“There's something happening here; What it is ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a gun over there; Telling me I got to beware….
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound;
Everybody look what's going down.
There's battle lines being drawn; Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Young people speaking their minds; Getting so much resistance from behind.”
— Buffalo Springfield, For What It's Worth
It was the day I decided to become an activist. It was a warm spring day. May 4, 1970. I was a freshman at Oberlin College. A few days earlier, President Richard Nixon had expanded the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia. Anti-war college protests erupted throughout the country.
About 1 p.m., the news hit us in the gut as we huddled around TVs and radios on our sheltered college campus. In just 12 seconds, the Ohio National Guard fired over 60 shots at student protesters at nearby Kent State University. Nine students were wounded, one of them paralyzed for life. Four students — Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandra Scheuer and Bill Schroeder — were killed.
Schroeder, an ROTC student watching the protest, was shot in the back. Scheuer was walking to class. I didn’t know them, but I’ve never forgotten their names.
The greatest lie you can tell someone is that there is plenty of time. I’ve felt a sense of urgency ever since.
No matter your views on guns, our hearts break for the children and families of Parkland, Florida, and the victims of senseless gun violence tragedies that preceded and followed Parkland.
The effort to reduce gun violence in America is paralyzed. We know that no gun law will prevent mass shootings, and there is no one solution to gun violence, but doing nothing is unacceptable. Despite the general consensus among most Americans that some new laws are needed that would make it harder for bad guys and mentally unstable people to own and use a gun to kill innocent human beings, there has been no federal legislative action.
This time feels different. A new generation of young activists appears poised to take the lead for commonsense legislation. The deeply personal response of the Parkland, Florida, high school survivors has struck a chord with millions of Americans.
David Hogg, a student who survived the Parkland killing, said, “We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, get over your politics and get something done.”
Emma Gonzalez, another student who survived, said, “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks…We are going to change the law.”
Much of the most important change around the world — from the peaceful pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the American civil rights movement, the efforts to end the Vietnam War and the LGBTQ equality movement — have been led by youth.
This new generation has the potential to be the most powerful in history. Through the power of the internet and social media, this interconnected generation has a unique capacity to speak truth to power.
This new generation is finding its purpose and its voice.
For the victims of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Chardon, Parkland and so many other heartbreaking tragedies, let’s hope that this generation’s voices will lead us to some commonsense solutions and some common ground.
There’s something happening here. What it is, is about to be clear.
Lee Fisher is dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. He is the former Ohio attorney general and lieutenant governor, and former president/CEO of the Center for Families and Children and CEOs for Cities.