These were former President Obama’s words last week after students across the U.S. walked out of their classes to attend demonstrations protesting guns and violence in this country. The Parkland, Florida, high school shootings on February 14, where 17 students and teachers were killed, was the most recent of over 200 other school shootings in the last six years. It appears to be the “last straw” for young people who have watched the escalation of lethal violence directed at their classmates and teachers.
Emma Gonzalez, senior at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke fiercely and articulately at a gun control rally in Ft. Lauderdale: “The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us….Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this….It’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.” She speaks for countless others across this nation, of all ages, races, nationalities, and backgrounds. And she echoes Oprah Winfrey’s words, in a different context (sexual abuse) but also about the devaluing of human lives by those in power, “Their time is up!” We are reaching critical mass on so many fronts.
I had tears in my eyes when I listened to Oprah’s speech and Emma’s speech, and when I read Obama’s heartfelt reaction to the students taking a stand against the existence of guns and violence in their lives: “We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.” Those of us who have actively spoken out for nonviolence, peace, and the honoring of all human lives (“Black Lives Matter!”) for years see hope for the future in these angry but determined young faces. They are in great pain, but often great change comes from such pain. Pain that cuts through all the lies and gets to the heart of the matter: How do you want to live your one precious life? At war or at peace? In fear or in love?
We are at a crossroads in this country and on this planet. The culture of violence that is killing our children and breaking our hearts is also causing us to stand up and let our voices be heard for something different. Every single “ism” and “phobia”—racism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, homophobia—that has dominated the collective consciousness for hundreds of years is starting to unravel and fall apart at the seams. It may look like hatred of all kinds is gaining strength, but what we are seeing is the desperation of those who sense “their time is up.” “Power over” is frantically trying to hang on, but “power together” (“Me too”) is gaining strength. The spirit of oneness is rising in people’s hearts, whether they are aware of it yet or not. The “otherness” and separation that we have been trained to believe in is losing its grip, and compassion and unity is coming to the fore.
That spirit is in those students whose courage and resolve inspire every one of us to stand with them, to “have their backs.” Because it’s not just about them. It’s about all of us. We are all immigrants on this Earth, and we came here for a purpose beyond our individual lifetimes: to embody peaceful coexistence and loving kindness on a planet that has never fully lived it. The waiting is over; our time is now. Each of us knows in our heart that love is stronger than fear and hatred, and global transformation occurs when we live that truth, shining it outward from the very core of our being so that it is reflected in the hearts of everyone, everywhere. To quote Oprah again, “A new day is on the horizon.” Let’s walk into it together.