‘Insane’ Drills at Parkland Force Kids to Relive Worst Day of Their Lives

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Daily Beast on May 10, 2019.

by Gail Sheehy

Once a month, every month of the 2018-19 school year, the principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School makes an announcement, usually before 9 am, when classes begin. “OK, we’re going into a Code Yellow drill. Take a breath. We’ll keep teaching but somebody might be trying to get into the building.”

The school notifies parents five minutes before these “Code Yellows” begin that it’s only a drill. Many parents try frantically to text their kids. They may not be able to get through. WiFi is not reliable in the school. Five minutes later, the principal will come on again and announce a Code Red. It’s the mandated signal that an active shooter emergency is in progress. Most of the children have no idea whether a Code Red is the real thing. 

Without any meaningful consultation with parents or teachers, the Florida state legislature mandated monthly Code Red drills for every public school in the state, starting last August. Student survivors of the infamous school massacre in Parkland, Florida are forced to endure a flooding of fight-or-flight hormones again and again, further eroding their sense of safety in the world—without having any idea that the “emergency” may be, and probably is, fake. Many of the kids have panic attacks, even when the fire alarm goes off. But 15 months after the tragedy that took 17 lives, the people most infuriated by this scenario are not the students—it’s their mothers and fathers.

“Horrific,” “obscene,” “disgusting,” “insane,” “an atrocity” are among the strong words the parents use in describing their gut feelings about the toll these monthly active shooter drills take on traumatized students.  

On the day of the Parkland shooting, Valentine’s Day 2018, Meredith Barry’s 11th-grade daughter Isabela and her classmates ran outside when they heard a false fire alarm set off by the shooter. Hearing popping noises, their drama teacher, Melody Herzfeld, hustled most of her students inside to a closet. But noting that Isabela and others were in a glass-door office, the teacher took a chance to step out of the closet and pull the kids into one hiding place. The killer was firing indiscriminately through windows in classroom doors. “A lot of kids, my daughter included, were texting they were scared they were going to die and they loved us,” Barry told me. Like all the frantic parents, she had to wait outside for hours before she was able to respond to her child’s pleas for a hug. 

“These kids are living every day with that recurring nightmare,” lamented Parkland parent Stephanie Savransky. “Everyone has to pass the 1200 building,” which used to be the main building. It stands smack in the middle of a wide-open campus, one of its shot-out walls boarded over in plywood, a trigger for flashbacks. “My daughter Ashley and her friends see that crime scene every day,” Savransky laments. Displaced students see it from a virtual trailer park of  34 “portables”—temporary classrooms set up where the campus tennis courts were paved over. “The teachers were just as affected by the rampage as the students,” says Savransky. “They hate the drills.”  The main building is not in use. Still, authorities insist the building be preserved, intact, probably for two years or more so a jury can walk through it. And because prosecutors have rejected the “not guilty” plea by the accused killer, Nikolas Cruz, a lengthy trial is all but inevitable.

Day and night, 16-year-old Ashley Savransky is confronted with the ghost building. When her astronomy class goes out to look at the moon, all Ashley sees are the lights on the top floor of an empty mausoleum where escaping students had to step over bodies of some 14 of their classmates. On days that Ashley suspects there might be a drill, she doesn’t go to school.  

“These Code Reds cause insane trauma for the kids. And I don’t think they’re teaching them anything.”

In addition to the scheduled Code Yellow and Code Red drills, the school is also dealing with unscheduled fire alarms that have been malfunctioning all year, going off inside the deserted building as often as three times a day. After a year of these triggers to further trauma, Parkland parents are up in arms, says Laura Waite Zuckerman. “These Code Reds cause insane trauma for the kids. And I don’t think they’re teaching them anything.” She called out to her 15-year-old daughter Iliana, “Do you know what to do if there’s a real Code Red?”

“No,” came the bored answer.

Zuckerman’s complaint is with government authorities who don’t seem to know much about human psychology. “After a life-threatening trauma, people are easily triggered to feel a resurgence of the trauma,” she says. They may start shaking, feeling as if their heart is jumping out of their chest. They may space out or have nightmares or panic attacks, become distrustful, angry, hypervigilant, and develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The very threat of mass shootings throughout the nation’s schools is also damaging to mental health. “Nothing within our town has ‘settled,’” declares Zuckerman. “Even though a lot of the kids wish that their parents would stop talking about it.”

Joe and Wendy Garrity, leaders of several hundred angry MSD parents, empathize with the teenagers. “They think if we don’t talk about it anymore, the problem will go away,” Wendy Garrity told me. But it doesn’t go away, because early life trauma rips away children’s already tenuous grip on a sense of control. Joe Garrity adds, “The kids still have their whole lives ahead of them. It’s parents who think we have to come up with a solution, and that wears on all of us.” His wife sighs and admits, “I have survivor guilt, regularly. You never know when it’s going to hit you.” 

Their daughter, Sawyer, a junior at the time of the shooting, resisted surrender to the waves of helplessness. Two days after the terror she called her friend Andrea Peña: “Let’s write a song.” Over their cellphones, Sawyer on guitar and Andrea on keyboard, they created “Shine.” By week’s end, they were asked to perform the inspiring anthem at a CNN town hall. Unbeknownst to them, CNN put them on air. Suddenly, they were famous and the song went viral. But to the girls, it also felt like another loss of control. 

Tragically, there are more dangerous ways to regain a sense of control, including self-harm, like cutting.  For students who descend into PTSD hell, suicide is a desperate attempt to reclaim control. Over spring break this year, Parkland parents had to face yet another terror: two students had taken their own lives. 

While there is little research devoted to the psychological impact of active shooter drills, not even on lockdowns, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that any of these procedures can produce a state of fear. “Neurologically, fear impacts their behavior and they can’t learn, can’t pay attention,” says Dr. Franci Crepeau-Hobson, co-chair of the National Association of School Psychologists’ school safety and crisis committee. 

Shannon Green, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, thought the hardest thing she’d have to explain to her children one day was sex. “But try telling a 5-year-old that a ‘bad man’ with a gun isn’t going to hurt her at school but, just in case, she should be prepared.” Green described her alarm when her child cried out in a shrill voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me? I don’t want the bad man to get me.”

