An Open Letter to the Survivors of the Stoneman Douglas Shooting

One of the most painful and gut-wrenching things I have ever done is watch the video that one of you took as the police came to lead you out of your building.  School shootings have always had a deep impact on me, but your video showed a classroom that looks a lot like mine. Papers on the teacher’s desk, a red pen lying on top. A projector hanging from the ceiling. A podium at the front of the room. Desks with chairs attached, the blue recycling container, a colorful poster hanging to the right of the white board. A two-drawer filing cabinet by your teacher’s desk and a 4-drawer in the corner. I always knew, of course, but your video made it abundantly clear: it could have been my classroom. It could have been my kids.

I can so clearly picture my students and me, huddled in the corner of my classroom, hiding and trying to be quiet. So, when people say this problem isn’t a “gun issue”, it makes me angry. A kid running up and down the school’s halls yelling “I’m going to kill you” is frightening, but give that same kid a gun and it is terrifying.  This is most certainly a gun issue.

It makes me livid that you have grown up in a society in which planning for an active shooter in your school is as routine as a fire or tornado drill. After the tragic events in your school, I reviewed with my 8th-grade daughter our district’s plans for that situation. She knew everything and seemed annoyed that she had to review it all with me. Then she shocked me with this chilling statement: “And Mom, before you ask, yes, I know that when we are in lockdown, even if the principal announces the all-clear, we should ignore him because someone might have a gun to his head.”

We have failed your generation when that is the sort of statement an 8th-grader would not only make, but make in a matter-of-fact manner.

We have failed your generation when you feel unsafe in a school, which should be one of the most welcoming places a child knows.

We have failed your generation when you have to worry about where a classroom is in relation to the nearest exit as a decision-making factor in whether to run or to hide when shots ring out.

We have failed your generation when you have to wonder if there’s a fire when you hear the alarm or if someone with a gun is trying to lure you away from the safety of your classrooms.

We have failed your generation when you have to see a friend bleeding out on the floor of the classroom as you huddle together and try to hide from danger until the police arrive.

We have failed your generation when you have to be told to avert your eyes from a classroom as police lead you out of the school, because “there’s nothing good to see in there”.[1]

We have failed your generation when any child in any school has to wonder if the principal’s “all-clear” announcement is legitimate or being made under the duress of a gun held to his head.

We have failed your generation when instead of worrying about your ACT score and your plans for after graduation, you have to organize a march and make time to talk with news reporters and legislators.

Mostly, we have failed your generation when elected people don’t consider you a priority. You took your grief and anger and boarded a bus to your state capitol to be in the same room with legislators, and again, they decided to do nothing about the issue. They voted against banning the very weapons that took the lives of your friends and teachers.

Will they continue to do nothing?

God help them if they do, because now they have to deal with the fact that your generation is tired of waiting for my generation to do something. You are calling out our elected officials, you are making them look you squarely in the eyes as they decide whether or not to do anything, and you are holding them accountable for their actions (or their inaction).

It was not your choice to become the next Columbine or Sandy Hook.  It was your choice, however, to decide to turn your grief and outrage into action. You have recognized that my generation has let you down, and you are not going to let the cycle of “shooting-debates-thoughts-prayers-inaction-repeat” continue unchallenged.

We need change and if the people in power don’t have the courage to make some changes, then they need voted out. That’s the most powerful weapon we have in this case. My teacher’s salary can’t compete with the millions of dollars the NRA donates to legislators, but my vote is just as powerful as an NRA member’s. And so is yours. I urge you to use it. It’s a quiet action and it doesn’t engender quite the same buzz flowing through your veins as a good protest does, but it is even more powerful, because a vote can actually put change in motion.

For the first time in a long time, I feel energized. I feel hope. Watching how you have conducted yourselves makes me believe that you and your passion and your demands for change will become part of our nation’s story. With eloquence and grace and a level of class we rarely see demonstrated by our elected officials, you are not backing down. You looked Marco Rubio in the eyes and asked him if he would reject money from the NRA.[2] You addressed the conspiracy theories claiming that you are actors, paid to speak out against gun violence.[3] You are continuing to speak out, even though you are being threatened and harassed online by NRA supporters.[4] But you are standing up to very powerful people. Your resolve is going to be tested and your energy is going to be depleted. There will be days when you might even feel as if what you are doing isn’t making a difference. But you must persist. Change won’t happen overnight, but there are so many people in this country who are with you.  I pray that you will feel that support in the dark and trying days ahead.

I full-heartedly believe that you are going to be the ones to make change happen, you and students like mine who are being inspired by you. Fear is a powerful motivator, and students living in fear of being shot while at school are going to beat out politicians living in fear of losing campaign contributions or an election.  When history looks back on this moment, it will be your story, your fight, and ultimately your victory that my grandkids will read about. For now, know that you have my admiration, my support, and my promise to keep advocating for you. And in the future, I hope to see your names on a ballot, so that you can have my vote.

[1] “Florida school shooting: At least 17 dead – CNN –” 14 Feb. 2018, Accessed 16 Feb. 2018.

[2] “CNN’s Town Hall on Guns and the Unmaking of Marco Rubio | The ….” 22 Feb. 2018, Accessed 25 Feb. 2018.

[3] “How the Florida school shooting conspiracies sprouted … –” 22 Feb. 2018, Accessed 25 Feb. 2018.

[4] “Florida school shooting: Teenage survivor says … – The Independent.” 23 Feb. 2018, Accessed 25 Feb. 2018.


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