I saw you today; in a crowd of 25,000 on the streets of this city, I call my home.
I saw you amidst the sea of signs – some of my personal favourites being “As a girl, I hope to have as many rights as a gun one day,” “Arms are for hugs” and “I wanna be Emma Gonzales when I grow up.”
On this sunny, perfect, 70 degree weather day, with the palm trees swaying and the oak trees creaking as the Spanish moss floated from their branches – I saw you. Thick, brown curls with big hazel eyes and a caramel tint to your skin. You weren’t much older than 8 or 9. I saw you, the girl who embodies what I always imagine my future daughter will look like. You stood at your family’s side with a simple sign that read “Am I next?”
You’re a child. Thoughts of death, shooters, and bullets should be the furthest thing from your brain. Yet here we are. Here you are. Holding up that sign in a crowd of thousands like your life depended on it. And, that’s the terrifying thing because I can see that to you – it does.
As I walk past you towards the marching crowd now turning down the main drag of downtown Orlando, I see another sign right behind you. It says “I want to read books not obituaries.”
That sign is too held up by a child. I feel my chest tighten and the tears sting my eyes. Neither of you should have to be here. The kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas shouldn’t have to be responsible for an entire social movement (a.k.a a whole new form of teenage rebellion as one sign said) while they’re still grieving and hurting.
I said it after the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which ripped my heart out, we should have been the last. Pulse should have been the last. The 49 should have been the last lives taken by an assault weapon. Yet here we are, still fighting, still hoping that these politicians can look at us and choose life over the gun lobby.
I’m marching down Orange Ave now; my sign hoisted high, my hair secured in the messiest of buns, the sun beating down on my burnt shoulders and with my friends and father by my side – you have long since disappeared into the crowd.
Though I can’t see you anymore, the image of you holding that sign won’t leave me and I promise you this; you will not be next. Neither will my future daughter – who I hope will look like you – because we will fight for you. The adults like myself, and the generation behind me, the teens, will fight. By the time, my little girl is your age, and you’re mine sensible gun control laws will be the norm, military-style weapons will never haunt classrooms again, and you can start figuring out how to save the honey bees or anything else you feel the need to stand for.
That’s my promise to you. You are not next.