Liz DeCastro was at work when a friend alerted her to trouble at MSD. She drove like a madwoman but before she reached the school, her son’s name popped up in a message on her dashboard. He’d reached out to her via text to tell her he was OK. “Mark, where are you?” she texted back. “Send me a picture so I can find you!” The boy was completely disoriented; he sent a picture of the tops of palm trees. 

Mark was on the top floor of 1200 in study hall. His young teacher received a text that this was a Code Red. 

The teacher pulled the kids back inside and locked the door. A fusillade of shots rang out. Just outside, a terrified kid was yelling for help. A furious banging on the door shook the students—was it the shooter? Teachers had been trained that once the door is locked, it cannot be reopened for anyone. Eventually, even the police had to break down the door to the classroom. 

As the students scrambled to their feet, the teacher warned them not to look down. Mark DeCastro could not help himself. The hall was littered with bodies. Three dead, others horribly injured. The worst off was Anthony Borges, a soccer star. He was the one who had been pounding on their door while the shooter riddled his body with holes. Miraculously, he recovered. 

This wholesale annihilation of schoolchildren is not confined to Parkland or to Florida or even to high schools. It is a national emergency. The other dire emergency is how to help the young survivors of these atrocities. As of 2016, almost 95 percent of students in U.S. public schools practice some sort of lockdown drill. And by now, more than 228,000 students across America have been exposed to gun violence at school.

Even as parents and teachers, administrators and legislators struggle with how to agree on gun control measures, as well as school safety plans, are we missing the most obvious danger under our noses? Are we actually raising a new generation of adolescents under a dark cloud of anxiety and hypervigilance, blocking out the model of risk-takers who stride up and down the earth searching for solutions to mankind’s vexations?

As of 2016, almost 95 percent of students in U.S. public schools practice some sort of lockdown drill.

In 15 months, no one has come up with a solution that satisfies a plurality of parents. I asked Parkland Mayor Christine Hunchofsky what might have prevented this tragedy. “There were things that could have been handled differently, such as tips to the FBI about the shooter,” she said. “The most recent tip was a month before.” But records have surfaced that show the shooter’s mental illness was documented by his school. 

His dangerousness was reported by his adoptive mother, fellow students, police, and a child welfare agency. Two years after Cruz dropped out of MSD, threats he issued were blatant on social media. Shortly before his rampage, he made a video of himself holding up an AR-15 and stating his intention to shoot up the school. All this, including tips to the FBI, were ignored. The Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel, was removed from office in December 2018 for failing to prepare his deputies to respond to an active shooter. Ty Thompson, the principal of MSD, is under review as part of an ongoing investigation into school administrators following the shooting.

Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the Stoneman shooting, has accused MSD of lying to the Department of Education between 2014 and 2017 by reporting that the school had zero threats. As a result, he said in a PBS interview, Parkland maintained its status as the 15th safest place to live in the country. “We have to be honest with the public and report what is happening with violent incidents. Once the public knows what is happening on campus, they will be putting pressure on school districts to make their school safe.” 

Schachter also fervently believes in “hardening” schools. “There needs to be a good guy with a gun on campus to take out the murderer,” he says. He wants principals and coaches to have guns. His argument is that law enforcement will never get to a shooting in time to stop it. This is the shocking fact: The MSD killer dealt enough mayhem to slay 17 people—all in five minutes and 32 seconds. 

The most vocal opponent of more guns in schools is Jeff Kasky, father of Cameron Kasky, the laser-focused teen who typed out an op-ed the night of the massacre that went up on CNN and launched the movement, March for Our Lives. “It’s crazy to talk about hardening schools and video game parlors and churches and synagogues and all the places where mass murders are taking place,” Kasky says. “The simple answer is to make it virtually impossible for a mentally disturbed person to buy an AR-15.” 

After the shooting, Kasky offered his son and fellow activists the use of his traveling ex-wife’s house as their war room. Over the next two weeks, they fell asleep sitting or standing up but didn’t leave the house. One day Kasky brought them pizza. The minute he showed his face, they all stopped talking. “They looked at me like a rhinoceros had entered the room.” Translation: Adults were, if not the enemy, part of the problem.

That spurred this dad to create a PAC, Families vs. Assault Rifles. Kasky has suspended his life to travel the country speaking to groups, including some with NRA members. “The liberals are not coming for your guns, no matter what Sean Hannity says,” he tells them. “More than 80 percent of school shootings are performed by assault weapons. We want to keep those weapons of war out of the hands of civilians.” 

His favorite solution is to wrap this limitation into the National Firearms Act of 1934, legislation that the NRA assisted President Roosevelt in drafting. It prohibited the purchase of machine guns used by gangsters to commit crime. But when it comes to protecting defenseless children stalked by deranged young “ammosexuals” (Kasky’s name for isolated male shooters in erotic love with their weapons), there remains a stubborn absence of compassion for victims.

Lawsuits and parental petitions have been filed all over the country after unannounced drills have left students stressed and fearful. Florida’s state legislature has already stiffened the counter-violence-with-violence approach by sending a bill to a sympathetic Republican governor to allow classroom teachers to carry guns in school. This despite the fact that the majority of the state’s school districts prefer to put law enforcement officers in schools.  

If all this effort by guilt-ridden parents is too little, too late, what other methods might help to restore the equilibrium of anxiety-riddled students? 

“Music!” 

That was the vision of Peter Yarrow, the iconic folk singer of the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Three months after the killings at MSD, he summoned a dozen of the most gifted activist singer-songwriters he knew to gather in a Parkland living room and mentor a contingent of students gifted in the arts. “I want to help them write songs to tell their own painfully authentic stories in music,” Yarrow told me. “I believe this might bring the kind of emotional power to the students‘ movements of today, similar to what we shared during the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.” He invited me to observe and record this historic collaboration.

During the visit, I was struck by a sense of the students’ aloneness. Most sat on the floor hugging their knees, as if trapped in an aftermath of fear that might persist—perhaps for years. Yarrow mesmerized them with his impish smile and gentle voice, singing songs that his trio performed at the March on Washington in 1963. Once he sang Bob Dylan’s anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he had the kids up on their feet, arms crossed, swaying with a sense of solidarity.  

