The Never Again Generation
‘We are not afraid … we will not be silenced … our voices are loud’
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2018 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
Young and golden is the moment when ordinary people achieve a coalescence of causes based in righteous anger, when we realize a combined power that might shape a better future, when we cease to abide belligerent ignorance and curable injustice. When we act, e pluribus unum, to redeem a wounded national honor.
When we feel we hold the reins of history in our hands.
In my seven decades of life in these United States, I have twice known such palpable moment: forty-nine years ago, and right now—today—as you read my words:
- November 1969. The “Moratorium Against the War” drew a half-million ordinary, mostly young people to Washington. We engaged in weeklong protests against the U.S. military invasion of Vietnam. I best remember the Thursday evening when some forty thousand of us surrounded the White House in what we tagged the “March Against Death.” We bore placards naming thousands of American conscripts slaughtered thus far, for no discernible purpose beyond enriching corporations that peddle matériel. All through the night we marched, shouting our demand that President Richard M. Nixon end the immorality forthwith.
Spilling into Friday afternoon, our march was halted in DuPont Circle, under clouds of tear gas and pepper gas. (I wore a helmet to protect my skull from police billy clubs.) Mr. Nixon said of our efforts, “Now, I understand that there has been, and continues to be, opposition to the war in Vietnam…As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it; however, under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.”
Nevertheless, we persisted. In August 1974, Mr. Nixon resigned the presidency, in disgrace. In April 1975, the war in Vietnam came to inglorious end.
- Right Now. Paul Krugman, a Nobel economics laureate and columnist for the New York Times, describes a noble reaction to a kleptocracy that took hold in the polluted wake of last November’s presidential election: “A funny thing is happening on the American scene: a powerful upwelling of decency” as backlash against a wealthy mob with “far too much power…in the hands of men who are simply bad people.” Mr. Krugman identifies the capo di tutti capi of said mob as Donald J. Trump, “the tweeter-in-chief himself.”
Days are numbered for the cynics and plutocrats associated with a deplorable president. And whether or not the president follows through on a proposed tête-à-tête with the wily Kim Jong-un of North Korea, an exit ramp will soon be set in place for The Donald—a handle coined by the first of Mr. Trump’s three wives, the one who accused him of marital rape during divorce litigation back in 1992.
—Ivana Trump, née Zelnícková, softened that allegation upon $ettlement of the divorce $uit. Thu$, she explained it was not rape in the “literal or criminal sense.” Whatever, she was a harbinger of allegations to come. At latest count, twenty-two women claim to be victims of the president’s sexual misconduct. “Liars!” Mr. Trump retorts. Three years ago, he pledged to bring each and every lady detractor to court, on grounds of character defamation. Between then and now, he has not sued a soul. Meanwhile, wife number three—First Lady Melania Trump, née Knauss—remains silent on the lawsuit filed this month by her husband’s ex-mistress, the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels.
Practically every hour on the hour, The Donald and The Mob affirm their fatal flaw: the courage of their limitations.
They are confident that politicians cheaply purchased will preserve their privilege and shield them from the rabble. The louche Mr. Trump appears to believe, as the late Mr. Nixon famously believed, that “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” The Mob—virtually all male and fair of face, I am pained to say—is certain that ill-gotten power and suspicious wealth constitute a god-given green light to run roughshod over women and Muslims and gays and Jews and Asians and Latinos and African Americans and scholars and artists and intellectuals and scientists and pesky journalists.
They ignore the voices of the young, and allies of the young. They scoff at satire, unmoved by how it reflects a controlled rage in us commoners. They fail to see that we are in metaphorical union with the star character in a Nixon-era film polemic: Howard Beale, the fictive TV newsman of “Network” who inspired New Yorkers to throw open their apartment windows and roar along with him, in fury over a hegemony of ignorance and cruelty and proud stupidity. Once more, we sound Mr. Beale’s signature plaint: “I’m as mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore!”
And so again, the young take to the streets throughout the land, with those of us not so young marching along. Again, we demand the head of a squalorous president, the embodiment of much that is wrong; we hasten to aid the implosion of his regime. Again, we shout for an end to iniquitous war—this one not halfway around the world, but right here at home.
In the war this time, a principal weapon remains virtually the same as in Vietnam. In the 1960s, combat troops carried M-16 machine guns with which to slaughter “the enemy.” Today, semiautomatic assault rifles—collectively known as AR-15s, slightly modified from M-16s—are used to slaughter us ordinary people. Classrooms are frequent targets: Between 1999 and last month, one hundred and fifty-two students and teachers were thus murdered, some as young as six.
