Dear Alfonso Calderon,
On Nov. 8, 2016, the world as I knew it was turned upside down. Everything I was taught about American politics was proved wrong. Everything I thought I knew, hoped was true, about the American people turned out to be a lie.
The election of President Trump meant all those those high-minded lectures on morality turned out to be a generations-long exercise in hypocrisy. All that concern that the president uphold the honor and dignity of the Oval Office was bunk. All that reverence for the presidency and its customs and traditions was fake. All those decades as “leader of the free world,” as a bulwark against tyranny in general and Russia in particular, were abandoned.
The country that swelled me with pride by twice electing Barack Obama its 44th president, the first African American entrusted with the White House, broke my heart by handing over the keys to a thin-skinned, thrice-married adulterer unfit for the office he holds and incapable of discharging the awesome duties that go with it. Every day since Jan. 20, 2017, we have endured a demoralizing deluge of drama and dysfunction from an incompetent president who is an affront to our nation’s history and the men who preceded him.
To make matters worse, he one-upped the cynical tradition of presidents picking at the edges of our unhealed racial wounds by becoming a white supremacist bullhorn barking nonsense about “both sides” and insults about “shithole countries.” That members of his presidential campaign are under criminal investigation is the cherry on top of the Minny’s chocolate pie that is the Trump administration.
The horror you and your classmates experienced on Valentine’s Day only added to my dark mood. Here we go again, I thought. The airwaves will be flooded with images of another devastated community, followed by anguished calls of “do something” that then segue to inaction and silence. After all, if not even the slaughter of grade-school innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., could move this nation to act, nothing can or will.
But then you spoke. Within hours of the shooting, you and your fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students were roaring with indignation. Within days, you descended upon Florida’s capital bearing thunder. And it was there that you, Alfonso, said the words that gave me hope.
What we need is action and we need it now more than ever because people are losing their lives and it is still not being taken seriously. I don’t know what it’s going to take. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get some people to realize this is more than just reelection. This is more than just political gain. This is more than the conspiracy theories and people trying to disqualify us for even having an opinion. This matters to me more than anything else in my entire life. And I want everybody to know, I, personally, I’m prepared to drop out of school. I am prepared to not worry about anything else besides this because change might not come today. It might not come tomorrow. It might not even come March 24, when we march for our lives down in Washington. But it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen before my lifetime because I will fight every single day.
Alfonso, your generation is one of instant gratification. Any question you have can be answered in seconds by the phone in your pocket. That you know your fight will not be won right now, overnight or tomorrow, but will require dedication, persistence and a long view is what brought tears to my eyes when I heard you speak and as I type these words now.
Despite the well-earned cynicism and skepticism of my generation and fellow political observers that what you’re doing will actually succeed, you and your fellow students and those who follow your lead around the country are my hope. You stand on the tiny shoulders of giants. Just as the Birmingham children’s crusade changed the trajectory of the civil rights movement 55 years ago this April, you are doing the same for the gun debate today.
“Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be,” former president Barack Obama tweeted on Thursday. “We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.”
All of you make me proud. All of you are the America I thought was lost on election night 2016. Thank God you’re here.
With admiration and gratitude,
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