Over the next 48 hours, these drama and music students came out of their funk and eagerly put their souls to paper, writing and performing a dozen exhilarating songs. It was a historic collaboration across generations. Yarrow is working toward a release of the public service album that could become the soundtrack of the Never Again movement. 

“There is no back to normal. And active drills do re-traumatize people.”

It was Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña who shared another brainstorm: Why not help other kids to heal as they did, by making music and art? Their idea turned into a real summer camp when the girls decided to sell their song “Shine” on iTunes to raise the money for their foundation: Shine MSD.

The first Camp Shine was led last summer by Jessica Asch, a licensed creative arts therapist. She made full use of sound exposure therapy. Children with PTSD are easily triggered by sounds. Asch would gather them close in a circle on the floor and say, “We’re going to play sirens -- are you ready?” Week after week, they listened to sirens over and over, gradually re-integrating the sound back into their lives. They also had songwriting workshops. The most effective of the arts, as documented by a University of Miami study, was drama. 

“Often there is a hierarchy of trauma - who suffered the most?” says Asch. By encouraging every participant to tell his or her story, the students understood that everyone was traumatized. But often, trauma has no words. In one session, Asch suggests students pick out an object and explain how it feels. One boy picked up a TV remote. “This feels like I’m just changing channels, rewind, fast forward, stop, like somebody is taking over control of my remote.” 

Wendy Garrity has bird-dogged her daughter through many downs and ups over the last year, but when she steps back, she sees that Sawyer has been building resilience. Every time the exuberant teenager comes home from traveling to give concerts, she seems more grounded by knowing that her message is getting through to her peers. These experiences have also prompted her to change her career path. Last year, all she wanted was to be on Broadway in musical comedies and go to University of California, Berkeley, where she was accepted. But this year, she has committed to becoming a musical therapist. She is headed for the Frost School of Music at University of Miami, which enables her to stay closer to home so she can continue to be part of the work of Shine Foundation. 

Camp Shine will start again June 17. But Jessica Asch is quick to add, “There is no back to normal. And active drills do re-traumatize people.” Jacob Moreno, the Hungarian-American psychologist who created the concept of psychodrama in the early 20th century, put it simply: “The body remembers what the mind forgets.”

Warrior Women Invade the House

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This midterm election was a true Culture Rupture. The great gender divide is more glaring than ever in the election of 31 new women to the House of Representatives. And for the first time, millennial women are making the power of youth and diversity a game changer.  

In 2014, many millennials slept through the midterms with barely 20 percent of the youngest half of the generation showing up to vote. That number jumped by 55 percent in the recent midterms, giving Democrats the youth vote by 35 points. This is the first time since 1984 that Democrats have won control of the House without winning men.

At least a half dozen of the 31 new female representatives are Warrior Women of millennial age—military veterans and national security experts and prosecutors. These are gender daring and racially and religiously diverse women. That in itself is predictive of a dramatic change in the debate within American politics.

But the great gender divide is not only political, it is psychological. For the first time in history, white suburban women voted in large numbers in opposition to their husbands.

Mikie Sherrill, a helicopter pilot in Iraq and a mother of three, was asked by Mika Bresinski if she was daunted by getting into politics: “It’s so ugly, they drag up everyone form the past…” Sherrill was unfazed. “A lot of us are used to breaking through barriers,” she said. “I think as women, that's what we've been doing our entire careers.”

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Gina Ortiz Jones Almost Made History in Texas’s 23rd

Running in Texas’ largest electoral district, the 23rd, with a long border shared with Mexico, this Filipino-American woman had built her campaign from the grass roots up, traveling to every precinct from el Paso to Austin. She even led a gay Pride Parade in a small conservative town on the border, Eagle’s Rock, while President Trump was inflaming his base with his fake warnings of a disease-infected caravan of “bad hombres” ready to ”invade” the United States.  

 Of all the “firsts” that Gina Ortiz Jones represents as a first-time political candidate--—the first woman to represent Texas’s largest congressional district; the first Iraq War veteran from Texas; the first Filipina daughter of an immigrant; the least perilous of her firsts is her open celebration that if elected, she would be the first out woman to represent Texas in Congress. That fact alone speaks volumes about how far women have advanced in the confidence to stand up for who they are. 

Ortiz Jones has performed the male warrior role as an Air Force intelligence officer deployed to Iraq for three years. She has had command authority in hostile environments and has been hardened by real combat, not tantrums and tweets and declarations of “war” against Democrats if they “keep investigating.” . And she has learned how to work with men regardless of class or political affiliation.  Ortiz Jones’ hardships have also sharpened her emotional intelligence. As an adult she is able to forgive her absent father and appreciate the sacrifices made by her Filipino mother in leaving her country behind to raise children able to pursue the American dream.

But back in her freshman year of high school, she was rebellious. Stubbornly ready to receive six months probation for an altercation with another student, as she tells it, she caught a look of disappointment on the face of Victorina Ortiz. This is the single mother who raised her and her younger sister in the absence of a father, who was a Korean War veteran with PTSD and substance abuse problems. Once Ortiz Jones found something of a father figure in her student council advisor at John Jay High School, she won her first political office. President of the student council in her senior year, she graduated near the top of her class.

Victorina Ortiz worked so many jobs cleaning white women’s homes, her two daughters had to communicate with her through a notebook. “Sometimes we wouldn’t see her for a couple of days. We’d write a note about passing an exam. She’d write “‘good job on that,’ see you in a couple of days,” Ortiz Jones told me. A devout woman, she would remind her daughters, “Make sure you’re up and dressed because you and your sister are altar servers at St. Rosalia’s Catholic Church in San Antonio.’”

When the 15-year-old Ortiz Jones told her mother, “Mom, I think I like girls,” Victorina hardly looked up from her magazine as she said, “I think you just like the clothes that they’re wearing.” In hindsight, Ortiz Jones thinks that her mother was trying to protect her, knowing how hard it would be for her.

If they found out I was gay, they would take away my opportunity to serve our country. And my opportunity to die for our country.”

