EDITOR'S NOTE: Rachel Tripp is a Young Voices contributor and writes about liberty from Washington, DC. Opinions presented here belong solely to the author.
The March For Our Lives movement sprung up as a result of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which resulted in 17 casualties.
A select group of student survivors from this shooting have become the faces of this movement: 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez, a featured speaker at the Washington march whose words have oddly been compared to Joan of Arc by the New Yorker, has become one of the most prominent symbols of the movement.
Other children were also heavily featured onstage, including 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, who claims that she represents the voices of victims whose stories have gone untold.
The response by many outlets, including Time, ABC and CNN, has been to give these children national acclaim and praise them for their passionate activism. However, March For Our Lives is far from the teen-driven grassroots sensation that they’d have you believe.
In reality, this movement is driven and carefully curated by adults across the country who have finally found sympathetic faces for their agenda to repeal the Second Amendment.
“But what about the children” has long been a humorous trope when debating social issues. However, this movement has taken it a step further and equates pro-gun sentiment with one that is anti-safety, anti-children, and disrespectful to the recent survivors whose faces they’ve worked to plaster across every channel.
When an 11-year-old girl is standing in front of 200,000 people saying that she represents the interests of “women of color who were murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation,” it’s not hard to figure out that her pre-prepared speech was not written by someone whose driver’s license is still five years away.
No, Naomi Wadler, in all her eloquence, is an 11-year-old girl whose mother supported her in leading a school walkout and facilitated her participation in the recent march. It’s absurd to think that someone too young to use an oven unsupervised actually facilitated her own rise to fame.
While the Parkland students’ activism is a commendable example of exercising free speech, what is less laudable is the response of the media to put these teens on a pedestal and exploit their suffering for policy gains. During her time on stage, Emma Gonzalez famously stood in silence for six minutes and 20 seconds, meant to represent the duration of the shooting that she survived.
During that time, cameras flashed, phones snapped and the face of a crying teenage girl was further associated with the march’s agenda. In a piece titled “The Parkland Diaries,” CNN aired video segments recorded by survivors on the morning of their first day back at school. Did each student serendipitously decide to wake up that day and video themselves in the same somber tone?
No, it was a carefully orchestrated play for media attention, meticulously paired with an hour-long interview with Anderson Cooper, who has his own history of anti-gun promotion. This was a clear attempt to capitalize on these students’ suffering during a challenging day. Instead of respecting their need to readjust to normal life, CNN and other media outlets have taken every opportunity to put these students in front of the cameras, dooming them to recount their trauma over and over in front of a captivated audience.
This manipulation of our youngest — and therefore most vulnerable — members of society to put a sympathetic face on an anti-gun policy agenda is despicable. Far from helping the healing process, this movement has ensured these Parkland teens will never be able to put this horrible catastrophe behind them. Instead, the media personas forced upon them by agenda-wielding adults will follow them throughout their adult lives.
Naomi Wadler, not yet out of elementary school, will start high school in the shadow of her blown-up images projected on news platforms. Did her mother consider that trade-off when putting her in front of 200,000 people?
Many people argue that at the age of 18, outspoken activists like Emma Gonzalez have a full understanding of their actions, and can weigh the costs of media attention on their own. However, for most teenagers, this is not the case. When asked why she chose to be barefoot on the cover of Time magazine, Parkland student Jaclyn Corin highlighted the momentum of this movement at its root, saying, “Hippies didn’t wear shoes in the ‘60s so I’m just jumping on the bandwagon.”
These are not the words of someone who is orchestrating a social movement. These are the words of a teenage girl who has been convinced that allowing adults to spotlight her will ally her with the anti-authority image all teens think is cool.
These teenage outcries are akin to those of any 18-year-old girl putting a peace sign poster up in her dorm room. The only difference is that these Parkland students have been given the platform to think their rebellion is unique.
While young people are the face of March For Our Lives, the true drivers are much older. Children under 18 made up only 10 percent of the Washington, DC march attendees, and the average attendee age was 49 years old.
The anti-gun movement has been an undercurrent of American policy since as far back as 1968, but it was in the recent shootings that organizers saw a chance to gain traction with a broader swath of the American public, and it worked. As of February 28, roughly two in three Americans now say they support stricter gun control legislation, as opposed to the 58 percent in support after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016.
While the march has sparked a more powerful gun control debate than ever before, it did so by capitalizing on a national tragedy and placing innocent children in the spotlight without their full understanding of the long-term consequences that this spotlight will have.
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