In an excerpt for the Time 100: Most Influential People of 2018 list, Barack Obama writes about the survivors-turned-activists of the Parkland shooting and the impact they’ve had on the conversation surrounding gun control.
“America’s response to mass shootings has long followed a predictable pattern,” he begins, before offering a subtle critic of the “thoughts and prayers” reaction most tragedies like the February shooting, which left 17 students and teachers dead, normally receive. “We mourn. Offer thoughts and prayers. Speculate about the motives. And then—even as no developed country endures a homicide rate like ours, a difference explained largely by pervasive accessibility to guns; even as the majority of gun owners support commonsense reforms—the political debate spirals into acrimony and paralysis.”
But this tragedy is different, Obama notes, thanks to the activism and no doubt desperation of those who suffer most frequently from these kinds of mass shootings: children. “The Parkland, Fla., students don’t have the kind of lobbyists or big budgets for attack ads that their opponents do. Most of them can’t even vote yet,” he writes. “But they have the power so often inherent in youth: to see the world anew; to reject the old constraints, outdated conventions and cowardice too often dressed up as wisdom.”
Since the shooting, survivors have organized a national march and been featured on countless TV news segments arguing for stricter gun control, and often attacking the NRA and the organization’s political allies. “They see the NRA and its allies—whether mealymouthed politicians or mendacious commentators peddling conspiracy theories—as mere shills for those who make money selling weapons of war to whoever can pay,” Obama writes. “They’re as comfortable speaking truth to power as they are dismissive of platitudes and punditry. And they live to mobilize their peers.”
Obama also cites other important movements, including Black Lives Matter, as being responsible for shifting the narratives surrounding violence in America. “If they make their elders uncomfortable, that’s how it should be,” he writes. “Our kids now show us what we’ve told them America is all about, even if we haven’t always believed it ourselves: that our future isn’t written for us, but by us.”
Read the full essay here. Careful with the Time 100, though—it does have Mitch McConnell honoring Jeff Sessions.