Seeing the military as a channel to pursue an education that she could otherwise never afford, Ortiz Jones earned a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship and 16 other scholarship offers before choosing Boston University. There she would earn both a B.A. in East Asian studies and an M.A in economics. To qualify for a career in military intelligence, she went on to study military arts and sciences at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies and earned another master’s degree. She then joined the Air Force and was deployed to Iraq during the peak of George W. Bush’s unpopular war. Embedded with the Army as an active duty intelligence officer, her job was to guide American fighter pilots on when to respond to enemy engagement.

“Embedded” is a cruel word to describe her experience in Iraq. It was still the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Clinton-era policy that prohibited LGTBQ service personnel from disclosing their sexuality. About the anguish of her isolated personal life in those years, Ortiz Jones is unusually forthcoming. When her battle buddies would talk about their weekend plans, she had to either disengage or outright lie. “The immeasurable cost was not being able to form the type of bonds that military members are known for forming with one another,” she wrote in a Facebook post. One false step, and she would have had to forfeit her scholarship and drop out of college.

She told me how it haunted her even later, as an Air Force captain: “I know what it’s like when you’ve worked so hard for something, and you live in fear every day that it could be taken away from you. If they found out I was gay, they would take away my opportunity to serve our country. And my opportunity to die for our country.”

This is a woman who had to learn how to hide. It may help to explain her extreme guardedness; perhaps a touch of PTSD. Captain Ortiz Jones hung tough on active duty in Iraq for three years until word came—not from the stoical Victorina—that her mother was being treated for colon cancer. That prompted her daughter to leave the military in 2006 and go back to her family home in San Antonio to care for her mother. For the next two years, she worked for a consulting company. Her mother survived. This is not the kind of sacrifice one hears about in many male politicians’ resumes.

You can’t teach courage and you can’t teach class.

In 2008, she was able to pick up her career in military intelligence. It was her strategic understanding of how foreign economies work and affect U.S. national security that won her a giant leap in career status in 2012. As she likes to say on the campaign, “It’s not often that a girl goes from subsidized housing and reduced school lunches to working in the Executive Office of the President, where some of the most important decisions affecting our country and the world are made.”

When she decided to try to reflect her values by running for Congress. “The first question that political people asked me was, ‘How much money can you raise?’” She has refused to take corporate money.

“But my community and my country invested in me,” she adds. Emily’s List was fully invested in her race. She was also supported by End Citizens United, a non-profit dedicated to ending the fiction that corporations are people and thus can multiply their campaign contributions. Ortiz Jones also gives back. She set up a scholarship for her high school, where only 300 out of 900 kids go on to college, and hired one of her scholarship recipients for her campaign team.

Although she is often seen as a Latina, Ortiz Jones is a Filipino-American, born of a Filipino mother and American father. Most Filipinos identify as Asian or Pacific Islanders.    

I followed Ortiz Jones to Eagle Pass, the small town on the Texas-Mexico border that was holding its second annual Pride Parade. A molten sun was laying down its rays on the community park when Ortiz Jones arrived to address the boisterous crowd of about 200. including men in bare-butt drag and buxom trans mamas in gold lame and little daughters with eagle-feather crowns. I spoke with Annette Zuniga, a local resident, 33, a married Latina with children. She was curious about Ortiz Jones’s “hyphenated name.“ She asked me, as did many undecided voters, “Is she part Hispanic?” 

Before the candidate spoke, Zuniga told me “I’m not that much into voting.”

Ortiz Jones appeared on stage, slender in a cotton tweed dress and ankle boots—no adornments whatsoever. “I want to wish you a happy Pride. It takes a lot of courage to say ‘I am proud of who I am. I am proud of who I love. And if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem.” The cheers were deafening.

She continued: “People always ask me, ‘Why run for this office?’ I’ve been very fortunate. I served under ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell.’ It’s so important that we gather like this and remind each other how strong our community is. But we must also remember how quickly we could lose this, by people who don’t like us, who don’t want us to serve in the military. In days, we start early voting—it’s the most important election in our lifetime! So let’s go out and give ‘em hell!”

Hearing this modest woman, Zuniga was dazzled. “The way she spoke, so authentic, the confidence behind her words—she was inspiring. Just the fact that she came up here on only the second Pride parade in a hyper-conservative town on the border of Mexico! I can relate to her. Her mom supports her choice. I want to do that as a mom. I’m going to vote—for her.”

As Ortiz Jones says, “You can’t teach courage.”

What are your thoughts on the gender divide?


UPDATE: December 12, 2018

Another vivid example of how strong these new Warrior Women can be is the fierce election battle in San Antonio, Texas between Democratic newcomer Gina Ortiz Jones and Republican incumbent Will Hurd. It’s a fight beyond the finish. 

As of 2:30 am the morning after the election, the 37-year-old millennial woman had a 282-vote lead over her opponent. But the election had already been called as Hurd’s, based on careless reporting by the Associated Press. By six a.m., AP had corrected its error in counting the last precinct and reported that Hurd was ahead again, although only by 689 votes. The Hurd campaign declared victory. The same afternoon, Ortiz Jones tweeted that she was prepared to fight on: “This election is not over — every vote matters and must be counted.”

A week later, the vote count was just over 1,000 votes in her opponent’s favor. Her grassroots organizers and campaign staffers accused the Elections Administrator of disenfranchising voters by withholding the list of provisional ballots. These are ballots submitted by people whose eligibility is uncertain. They are in the public record. The Ortiz Jones team demanded this public record be released to show whether people’s provisional ballots were accepted or rejected. She was denied.

  The Texas Secretary of State declared that Ortiz Jones “is well within the margin to request a vote recount.” She never got it. But my gut tells me this is not the last time she will run for pubic office.

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Will We Violate Our Children's Trust?

Photo: DeSmogBlog

Photo: DeSmogBlog

Days away from a crucial Supreme Court hearing on climate change, Trump has directed “his” Dept of Justice to kill the case called Our Children’s Trust case on the eve of trial.

This is a trial for which 21 youth plaintiffs have been preparing for 3 years. They preceded the Parkland students who are challenging adults for forfeiting the fight to protect children from military-armed kids who shoot up schools. Their protest anthems are “We Are the Power” and “Children Will Lead the Way.”

The youth plaintiffs in the Our Children's Trust case are already leading the way by suing President Trump for ignoring climate change. I’ve been following these children (by now they range from age 14 to 22) for years and marveling at their resilience as they’ve overcome three motions in district court, two motions in the Ninth Circuit, and one in the Supreme Court – all demands by Trump to dismiss their case.