In 1994, a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party enacted a ten-year ban on semiautomatic weapons, during which time ninety-six people were killed, according to a tally by Mother Jones magazine. In 2004, a Republican Party majority wasted no time in abolishing the ban, ushering in one hundred and ninety-five murders over the next decade; the death toll mounts, inexorably.
The benefits of Republican nonfeasance redound to gun manufacturers. Immense corporate profits are safeguarded by an industry-financed posse of soulless stooges in Washington and the statehouses, where “bad people” are briskly paid to nix anything that would upset the sales of retrofitted combat rifles—to do nothing that would protect their constituents, or even their sorry selves, from the country’s epidemic of massacres.
Many, if not most massacres involve AR-15s. Valued for its lightness of weight and minimal kickback, the AR-15 is capable of firing forty-five rounds of .223 caliber organ-shattering dum-dum bullets in less than a minute.
In 2016, the National Rifle Association, chief lobbyist for the gunmakers, shelled out $30 million (€24.3 million) to the Trump presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Another $400 million (€325 million) went to Trump-aligned Republicans. Gunmakers can easily afford bribery of such proportion. According to his declaration filed in the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court matter of District of Columbia v. Heller, N.R.A. research director Mark Overstreet predicted sales of AR-15s to civilian “gun enthusiasts” would reach 2,446,294 units by year’s end 2012. That number then doubled over five years, to at least five million by 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. Applying the average retail price of $1,500 (€1,215) for a fully equipped AR-15 to the larger A.T.F. figure, gross sales of AR-15s measure not in the billions, but in trillions—to wit, a minimum $75,000,000,000 (€60,500,000,000).
In the Heller case, a one-vote Republican majority on the high court bench overturned municipal law in the District of Columbia (Washington) that limited gun possession. The controversial decision, the majority declared, was based on the Second Amendment to the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” By such reasoning, murderers are free to buy all the guns they can afford.
Legal academicians were appalled by the high court’s ‘08 ruling in Heller. They are still appalled, none more so than Dean Alfange, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“I taught constitutional law,” Mr. Alfange told me in an email exchange. “[S]tudents who retained any class notes from my courses should throw them away because they are now all wrong. In the twenty-first century, the most basic precedents [of American law] that have formed the foundation of constitutional interpretation…have been ignored or distorted, and constitutional principles that have been ingrained in our legal system since [Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s] are being tossed aside in favor of a new and reactionary constitutional order.” Prior courts, he added, held a “universal understanding” of the Second Amendment—“that it had to do with the maintenance of militias, and was not intended to guarantee a right to bear arms outside of that context.”
That was then. We are in a dark place now, where Supreme Court justices are given lifetime appointments on the basis of loyalty to reductive Republican dogma rather than respect for legal exigencies of modern life; where N.R.A. cash calls the tune in a Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump White House; where mass murder—defined as four or more shot dead—occurs somewhere in America almost every day, according to a United Nations study published last month.
Where the swinish Donald J. Trump pulled off another of his trademark political switcheroos in the wake of the latest massacre—last month at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The school is an hour’s drive north from Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, where he played golf as funerals were held for the slaughtered. At first, the president joined fellow Republicans in the party’s usual two-stanza diversionary chorus: 1) alarm over the mental state of homicidal gun owners, followed by 2) hollow offerings of “thoughts and prayers to the families of the dead. But then he ventured a step too far: He issued a vague promise to consider vague new legislation that might threaten gun profits in some teensy-tiny way.
The next day, after N.R.A. operatives reminded Mr. Trump of their $30 million “donation” to his 2016 campaign, the president returned to dutiful guidance of a government of gun profits, by gun profits, and for gun profits.
In Donald Trump’s America, money trumps murder.
Now come the young and golden—survivors of the bloody AR-15 assault last month in Parkland, on Valentines Day. The students are as articulate and persistent as their school’s namesake: Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998). A crusading journalist, feminist, and environmentalist, Ms. Douglas bested a cabal of Miami real estate developers poised to destroy Florida’s Everglades region, a vast swath of tropical wetlands Ms. Douglas dubbed a “river of grass.”
On February 14, a gunman with a perfectly legal AR-15 mowed down fourteen teenagers at Douglas High, as well as two athletic coaches and a geography teacher. Adept at social media, terrorized students who hid in classroom closets during the shooter’s rampage paid respect to the fallen by swiftly organizing the “Never Again Movement,” grown now to a national force. With dignity, decency, and fiercely eloquent prose, students in the spirit of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have made their elders listen to their fears and sorrow, at long last.
“This isn’t just a mental health issue,” said Douglas High senior Emma González during a recent rally in Parkland. Of the murderer awaiting trial, she said, “He wouldn’t have been able to kill that many people with a knife. To every politician taking donations from the N.R.A., shame on you.”
