A Wild #NationalWalkoutDay Proved to be Nothing More Than a Blip on the Radar
On Wednesday, March 14, a bunch of college kids did what they’ve been doing for years: protest. Yet within hours of moving speeches one month after the tragedy in Parkland, the unthinkable happened…sort of.
It was hard to miss #NationalWalkoutDay on both social media and in person one month after the shootings in Parkland.
I personally didn’t even realize it was a thing at my school until a friend came over Wednesday morning and said, Hey, wanna go do the walkout? Morty [Northwestern President Morton Schapiro] and others will be giving speeches. I responded with something along the lines of, Yeah, sure, seems legit.
A decent crowd in the hundreds showed up in front of the library at 10 AM, a feat pretty impressive for a student body in the middle of its no-class reading week. Powerful speakers, including a Northwestern student from Parkland, told the crowd that the buck didn’t end here, that there was too much left to fight for. That we didn’t — and shouldn’t — want to be the next ones.
People sent snaps and updated their Instagram stories. People cheered. And after an hour or so, people went about their own separate ways.
Within two hours, everyone on campus and in the area received this message:
Seconds after I saw this tweet, my phone lit up. My mother was calling, and you better believe she had gotten the message.
I told her everything was fine, I was in my dorm room, which requires four key swipes and a flight of stairs to get to. I promised her I’d keep her informed and hung up, only to see snaps and texts full of people on campus frantically scrambling to make sure me and our other peers were all safe.
My dad texted saying he loved me. My mom called back multiple times, and I got the feeling she kept staying on longer and longer so that she could continue to hear my voice.
And that’s when it hit me.
We imagine the unimaginable, we play out these scenes in our heads all the time and pretend like we know what we’d do in a given circumstance, but we don’t. Someone with a microphone and a set of speakers muffled by the sharp Chicago wind told me mere hours ago not to let these massacres continue to happen because the next time, it could be me.
I know I wasn’t the only person able to catch the strange combination of irony and terror in the given situation:
And yet, for some reason, through all the madness, sitting at my desk and scrolling through local news updates neurotically, I felt the strangest sense of calm.
I’ll start off by saying I’m not here to preach about some slanted talking point used by talking heads and pundits around the nation when it comes to the conversation on guns and the Second Amendment.
I know I could probably afford to know more about bump stocks and AR-15s, but whenever I go down that rabbit hole, I often get caught up wondering why the hell the minutiae of these things are so hotly debated in the first place. Why not just get rid of every goddamn firearm in this country and be done with it?
Most of the time, I’ll try and find some intellectual think-piece in support of gun rights and put myself in these people’s shoes, why they believe keeping citizens armed in an act of self-defense is an important facet of the America experience. And while I often find myself fuming on the inside in disagreement, I fully recognize that the whole debate certainly isn’t as open-and-shut as some people would like it to be.
Parkland, though…that thing was a punch to the gut. I sat at my desk in a state of near-shock for a solid hour, on the verge of spilling buckets of saltwater yet never fulfilling the deed. Another school, a little over five years after the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
I thought about all the times I’ve passed Newtown, Connecticut on the highway, how many times I’ve seen the exit sign telling drivers to get off if they wanted to visit the now-infamous elementary school. I thought about those 20 kids and six adult staff members.
I thought about these two separate incidents, both intertwined with death and destruction, for a long, long time.
The easy comparison many people make when it comes to gun control is how Australia responded in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre. Though his own party didn’t support him at the time, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, introduced strict gun control laws within Australia and formulated the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. Since 1996, these moves have been a resounding, bipartisan success.
Yes, our Aussie brethren may look and act in a similar vein to us Americans, but I decided to ask my roommate — who hails from the suburbs of Melbourne — if he thought sweeping gun control akin to his home country would work in the States. He said, well, it certainly couldn’t hurt.
However, comparing the two countries isn’t perfect. There are a lot less people in Australia, along with a lot less guns. He also said that in contrast with Australia, guns are just too embedded in American culture. He had a hard time believing they could just vanish overnight, as black markets would pop up at a feverish pace and people simply would and could not give up a large part of their identity.
I gathered my roommate had been reading up on the issue recently. After all, in one of the first weeks of school, he told me his mom could barely stomach the idea of him attending an American university — in Chicago, nonetheless, a city with a poor public image in this regard — due to our fascination with firearms.
It turned out the whole thing was a hoax. We weren’t next; someone just happened to decide that it was a good day to prank the police.
This didn’t clear up without major news outlets picking up the story and the aforementioned tweets getting blasted around the interwebs. The whole thing, at one point, was even trending on Twitter.
And then…poof. It was over.
During that period of time I was boarded up in my room, I can tell you right now, even in experiencing an emergency situation like this firsthand — or at least believing I was — I felt desensitized to the whole affair. I’ll be fine, I thought. It’ll clear up. Those people messaging me with advice like turning off my phone ringer and closing the window blinds should take a chill pill. The cops will handle everything, and we can move on with our lives.
My roommate, the one from a faraway land where guns are near impossible to come across, even proceeded to watch soccer highlights on his computer. Loudly.
Earlier, I wrote that the whole situation hit me, but it didn’t. It was more me thinking to myself, Oh. Well, this is happening. Am I supposed to actively be worried?
Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to be. Some emails sent around cleared up the whole thing, and later that night, I was worrying about more pressing matters, practicing how to break a zone defense in ultimate and whether or not South Dakota State was a good upset pick (it wasn’t).
I could give you a whole analysis of how the media portrays certain events and therefore desensitizes us to these situations, but there are many writers out there who have articulated these points much stronger than I have. I would rather just comment on how normalized these have all become.
After all, I watched almost every first-round March Madness matchup on Thursday as if nothing had happened. And that right there, well, that’s scary.
(In regards to consuming way too much college basketball, though — Mom, if you’re reading this, I studied for my finals for most of Tuesday and Wednesday while I wasn’t scrolling through updates on Twitter, and I’m going to office hours tomorrow morning. We good.)
They say the pen is mightier than the sword — or rather, in our 21st Century chock-full of wonderful technology, the tap-tap-tap of a writer crafting stylistic flair can do more damage than an incoherent Internet troll.
Well, I say phooey to that. Yes, I’m staying up late, hoping you read through this somewhat-sprawling piece that only came together due to one really productive shower. Nevertheless, it’s on us to act in real life like we value people’s lives, and not just to chime in constantly in the echo chambers of social media.
Whether guns kill people or people kill people, who cares. People — young people — are dead for absolutely, positively, no good reason. In a country like America, the place that’s supposed to be the world’s beacon of hope and freedom, a phenomenon like this cannot be normalized.
Treat people with respect. Help those in dire need of dealing with their mental health problems. Listen to each other’s ideas face-to-face and have an intelligent conversation. You can even tell someone why you absolutely need the perfect accessories and pink coating for your new pistol. I don’t care.
Just whatever you do, act like a good human being. Because no one should ever, ever deserve to die like the thousands of children who have died of gun violence in recent years.
Oh yeah — and don’t you dare call out those kids from Parkland for speaking out in a world they “don’t yet understand.” If that was the case, then I guess reality television stars shouldn’t be allowed to comment on politics, period.