They have won their constitutional claims as children to equal protection under the law. They have made their case for discrimination when their government discounts the value of their lives in making decisions about our nation’s energy system. And they demand their day in court

to present irrefutable evidence of the accelerating destruction of the earth they will inherit.

But here’s the richest part. Trump’s Justice Dept claims the ‘impending harm” to the government is the costs of litigation! It could involve more than a million dollars of legal fees—heaven forfend! Poor President Trump, the self-made sham of a multi-billionaire, might have to interrupt his hypnotic gaze at Fox and the aging tremors that may cause his repetitive tweets -- and actually READ what these children are asking for.

I implore all of you to write about this, tweet and post about it, urge your friends and neighbors to weigh in on this valiant effort-- representing your children and grandchildren -- to speak sense and solid facts before a Supreme Court stacked against them.

These peaceful young activists activists have been working with a team of 20 world-class experts in law and science, including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and renowned climate scientists including Dr. Kevin Trenberth, Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, and Dr. Eric Rignot.

Julia Olson, the chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs, argues:  

“This Department of Justice is calling the District Court’s actions in holding a trial a “judicial ‘usurpation of power.’” On the contrary, it would be a complete abdication of responsibility by the third branch of government not to declare the constitutional rights of these young people and not to hear the evidence in this fundamental rights case.

"If in the 1950s the Supreme Court had prevented the children in Brown v. Board of Education from going to trial, the courts would never have had the opportunity to say that separate but equal was unconstitutional.”

Kelsey Juliana is the lead plaintiff. In interviews with her, I learned how early she learned to revere the natural world. She was born in 1996 in a one-room cabin in a dense forest of Eugene, Oregon. Her parents worked for non-profits lobbying to save forests from fires and protect wilderness.

She was ten years old when she led her soccer team to the opening football game at University of Oregon and staged a pom pom rally for Climate Action. Most people didn’t know much about global warming at that time (2006), but the girl’s passion brought fans to their feet to cheer. C-span filmed it, and the issue caught the attention of a new audience.

Today, the 22-year-old university student argues forcefully that childrens’ constitutional rights are being violated by the government’s repudiation of the rock-solid scientific consensus that his denial of the truth is preventing swift action to slow the devastation of droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires that are consuming many parts of our country.

Vic Barrett, a 19-year-old plaintiff from White Plains, New York, argues, ”This case is not about money. This is not about the “harms to the government.” This is about my future and the future of our youngest generations. Our Government exists to hear us and protect us. If we cannot go to our federal courts with real constitutional claims for relief and present our evidence at trial , then the people of this country have been failed by our third branch of government. This case needs to go to trial on October 29.”

Aji Piper, 18-year-old plaintiff from Seattle said, “At this moment in our country’s history when we are so divided, it is more important than ever that the judicial branch of our government maintains the trust and respect of the American public. There is nothing great about a country that abandons its children and future generations.”

Andrea Rodgers, senior staff attorney and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs, commented: “Dozens of law schools across the United States are teaching Juliana because this case is so important for the future of this country. Top constitutional scholars have weighed in as amicus curiae. Seasoned judges in every branch of the judiciary have all given this case the greenlight to go to trial.”



Singing Music to Power

Ryan Pfluger/The New York Times

Ryan Pfluger/The New York Times

I'm totally in sync with the fabulous Barbra Streisand. In an article in today's NY Times, she admits that she can't sleep these days and is getting fat because every time she hears Trump speak, she has to go eat pancakes.

She's blessed with the voice of angels to use music to express her feelings -- and now, her politics. I'm the kind of singer that high school boyfriends couldn't bear to dance with because I'd hum in their ears, BUT I've been involved in an historic collaboration between legendary activists of the '60s Civil Rights movement and 30 kids -- survivors of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Last May, Peter Yarrow of the legendary Peter, Paul and Mary mobilized a dozen of the most passionate activist singer-songwriters to go to Parkland and help the students put their movement #MarchForOurLives to MUSIC! In less time than it would take to wolf down a pizza, Peter won the trust of the students. Music, he told them, was crucial to creating the unanimity of spirit that moved a generation to sing for the Civil Rights movement and march against the Vietnam War.

I was honored to be the journalist who recorded the songwriting process and got to know some of the brave and hugely talented students. Ten amazing songs and chants were born over two days that spring. The students have made progress in healing and produced an album of ten songs that should go viral as soon as it's released. I will be writing articles and producing a podcast series about the backstory of this artistic collaboration across three generations.

Stay tuned!



What Heather Heyer Knew

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What Heather Heyer Knew

This article originally appeared on The Cut.

On the Friday evening when hundreds of white nationalists marched on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, a horrified Heather Heyer watched the videos that her friend Courtney Commander was broadcasting live on Facebook. Who were these legions of white supremacists and neo-Nazis openly giving heil salutes? Heather couldn’t believe their bold chants claiming possession of “Whose streets? Our streets!” or their declarations: “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!”

She heard Courtney exclaim in shock into the cell phone: “This looks like the ’60s — I wasn’t even alive then.” To older folks, it looked like scenes straight out of The Birth of a Nation. Next, Courtney moved closer to the goons, shouting back, “We will replace you.” She noted to the camera that the police were standing behind the counterprotesters, immobilized.

“Are you guys going to wind up doing something about this?” she asked the cops. “I’m really not trying to criticize you, but are we allowed to have torches out here?” She received no answer.

Justin Marks, one of Heather’s best friends, said that the videos scared Heather, and that after watching them they both decided not to participate in the planned counterprotest of Saturday’s much larger Unite the Right rally. “We thought it would be even more dangerous than the first night,” he said. A soft-spoken gay man, Justin stuck to his decision. But later Friday night, Heather texted him: “I feel compelled to go, to show solidarity.”

Saturday morning, August 12, a lot of Charlottesville residents made the same decision as Justin and stayed clear of the downtown area. Those who did come out into the streets were faced with demonstrators that included heavily armed militiamen and white nationalists wearing Nazi and KKK paraphernalia. The marchers were later described by President Trump as including “very fine people” who were there “to innocently protest” the removal of a Confederate statue.

