Parkland high-school-shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez galvanized a student revolt against gun violence with a fiery speech calling out NRA-bought politicians, just a few days after a disturbed young man murdered 17 of her peers—in six minutes and 20 seconds. At Saturday’s March For Our Lives in Washington, Gonzalez galvanized a movement with silence.
She recited the names of all 17 Parkland victims, and then she stood mute, tears streaming down her cheeks, her eyes sometimes closed. The crowd, rooting for the poised young woman with the shaved head and wearing a braided choker, grew confused. A few minutes earlier, a nervous Parkland classmate had actually vomited on stage during her speech, and then recovered with world-class aplomb. “I just threw up on international television and it feels great!” the brave Samantha Fuentes told the crowd. Was Gonzalez having a case of nerves? Next to me, Parkland resident and substitute teacher Debbi Schapiro watched her anxiously, then shook her head and murmured, “This is too much responsibility for these kids.” In the crowd beneath Gonzalez, a few students tried to start the chant “Never again,” but it faded quickly. Spontaneously, they fell silent and simply held high their signs of protest. Behind us, people lifted their cell phones to record the unlikely silence.
Gonzalez finally spoke. “Since the time that I came out here, it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds,” she said. “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
Emma Gonzalez’s remarkable poise was one revelation of Saturday’s march. I met her before it began, in the press tent, where she broke into a smile listening to the pre-march music playlist. “Yes! I got Celia Cruz on this!” Nodding to the beat, she fielded questions from a dozen national reporters. About the flurry of inadequate but promising gun-safety measures passed since Parkland, she says: “It feels like: they tried to take a giant step—and then they tripped. I’m not gonna knock it, it’s a good first start.” That’s the kind of “we’ll get ’em next time” equanimity activists normally take years, or even decades, to perfect.
The movement, Gonzalez tells reporters, “is probably gonna be years, and at this point, I don’t know that I mind. Nothing that’s worth it is easy. We’re going against the largest gun lobby. We could very well die trying to do this. But we could very well die not trying to do this, too. So why not die for something rather than nothing?”
On that note, a media minder whisked Gonzalez away, as fellow student David Hogg, another movement star, approached. Hogg, 17, wore a stone-colored suit and an earpiece. Then he was whisked away, too; the program was about to begin.