The pictures stay with you.
In our minds, we still see images and videos of the thousands of people — mostly students — that jammed Pennsylvania Avenue for the March for Our Lives, a massive gun-control event organized by students around the country and led by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre of students and teachers that killed 17.
On Saturday, March 24, they all came together, 800,000, 500,000 or 250,000 strong, depending on the reports you believe. From the images, there is no room to breathe on the street. There are just those people, little dots of folks, seemingly pushed by the signs they were carrying: “Enough,” “Vote Spineless Politicians Out,” “Kids not Guns,” “Arms Are For Hugging,” “Am I Next?”
This had been brewing for weeks, with activist students from the high school making their presence felt in a challenge to politicians and congressmen to pass meaningful and significant gun-control legislation, spreading out to talk shows, late-night and early-morning shows, leading walkouts in schools across the county.
After an initial lull — common to the aftermaths of similar mass school shootings in the past, in which there occurred a noticeable quietude when politicians on the left and right stayed mum except for half-hearted attempts to talk about gun accessories and background checks (but not age limits or automatic weapons bans) — the momentum to take action reappeared, led by student activists.
It’s not as if there was nothing going on in Washington, not with the flailing activities of President Donald Trump, who was rearranging the White House as if his staff were mere furniture, firing, hiring, lawyers coming and going and newcomers arriving to an adjoining room near you, including the much feared and ominous impending arrival of John Bolton, he of the lethal moustache and “bombs away” mentality.
If you were a sports fan, baseball opening days were coming soon, a feast day for conjecture, data gazing and predictions. There was March Madness, which was winding down and included Loyola of Chicago and its biggest fan, a 98-year-old nun, among the final four and the usual suspects Villanova, Kansas and Michigan.
If the high-pitched, energetic and youthful fervor of the March for Our Lives rallies here, there and all over the world represented a moving spectacle that could make grown men cry and NRA commercials seethe with a remarkably hateful kind of poison, the Sunday night “60 Minutes” interview with porn star Stormy Daniels by Anderson Cooper was the antithesis for people perhaps suffering from an overdose of freshness and idealism.
The interview — in which the 39-year-old adult film actress told tales, but not with too much detail, of her alleged affair with Donald Trump and the legal fine points surrounding it — had Washington written all over it. That would be the Washington that was tawdry, strewn with gossip, legal maneuverings of the most arcane kind and, of course, politics in which the fates of a presidency might be at stake or not (not to mention how screenings of the reality show “Shark Tank” played a part).
Thank God for the kids, who gave us all — Washingtonians, Americans and world citizens — a lesson in how to drain a swamp.
Oh, sure, there were Hollywood stars and rock stars and a Kardashian, songs and tears and all of that. Mostly, there were the youngsters, some of whom in a mere matter of months will be able to vote in the midterm elections all over the country, a threat often presented by them throughout the proceedings. They knew the lyrics.
Which are the lyrics of democracy. Jennifer Hudson sang that old anthem of anti-war 1960s activism and protest, “The Times They Are a-Changin,’” a song that, while not escaping the grip of Bob Dylan’s raspy voice, time-travelled well into our present political dilemmas.
Watching this at home on television gave you one kind of experience. You could hear the lyrics of songs, the urgency — and often the joy and passion — of the young speakers, two of the 11-year-olds, including the irrepressible Naomi Wadler from Alexandria, Virginia, who jumped onto the stage as if bounding off of a trampoline, announcing her name and age and youth.
The speakers called out politicians — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) was singled out for his support of the NRA — championed their cause, recalled absent friends who had been shot in Florida. Every one of their moments was a highlight, and while Emma Gonzalez’s speech (which lasted exactly for the duration of the shooter’s shots) was compelling, it was the size of the effort, and the size of the hearts at work, that remain unforgettable.
They spoke words that sounded wounded, full of adult pain and bad dreams and memories, but also full of feeling for the future, while still being in the present.
In this two-hour display of drama, emotion, history, you also saw, in brief moments, who they were — still part kids, children, not quite grown up, looking now to change the world.
And then, in an instant, when a Miley Cyrus or a Demi Lovato or some other pop singer sang, they suddenly transformed themselves into who they were: boys and girls who knew the lyrics of the song, who couldn’t help but dance, who were 12, 11, 17, 18 … and, as they warned, future voters.
You watch them raise their hands and move about and you saw someone’s daughter, sister, friend, child. They looked so young. It swelled your heart with pride, then broke it.
“Welcome to the revolution,” they said. “Enough is enough,” they said.
It’s Monday. The voices still linger. Enough is enough.