Listening to our nation’s youth

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

In the late summer of 1968, my folks dropped me off on the campus of Miami University. I wasn’t quite 18 years old and, for the first time, I was on my own. I wandered over to the student union to get my bearings. From there, I walked downtown, found a bookstore, a restaurant and grabbed a book and a burger.

I stopped back at the student union on my way to Collins Hall. Posted on a bulletin board was a notice about a demonstration that was planned for the following weekend.

There were a lot of demonstrations throughout the 1960s. Students, on college campuses across the nation, were routinely gathering to voice their opposition to the war in Vietnam and to oppose racial segregation that still existed throughout parts of the nation.

Cities and college campuses throughout America were feeling the tension. It was not unusual to read about riots in major cities. Some radical student protesters were expressing their opposition to the war in violent ways.

Many racial protests, in direct opposition to the teachings of Dr. King, turned into race riots, resulting in looting and the burning of many of our major cities.

Living in the ’60s was a scary time for most Americans. For students, it was scary and life-changing.

Frankly, I’ve been surprised that there haven’t been student protests against the war. I assume that one reason for the absence of protests is a result of the absence of a military draft. Many of the war protests of the 1960s involved burning draft cards. The draft had many students upset, scared and angry.

This past weekend, thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. and across the nation to demonstrate against school shootings, mass shootings and the ready availability of assault-style weapons.

Besides the thousands who gathered in Washington, there were millions who watched on television as the students who survived the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School combined their voices with students who have survived gun violence on the streets of Chicago and other cities.

Surprisingly, though several spoke against the NRA, very few railed against our Second Amendment right to bear arms. Several of them expressed their appreciation for their First Amendment right to speak their mind and to express their opposition to the availability of guns to people who should not be allowed to have a gun, due to mental instability or a history of violence.

One young girl, Samantha Fuentes, a survivor of wounds she received in the shooting, was so nervous that she had to stop mid-speech and vomit on stage. She then wiped her mouth and bravely and passionately finished her speech.

A senior who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, Emma Gonzalez, then took the stage.

Emma stood in silence for six minutes and 20 seconds. That is how long Nikolas Cruz roamed the halls and methodically shot students and staff. Cruz began his assault by pulling the fire alarm. Students then left their rooms and started to evacuate the building. That’s when Cruz started his killing.

For six minutes and 20 seconds Cruz shot people with his AR-15. He worked his way up to the fourth floor where he took off his jacket and left the building by blending in with the other students. His plan worked, but he was captured shortly afterward, arrested and taken into custody.

The shooting is Parkland was just the most recent in a string of shooting that has grown far, far too long. The surviving students have decided to do something. They are using their voices and their experience with death to tell America that enough is enough.

As a nation, we have talked about doing something to stop mass killings with guns, but nothing has been done that has really made a difference. Congress talks. The nation is appalled. Thoughts and prayers are lifted up for those who died, but nothing new is done. Nothing changes.

Albert Einstein once state that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. The students are right. We need to do something. We need to do something different.

The weekend after my folks dropped me off at Miami, I thought about going to the war protest. I wandered across campus. It was easy to find. There were several hundred students standing around listening to a few people yelling into bullhorns. It was hard to make out what was being yelled.

After a few minutes, I went back to the student union. I was planning on studying. Instead, I grabbed a burger.

I’m proud of the students from around America who gathered this past Saturday. They gathered peacefully and expressed themselves in a mature, persuasive manner.

They are determined to make a difference. They are not going to just listen, grab a hamburger and go back to life as usual. For them, life as usual must change.

I’m proud of those young people. We can agree with them or disagree, but we need to listen.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist