California Forum

The Florida school shooting survivors are our children, finally calling us to account

It’s time to rethink “snowflake,” to reclaim it as a pejorative. Since the 2016 election, the word has been adopted by the far right and supporters of the president to deride the supposed weakness of the left.

The source is widely considered to be Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel “Fight Club” – or the 1999 film adaption – which includes the sentence, “You are not special, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” The idea is to denigrate those not seen as tough.

And yet, as recent events have reaffirmed, the reality is the other way around. Last week, we learned that Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt flies first class, at taxpayer expense, because a coach passenger once used profanity to upbraid him for degrading the environment. Over the weekend, the president – perhaps the biggest snowflake of all – ranted and pouted on Twitter like a spoiled adolescent about the latest charges in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

I don’t call the president an adolescent to be nasty. I do it to make a point. As he was throwing his social media tantrum, a group of real adolescents, survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were showing the country who the tough ones really are.

Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky: Remember these names, and all the others. They stand on the front line of what I hope will be a major moment in America – the moment our kids finally called us to account.

In the days since a former student murdered 17 people at the school, using an AR-15 he apparently purchased legally, these young advocates have refused to yield to the standard useless narrative of hopes and prayers. Instead, they have taken to social media, spoken to reporters, and announced a march next month in Washington, D.C., to declare what any reasonable person should understand already: Enough is enough.

The problem is that we do not have reasonable people in office – or not enough of them. Instead, we have quislings such as the speaker of the House, bought and sold by special interests, full of empty words.

The president could spare barely 35 minutes to visit survivors of the shooting in a Florida hospital last Friday evening; he spent the rest of the long weekend making a big deal about not playing golf. The Speaker was also in Florida, for a fundraiser and a meeting with the president; he couldn’t be bothered to visit at all.

This is what their thoughts and prayers add up to: silence, inaction, apathy. These so-called leaders don’t even have the courage to meet with their own grieving citizens – or maybe they know what those citizens would say.

Meanwhile, fellow travelers such as Tomi Lahren and Bill O’Reilly push the narrative that it’s disrespectful to politicize the shooting, or that student activists are being exploited in their anguish.

Two more snowflakes, neither tough nor honest enough to recognize that these survivors represent the best in us.

The irony is that snowflake was initially popularized to mock the current generation of students, who have been, or so we tell ourselves, pampered within an inch of their lives. As someone who spends a good part of each week in a college classroom, let me assure you that the opposite is true.

The young people I know, like those in Florida, are smart and savvy, and (yes) they are tough. They have had to be, to navigate the world we’ve made for them, in which the standard response to a massacre is to offer hopes and prayers.

Not only that, they understand the difference between rhetoric and action – and they are not afraid to speak, or to act if need be.

Snowflakes? I prefer to call them patriots, unlike the president and all the others in his quivering constituency.

David L. Ulin is the author of “Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles,” shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. He is the former book critic and book editor of the Los Angeles Times; david.ulin@gmail.com.

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