Before Heather was even on the scene, blows were exchanged, people arrested. In the late morning, a state of emergency was declared and authorities tried to shut down the rally. But no one left — instead marchers on both sides just spread out into different parts of the downtown area. The Virginia National Guard was summoned to back up local police. None of the law-enforcement people seemed to know what to do, though.

Vice later posted a documentary revealing sentiments voiced that day by some of the leading white nationalists at the rally. One of the people Vice reporter Elspeth Reeve spoke with was right-wing podcaster Christopher Cantwell, who said, “I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence!” He told her he wants a president who is “a lot more racist than Donald Trump.” He continued, “I don’t think you could feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl.”

A middle aged man with a beard, Robert “Azzmador” Ray, proudly introduced himself as a neo-Nazi who writes for the Daily Stormer website. He was here, he said, to take back Charlottesville “because this city is run by Jewish Communists and criminal niggers.”

Cantwell added: “We’ll fucking kill these people if we have to.”

Former KKK grand wizard David Duke was also there, and he was also captured on camera by Vice. He smirked as he spoke to Reeve: “We had a federal court order to have this rally … We’re telling the truth. We’re talking about the ethnic cleansing of America and the destruction of the American way of life.”

He railed that there was “no freedom of speech in this country.” With theatrical flourish, ducked into his van, he vowed: “We will be back.”

Heather arrived downtown shortly before 1 p.m. She was with her friends Courtney Commander and Marissa Blair, both of whom worked with her at a local family law firm. They joined a counterprotest making its way along Water Street. They began chanting rejoinders to the torch-bearing white supremacists who had invaded the city the night before. “Whose streets? Our streets,” the women shouted proudly.

The three women — and virtually all the counterprotesters — wore no offensive clothing, carried no weapons, had nothing in their hands other than cell phones and car keys. Heather was dressed in a plain black tee and pants, with her brown hair braided down her back. She stopped to engage a helmeted female alt-right protester in conversation, asking why she had aligned herself with a hate group of violent white men.

“She says she can’t comment,” Heather called back to her girlfriends. The persistent 32-year-old paralegal tried to draw out the alt-right woman’s arguments, calling on two of her greatest strengths — being a sympathetic listener and a strongly opinionated fighter for social justice. But in this case she wasn’t getting any traction.

“You guys should educate your own people,” Courtney shouted to the alt-right sympathizer. Courtney is a pretty woman of mixed race, who was raised in an affluent suburb of Detroit where, she says, she knew no overt racism, not until she moved to Charlottesville. Marissa is an attorney-on-the-verge, having just taken the Virginia bar exam. The three women resumed walking, now chanting, “Black Lives Matter!”

The mass of counterprotesters continued up Water Street, but when they came to the intersection with Fourth Street, Courtney recalls seeing menacing right-wing demonstrators, some holding weapons. “Oh my God, this looks like we’re in a war,” Courtney said. “We’re out here in plain clothes with no weapons.”

Perhaps it was those Unite the Right demonstrators that caused the counterprotesters to hesitate and then abruptly veer at that intersection onto the much-narrower Fourth Street. “Go left!” Courtney recalled hearing some of her fellows shout, and the group did. In retrospect, this was a fateful moment. On narrow Fourth, the group was more vulnerable to the car attack that would take place moments later.

As Heather, Courtney, and Marissa made the left turn, they heard shouts from an antifa group behind them, chanting, “We got ya back, we got ya back.” Truth be told, Heather was new to this kind of situation. The day before, she had asked her best friend what “antifa” stood for — it’s short for anti-fascist — after hearing the group would be protesting Unite the Right. But Heather’s friends said she and they felt then, for the first time since the weekend began, unified and strong.

About an hour after Heather and her friends made that left turn onto Fourth Street, Susan Bro was surprised to get a call from Justin Marks. The two had become fast friends after Bro had taken him in years earlier, when he was 18, at Heather’s pleading.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” Justin vividly recalled telling Bro. “But a nurse at the hospital wants to talk to Heather’s next of kin.”

“The hospital? Why?”

“I think Heather was struck by that car downtown.”

“What car?”

“The car that ran into a group of people.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The rally.”

“But she decided not to go …”

Heather Heyer did not fit the profile of black or Jewish radical that white supremacists tend to depict as their enemies. For one thing, Heather was a working-class, white Southerner. As a child she routinely heard storm winds rip the skirting off the single-wide trailer where she was raised by her single mom. Heat would begin escaping, pipes freezing, and wild animals could move in under their home.

Susan Bro told me she is often pigeonholed as a dumb redneck by visitors who turn up at that trailer, where she still lives to this day. “They’re wide-eyed when they hear me talk like an intelligent person!” Bro said, chuckling. Her grandparents were coal miners, but her parents and their siblings worked hard to go to college. Bro herself made it halfway through a master’s degree at the tony University of Virginia while Heather was a toddler and her son was repeating kindergarten. She supported them alone with a 20-hour-a-week work-study program, while carrying a full course load, which left her only three or four hours a night to sleep. She settled for a certificate that would license her as a teacher in Virginia’s primary schools. She desperately needed a steady job.

What kind of a daughter did she produce? A compassionate girl, Bro told me, but also one who was stubborn, opinionated, and not afraid to challenge others. Always, Heather looked out for the underdog. She would bring home castoff kids and tell her mother, “They need a place to crash.”

“I’d meet the kids and make sure they weren’t runaways,” Bro said, knowing that it was illegal to take them in if they were. (Not that she didn’t often do so anyway if she felt the child’s safety was at risk.) I spoke with Bro at the Miller Law Group office where Heather worked. It was only a week after she lost her only daughter to a white supremacist driving a weaponized car, and Bro’s words were alternately strong and brooding. She had lost ten pounds since Heather’s death. Her diabetes was severe. Due to fibromyalgia, she felt like her skin was stretched over broken glass. “But hugs don’t hurt!” she assured me, giving me one.

“You didn’t have much to share with those abandoned kids,” I remarked.

“No, but we had more than others. That’s family values where I come from.”