In a recent essay for Harpers Bazaar magazine, Ms. González wrote, “[T]he majority of American people have become complacent [about] senseless injustice that occurs all around them. …American politicians have become more easily swayed by money than by the people who voted them into office.”
Addressing politicians watching his interview on CNN Television, senior David Hogg looked straight into the camera lens with his challenge: “We’re children. You guys are the adults. Take action, work together, get over your politics—and get things done!”
Tanzil Philip, a sophomore, addressed the people who own the politicians: “To everyone at the N.R.A., and everyone affiliated with the N.R.A.—we are not afraid of you, we will not be silenced by anything you have to say. We are here, our voices are loud, and we’re not stopping until change happens.”
Alfonso Calderón, a junior, damned the do-nothing pols: “They have always said the wrong thing at the wrong time, but they’re still taken seriously, time and time again, instead of being disavowed or disqualified for holding an office after making ridiculous statements. Our message is simple: never again!”
The Never Again Movement, said senior Delany Tarr, was “created by students and is led by students and is based on emotion. Our biggest flaws—our tendency to be a bit too aggressive, our tendency to lash out, things you expect from a normal teenager—are our strengths. The only reason that we’ve gotten so far is that we are not afraid of losing money or being reëlected or not getting reëlected.”
The movement begun is profoundly bigger than the Parkland Five, or any of their classmates, of any of their contemporaries from coast to coast—the millions of young people we call the millennial generation. Hereinafter, I prefer they were known as the Never Again Generation.
Some will remain staunchly deaf to voices of the young and clear-eyed: case in point Florida State Representative Elizabeth Porter—a Republican. Last week during debate in the Florida Legislature over the state’s first gun policy overhaul in more than twenty years, she prattled, “We’ve been told that we need to listen to the children and do what the children ask. Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says ‘no homework?’ Or you finish high school at the age of twelve just because they want it so? No. The adults make the laws because we have the age, we has (sic) the wisdom, and we have the experience.”
“Adults” did not function well. The gun bill they adopted fell cruelly short of Never Againers’ demands, chief among them the simple logic of once again banning semiautomatic weapons—at least in sunny Florida. Instead, the bill allows schoolteachers to arm themselves with AR-15s and other weapons, and raises the minimum age for gun ownership from 18 to 21. The N.R.A. applauded the former—hurrah for more sales!—and promptly filed a federal lawsuit against the latter, claiming violation of Second Amendment “gun rights” for those aged 18-21.
Then there is Betsy DeVos.
Secretary of education in the Trump administration, Ms. DeVos has zero experience in public education (beyond decades of attempting to supplant it with a for-profit system of private academies), and a particularly ludicrous Republican notion: She urges teachers in rural districts to carry firearms in order to protect students from marauding—bears. Five weeks after the massacre in Parkland, Ms. DeVos dropped in at Douglas High, a campus in mourning. Flustered by a lukewarm reception to her recitation of Republican bromides, Secretary DeVos abruptly walked out.
No matter. Everywhere they go, movement teenagers remind the likes of Elizabeth Porter and Betsy DeVos—and invertebrate lawmakers—that they will soon be joining the American electorate as a bloc of conscientious malcontents, and that they will remember Valentines Day and all the other bloody days they have known throughout their young lives. Many will be of voting age for this November’s state and federal elections; all will be of age for the presidential contest two years hence.
Until then, the Douglas Five—along with hundreds of others from their own school, and hundreds of thousands more teenagers throughout the country—will be among a half-million soon-to-be-voters expected to descend on Washington on March 24, to shake their thunder at the president and Congress.
Perhaps this time those who “has the wisdom” could be stirred to take a few baby steps toward rational gun policy.
The Never Again Generation has brought us to a watershed moment in America. They have opened a window long closed, made us see that which we have not been willing to see: the depths to which our country has sunk, the disintegration of our democracy, the damage and disgrace wrought by the curse of blood money and bad people. The young have made us ordinary people aware of what we may do about it.
They have placed the reins of history in our hands.
As they say, we are “woke.”
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag
Additional photo credits
“March Against Death” – smithsonianmag.com
Richard Nixon – bloodandporridge.co.uk
Paul Krugman – twitter.com
Howard Beale – loripalminteri.com
NRA bloody logo – facebook
Dean Alfange – polsci.umass.edu
Trump/swine – facebook
Marjory Stoneman Douglas – wikipedia
Emma González – NBCnews.com
David Hogg Douglas – CNN.com
Tanzil Philip – msnbc.com
Alfonso Calderón – ABCnews.com
Delaney Tarr – foxnews.com
Betsy DeVos – huffingtonpost.com