars. The four of us feeling completely isolated in the wonderful calm of the top of the mountain, I started thinking about the march that was taking place 10,000 miles away from me.
Since the shooting on February 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, I've been so inspired and captivated by the students who have sought change, lifted their voices and stood their ground for a safer future. In the days that followed the shooting, I'd had countless conversations on U.S. gun laws, scrolled through videos, reports and statistics, until I came across something on Facebook that stole all of my attention. Emma Gonzales' incredible 'We Call BS' speech just a few days after the shooting at her school. Her voice cracked as she shared impassioned words and spoke for her fellow victims as she began:
"Every single person up here today, all these people, should be at home grieving. But instead, we are up here, standing together because if all our government and President can do is send 'thoughts and prayers', then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see."
I felt so moved by her passion and emotion as she addressed thousands with a speech filled with strength and change. She talks about how it feels like this is the first time victims are actually being listened to on this topic, that has arisen over 1000 times over the past four years alone in America. She goes on to inform the audience of the gun-violence histories of Australia, Japan, Canada and the U.K., for instance, discussing how Australia had one shooting, changed its gun laws and have never experienced a mass shooting since.
I was involved in a pretty intense conversation on a Facebook status posted by a relative in the U.S., filled with essay-style comments going back and forth about the approach to gun-laws in the States. My brother and I chimed in with our opinions and were met with mixed responses. Many American's disagreed with our collective view, expressing that the guns aren't to blame, but the people using them, and in a recent interview with NRA spokeswomen, Dana Loesch, she labels the shooter involved in the incident in question as an 'insane monster'. This argument is a short-cut response I've heard and read too many times, to a much bigger problem. The individual that she is so quick to label 'insane' is in essence a young, unstable kid, who has grown up surrounded by a culture wherein the ownership of firearms is considered normal and at times, condoned (consider, for a moment, that Trump's solution was to arm teachers).
So many are quick to stamp these shooters with mental health problems after these tragedies, whilst leaving the slow development of this twisted and violent mentality so frequently overlooked. Surely some consideration should be focused on the ways in which one's mindset is altered by this society. A society where thousands of shootings occur every year, yet so quickly become yesterdays news. Just another headline, or statistic. In an environment such as high school where those who are different or suffering can so often be ostracized and ignored, leading to mental instability, it is alarming to think that a hormonal and emotional young person would be completely aware of their ability to obtain a powerful and deadly weapon, made purely to kill, en masse. And is it only the shooters in these instances who are affected by gun-culture? Many good people I know so strongly believe that they need a gun in their homes to protect. Protect how? By killing? What needs to be realised is that this is a vicious and violent cycle that should have been changed a long, long time ago.
The March For Our Lives was so important because of its resilience and perseverance. Despite there being numerous shootings in the past, this is the first time that we have been forced to listen and continue to listen and think about the problem. Despite so recently going through a tragedy, the students, victims and spokespeople who have created this incredible movement, have fought through a time of grieving to create change and fight for a future so that their generation doesn't have to continue to live with this problem. The strength in their young voices is the most important thing because they speak for a generation and they speak for the future. Despite still being in high school, they have worked tirelessly since the shooting to spread their passionate voice, to speak to organizations and press, to show up at every talk and to take every opportunity to spread their message, and it all led to this day. Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Common and Jennifer Hudson (who has lost her mother, brother and nephew to gun-violence) were a handful of the artists to perform and speak at the event, whilst the likes of Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Will Smith, Jimmy Fallon, Lady Gaga and Zendaya supported from the crowds, amongst many other big names. Additionally, more than 800 cities took part in the March.
This weekend, whilst myself and a small handful of friends gazed into the star-filled night sky, completely alone atop a mountain in South Australia, over a million citizens of the U.S. marched for change 10,000 miles away. A change sparked by a group of friends, students, victims of another mass shooting. Gandhi said 'Be the change you wish to see in the world', and this weekend, they were. They made and will continue to make history, and I will continue to watch in awe and to support. To these incredible students, and to everyone who marched, I stand with you.
Here are some of the pictures, tweets and moments from the event.
Emma Gonzalez names the murdered Parkland victims and observes several minutes of silence in a 6-minute, 20-second speech that covered the same time it took the gunman to kill 17 people in her high school, then states: "Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job."
Edna Chavez, a student at Manual Arts High, south of Downtown Los Angeles, blows a kiss as she speaks about the shooting death of her 14-year-old brother at a shooting earlier this year.