As much as Heather Heyer cared for other people, she seemed to have a hard time doing the same for herself. “She didn’t value her own work — she was a very good artist — or feel a sense of self-worth,” Bro said. Heather was raised a Christian, even though Bro had left the Evangelical church in which she was brought up. “The church didn’t have any use for single mothers,” she told me. Bro is as brutally honest about herself as she is about others. It always pained her to see Heather flinch whenever someone on TV made fun of “trailer trash.”

“I think when a child is from a single-parent home and when the other parent does not participate in their life much, that’s where the lack of value comes from,” she tells me. “Nothing you ever say or do really overcomes that.”

Heather fell into a state of despondency after finishing high school. It took a few years before she could bring herself to look for a job, convinced she had no skills. Bro told her that service jobs were a decent backup. Eventually, Heather began waitressing at a small local pub and moved on to be the bartender. Being Heather, she doubted she could handle the new responsibility — she didn’t know how to mix drinks.

How did she respond when you tried to encourage her to go to college? I asked. “She always said the same thing: ‘I’m not smart enough.’ It didn’t matter that she aced her tests. She was overweight. She grew up in a trailer. Daddy was not part of her life.”

After much cajoling and encouraging by her mother, Heather did try a few classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College and seemed actually to enjoy them. But her efforts petered out. I asked Bro what guidance she gave Heather over and over again as she was growing up. “Treat everyone as equal,” Bro said. “To me, whether you have God, or no religion, or whatever, you still have an obligation to be ethically and morally strict.”

That seems to have laid a base for Heather becoming a fighter for social justice. She developed into a progressive Democrat. By 2015, she became an avid supporter of Bernie Sanders. She, along with the majority of Charlottesville, voted for Sanders in Virginia’s Democratic primary. “When Bernie wasn’t the Democratic nominee, Heather didn’t even vote in the general election,” Bro told me.

But Bro remembers how “horrified” Heather was by candidate Trump’s “racist attitudes and policies.” A former co-worker heard her decry Steve Bannon as a white supremacist, and Bro recalls her daughter wondering aloud: “How does anyone like that get to be in power in modern times?”

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Heather’s close friend Carl Thomas told me, speaking about Election Night in November 2016, when he and his girlfriend, Lindsey Reisser — also part of Heather’s inner circle — watched the results at a townie bar in Charlottesville. As they watched, they texted back and forth with Heather. Until it was clear that Trump had won, the three kept trying to reassure one another that he could never be elected.

Heather had trained Lindsey as a waitress at Lord Hardwicke’s, a small local restaurant. They also worked a second shift together at the European-style Cafe Caturra. Sitting outside together at one in the morning after closing the café, Lindsey and Heather would talk incessantly while smoking cigarettes. Those were the good times.

“We were both kind of hardheaded,” Lindsey said. “We don’t really listen. We’re emotionally driven. Heather, being eight years older than me, was unapologetically herself 100 percent of the time. She really helped me grow into myself as an adult.”

In 2012, not long after meeting Lindsey, Heather was suggested by a friend for a paralegal job at the Miller Law Group. The local firm is dedicated to helping struggling people fight foreclosure on their homes, deal with indebtedness after catastrophic illness, and utilize bankruptcy law to put their lives back together. Heather, convinced she wasn’t qualified, only went reluctantly to the interview with Alfred Wilson, manager of Miller’s bankruptcy division.

“I only have a high-school degree, and I’ve never worked in a law office,” Heather protested straightaway.

“Why is that important to you? It’s not important to me,” Wilson replied. He was more interested in an employee’s way with people than their credentials. A black man married to a Palestinian woman, he told me he looks for workers who know how to communicate with, and appreciate, all different kinds of people.

“I know you work as a bartender — how much do you make in tips?” he asked.

“Oh, I can make about $200 a night.”

Wilson suspected this bartender was exceptionally good with people.

Heather downplayed her strength: “I talk to a lot of drunk people.”

“My thinking was she could be compassionate with our clients and understand life itself,” Wilson said. He also knew she was juggling two jobs, evidence of a good work ethic. She had her own place and was taking care of herself. She possessed a good vocabulary and was on top of social and political issues. “I believed I could mold her into a good paralegal,” Wilson said. And he did so.

Heather’s mother appreciated Wilson’s ability to see beyond her daughter’s immediate qualifications and trust that she could be capable of more. “He encouraged her and developed her talents and expertise in ways even she couldn’t believe,” Bro told me.

At the time Heather started working as a paralegal, she had a boyfriend. One night, she stayed late at work to help Wilson prepare for a court appearance. “That was Heather being Heather,” said Wilson. She postponed a date with her boyfriend until ten o’clock. “Then the two of us walked out together and I gave her a hug and said good-bye.”

It took her days before Heather would tell Wilson why she broke up with her boyfriend, who was white, later that night. Wilson recounted the conversation Heather had described to him:

“Why were you hugging that black guy?” her then-boyfriend had demanded.

“That’s my boss.”

“Your boss is a black guy?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You never told me that”

“What difference does it make?”

The boyfriend’s response prompted Heather to cut him off immediately.

After Wilson heard the story, he told Heather: “You shouldn’t break up with him because of me.”

“No, you gave me a chance,” Heather responded. “You’re fair with me. You don’t look at people that way, and if he looks at people that way, how am I supposed to be with him?”

Heather took full advantage of the chance Wilson gave her to prove herself. But in her personal life, she was lonely. She spent a lot of time with her mother, often going to dinner at Bro’s trailer. During the meals, Heather would challenge Bro on many fronts — her hair, her clothes, her political opinions. “I was her best earpiece,” Bro says. “She had to be right and point out with precision where you were wrong.”

By that time, Susan Bro was remarried, to a retired mechanic with a bad back. Kim Bro couldn’t sit through Heather’s tirades, so he’d go outside and work on her car.

Toward the end of her 20s, Heather took another chance on love, connecting with a married man in an open relationship. She told her friend Lindsey that she liked this arrangement, “because he’d always go home.” But when the love affair flamed out very suddenly, it left Heather shaken. To cheer her up, her mother took her shopping for a dog. Heather picked out a chocolate-brown female Chihuahua, Violet.

When she turned 30, Heather seemed to make a big decision. “You know what?” she told her mother. “I’m okay on my own. I don’t want kids. I’m okay not having kids. I like my independence.” When people asked if she still wanted to get married someday, she’d quip, “I don’t need a husband. I have Justin.”

