I told Tim last night that if the students from Parkland go to march in DC I want to be there with them.
When my father died in Vietnam I was only nine, which was old actually. I have friends who are visiting Vietnam this very week, going to the places where their own fathers perished; they were itty-bitty when their daddies died. I’ve always considered myself lucky that I was old enough to have memories of my father. Good memories.
Still, I was too young to be part of that generation of student protesters, the ones who rose up and ended the war in Vietnam. I remember watching student protestors on the black-and-white console during the dinner hour each evening, as Walter Cronkite chronicled the growing unrest on American campuses. Students who were wise enough to understand that we had no business in Vietnam. Students who were convinced that shooting and killing the Vietnamese would serve no purpose other than to pad the pockets of Defense Contractors like Dow Chemical Company. Students who did not want to die in a rice paddy thousands of miles away from anything familiar. Students who thought that if Congress was going to send them to war by golly they should declare Vietnam a war and not a “conflict.”
There were plenty of older adults at the time who were appalled by the actions of these students. Adults who thought those protesting – people like Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham – were just being plain unpatriotic. They chided such people and declared them UnAmerican, when the truth is that Robert McNamara was about as UnAmerican as a fellow could get.
But Bob looked respectable as he ordered men and women like my father to their graves. He convinced Americans that the government’s intent was righteous, the same way the Russians have, by running a concerted and well-funded propaganda campaign.
We know this now of course.
In hindsight we know that those students who died at Kent State University – slaughtered by fellow Americans – were every bit the heroes that any one of those whose names are engraved in black marble on that Wall in D.C. It’s not even clear that any of the four slain were actually protesting the war: Jeffrey Miller, 20, might have been, but Allison Krause, 19, Sandra Scheuer, 20, and William Knox Schroeder, 19, were more observers than protestors.
Nine other students were wounded by the Ohio National Guard.
But what is abundantly clear in hindsight is that without the students rising up and protesting over and over again, the war in Vietnam would have raged on. The Wall might be twice as big. Corporate America certainly had no reason to end the war. Wars are big business. There’s money to be made from killing and maiming innocent people and there are always organizations willing to capitalize on those activities.
Just like the NRA is willing to capitalize on the killing and maiming of America’s children.
As I’ve watched the students in Parkland rise up in the wake of the slaughter that took place in their school just days ago, I see a lot of similarities between this student-led movements for gun reform and the student-led antiwar movement of yesteryear.
I notice how these students are being exploited or discredited by legislators who have been on NRA’s dole for sometime now. I see that Trump is avoiding them, the way Nixon avoided the protesters of yesteryear. I know that the NRA’s response to any school shooting is silence. They refuse to issue statements of regret or remorse. They think that by being silent that these students will forget their complicity in the distribution of military-style assault weapons. The NRA coaches its members to not speak at all in the wake of such mass shootings. They think that good people will grow weary and forget until the next mass shooting.
They act just like the Dow Chemical Company did when the truth about Agent Orange started making the headlines. The chemical that had earned them millions was now proving to have caused cancers and diabetes, birth defects, and all manner of ailments among the troops. Dow denied it, of course. Just like the NRA denies that the proliferation of guns in America has anything at all to do with school shootings.
Still, I notice that MDS High students, like those at Kent State, are not deterred. They are not afraid of the NRA or the lame-ass president, or lying Marco Rubio, or even the General John Kelly who has proven himself to be the weakest of man in the room.
That’s the thing, isn’t it?
When you have cowered in a closet taken cover from a former classmate armed with a weapon of war, there really is nothing left to fear.
When you have stood with your shoes soaked in the blood of the teacher who pushed you to safety, what is there left to be afraid of?
When you have heard the last breath gurgling of your best friend dying, you don’t really give a shit about protocol. And you will no longer allow anyone to dismiss you as “just a kid.” The gunman stomped out any tendril of childhood left and he did so with the full on permission of this Congress, this president and this specific group of NRA members.
So what is there left to lose except more students?
Is it any wonder the students at Parkland have become so emboldened?
They possess the same fire in their bellies that those students at Kent State did – a righteous anger.
Never Again is their battle cry.
We are calling BS on all the lies our leaders have proffered, cried Emma Gonzalez.
I get the chicken-skin whenever I hear Gonzalez speak. She and the others have put their grief on public display. Anyone who underestimates the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High do so to their own peril.
These kids mean business.
They are smart.
They are articulate.
They are educated.
Well done teachers. You have done the nation proud, teaching us all what it means to have an educated populace. You certainly have prepared these students well for this moment. They could not step into this role of leadership for a nation had you not done your jobs with an eye toward excellence. I applaud you and I thank you.
They are convicting.
Well done parents. You have instilled in your children moral courage. The kind of moral courage that has been so lacking throughout Congress and this administration is evident in each of your children. As a mother, as a grandmother, as an educator, as a woman of faith, as a writer and author, I am overwhelmed by the ways in which you all have risen to this moment in history. But I am in particularly overcome with emotion by the conviction of your own children. You have raised up a generation that inspires and imparts hope. No easy feat, if our own Congress is any indication. Thank you.
To the students in Parkland, please do not grow weary of doing good.
This president and this administration and the NRA are all banking on you to grow weary and go away. They don’t understand you. They don’t respect you. They don’t much care about you. You are a nuisance to them. They will look for ways to placate you. To butter you up. To pretend like they think and feel like you do, but it’s all a lie. They are simply looking for a way to make you go away. Quickly.
You must be relentless.
You must persevere.
You must never let them diminish you.
You will grow weary of doing good. It happens to the best of us. But just like when you were hiding from that gunman’s bullets, you must not lose hope. You must cling to all that you hold dear, all that you know is true, all the memories of the fallen.
There was a thing I told myself over and over again, growing up the daughter of a soldier killed in Vietnam. In my most hopeless moments I would remember my father and I would think of his good heart and I would tell myself that I had to live in a way that would make him proud. I had to cling to all the life he lost.
You must do that now, for the seventeen who didn’t make it out, for those who are still hospitalized, still suffering the wounds of the war that was waged on your school grounds.
You must live in a way that honors their lives. You must fight for the fallen and the barely surviving.
And remember, you are not alone.
A nation of people stand ready to fight alongside you.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold Star daughter and the author of After the Flag has been Folded (HarperCollins).