I was in the newsroom of The San Francisco Chronicle, where I worked managing and writing about social media, when the news broke. My desk faced the reporters, and I looked up to see them working, talking on the phone, laughing. My heart sank, tears came to my eyes, and a deep sadness flowed through me. I posted the news to Twitter, which was my job.
I felt so frustrated. I wanted to blame video games. How could a culture “play” at squeezing the trigger and shooting people in a whole genre of “first-person shooter” games and not encourage mass shootings? But research just doesn’t bear that out, my son told me. And I looked into it. He was right. Besides I played with physical toys of guns as a kid in the late ‘60s-early ’70s far more than his generation played with shooter video games. I hadn’t found a scapegoat.
When Orlando happened a gay friend told me he felt shaken for weeks. “Are we targets?” he asked me, and it sank in that he feared being shot because of his sexual orientation. “This was a little like your 9/11, wasn’t it?” I asked him. “It was,” he said.
The Charlie Hedbo shooting in Paris was mine. Journalists like me targeted because of content in their publication. How far could that go? When people filled the streets to protest, a colleague at The Wall Street Journal tweeted “YES!” and I knew exactly how he felt: People were out there to defend us, to defend free speech from bullets.
When I went to Vegas a month after Mandalay Bay, I asked an executive at the hotel if there was anything I could do to help the social media staff, my tribe, who would have seen messaging over and over for weeks. “Just go by there,” she said. “Show people it’s OK. People act like they’re… infected.”
So when I saw Emma Gonzalez’s “We call BS” speech, she spoke for me. The frustration, the refusal to witness to more shootings, the demand for action and change. The feeling of “That’s enough.”
“We gotta go,” I told my partner, when the march in DC was announced. I had said the same thing when the travel ban against Muslim nations was announced, and we took a Lyft to SFO and we chanted and yelled and clapped with thousands at the airport. “What did that accomplish?” a colleague sneered the next day. “The ACLU raised $24 million,” I told him. “That’s something,” he conceded. It was something. I felt like I helped — on a different topic — to push back against hate.
We got the time off work, feeling a bit worried that we would stand out as a middle-aged couple unconnected (directly) to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, tagging along at a students’ march. We made signs, hoping we got the wording right. We bought T-shirts benefiting the march, which I left at home when we flew to D.C. We are here, in an Airbnb, and it’s before dawn, and I am ready. Ready to be counted, to give support, to yell and march, to try to make a difference.
On the app for the march, throngs of people post their support. We are coming in, all kinds of people, from all over the country. Many more (who knows how many at this point?) will protest in their cities around the world.
I am proud of the students, amazed really. And I am grateful, for giving me a way to not just sit there and take it anymore. There is no wrong way, it feels like here in frosty Washington this morning, to finally stand up against an era of helplessness.