Justin Marks had worked at dead-end jobs since high school. He was just one of the friends Heather helped to get in the door at Miller Law Group. She would argue tenaciously with Wilson in support of her friends, until he gave them a chance, as he’d given Heather a chance before them. “But they all turned out to be serious people,” Wilson said.

Even more important to Heather, they became like a family. Wilson put in a mini-bar so they could relax together at the end of a tense day, and even invite in some of their friends. “They are upstanding citizens today, and fully independent,” Bro said of the friends Heather had helped. All that kind of talk also carries a caveat from Bro, however: “I get very frustrated when people make her out to be a saint. She was a normal 32-year-old person who loved family and friends. But she took the extra step to do the right thing.”

1:42 p.m., Saturday: The soulful sound of a bass drum and chanting was suddenly shattered by the scream of an accelerating Dodge Challenger. The unsuspecting counterprotesters had just turned onto Fourth Street, with Heather, Courtney, and Marissa directly in front of the car driven by white supremacist James Alex Fields, seemingly intent on killing and maiming innocent people.

Pandemonium erupted as Fields’s car mowed down unarmed human beings on Fourth Street and crashed into the back of another vehicle. The tinted-out Challenger grazed Courtney and Marissa, but drove straight into Heather.

Here is the perspective from Courtney’s cell phone:

After the impact, protesters smashed the back window during the brief moment the car was stationary. Then Fields slammed the Challenger into reverse and dragged more bodies with him as he sped backwards up Fourth Street.

Courtney ran for her life back down Water Street, dodging seriously injured people, and stopped to throw up. Marissa’s fiancé had been hit, and she frantically dialed for an ambulance, which arrived moments later. She called and called Heather’s cell until an unknown man answered and said he had just found the phone in the street. Courtney staggered back to the scene. “I saw a heavyset white person on a stretcher,” she told me. “The onlookers kept saying, ‘That person’s face was blue!’ — but I never thought it could be Heather. I just went looking for her car.”

Justin is still heartsick that he didn’t go with Heather that day. “I heard a guy say he saw the life leave her eyes before the ambulance came,” he said.

Raw video from a local news team shows red-shirted firefighters and police in neon bent over Heather, one of them pounding her chest while another keeps coaxing, “C’mon, lady, you got it, c’mon.” Resigned, they lift her onto a stretcher and run to an ambulance.

Police would later identify 19 victims injured by Fields — in addition to the one death.

In a tweet just days after the attack, Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who organized the Unite the Right rally, paid his disrespects:

ISNERT SCREEN SHOT Photo: Jason Kessler/Twitter

On August 24, Kessler offered a poisonous follow-up:

ANOTHER SCREEN SHOT?

Photo: Jason Kessler/Twitter

But Heather Heyer’s murder by an extremist created a massive wave of support from around the the world. In the first ten days after her death, Susan Bro and Alfred Wilson launched the Heather Heyer Foundation to raise money to provide financial assistance to individuals committed to social-justice projects. (Donations can be made online or sent to: Heather Heyer Foundation, c/o Stifel,  1759 Worth Park, Charlottesville,VA 22911.)

“I’ve had my eyes on a goal like this for years, and now I may have the means to do something about it — in Heather’s name,” Bro told me. Asked by her “rainbow board”-in-the-making if she wants to take an active role in the effort, she chimed, “I insist!” Scholarships will be awarded to those seeking a degree or certification in law, paralegal studies, social work, and education. “Ever since I was old enough to be told that I had to wear a dress to school, and couldn’t wear pants, I’ve been fighting for gender equality — my whole life.”

Lindsey Reisser, the friend and confidante Heather had taken under her wing at the Charlottesville pub, and her boyfriend, Carl Thomas, were the last of Heather’s close friends to learn about the tragedy. The two had tickets to a concert in Baltimore that weekend. Heather at various points had been a mediator between the mixed-race couple. Carl, who is black, described himself in the early days of the relationship as “a dumb-assed party boy who spent every nickel I made.” Now in their mid-20s, he and Lindsey were seriously beginning to think about a plan for their future.

During a rain delay at the concert, Carl felt a sense of foreboding. “What am I doing here when my city’s on fire?” Lindsey’s phone kept vibrating with messages to call friends who work with her. When the crowd was finally lined up to exit, Lindsey returned a call from a co-worker. On hearing the news about Heather, she collapsed on the cement floor.

When Lindsey and Carl finally stepped off the bus back from Baltimore, they headed straight to a local bar. Lindsey ordered a double bourbon with Diet Coke, Heather’s favorite drink. Carl left to go to work, but shortly thereafter he returned and dissolved into sobs. “I, I sort of broke down when I got back to work. I was supposed to take up room service and …” he trailed off. “It’s not like the people of …” he paused again, struggling to talk “… Charlottesville rallied. It’s people coming to Charlottesville to rally about a statue that has been irrelevant for years.”

When Trump says “We’re going to make America great again,” Carl told me he hears We’re going to make America white again. “In that America, my grandfather was beaten in the streets. They hijacked our city!” Carl said. “This is my town. I was born here. You can’t take it back — because it belongs to us!”


UPDATE DEC. 12, 2018

After 16 months of anguish, Susan Bro finally confronted her daughter's killer in a Virginia courtroom in December, 2018. “Some days I can't do anything but sit and cry as the grief overtakes me," she said as she tearfully read her victim impact statement.

James Fields, the 21-year-year-old driver of the car that plowed into the peaceful crowd of anti-nationalists and crushed the life out of Hyer, sat without expression during the proceedings.

Bro said Heyer's death exploded her world. "Almost all members of the family have been in... therapy, to push back the darkness."

Another of Field’s victims lifted herself out of her wheelchair to get on the witness stand. Jeanne “Star” Peterson recalled seeing Heyer “fly through the air the moment I was struck." Peterson was knocked over and then the car ran over her leg. "The metal holding my leg together has harbored one infection after the other."

The jury recommended life imprisonment for Fields, but that wasn’t enough. They also asked for another 400-plus years for malicious wounding and a half-million dollars in fines. The judge will make a ruling next March.




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Parkland teenagers taking on the world- and winning

This article originally appeared in The Daily Beast.

We haven’t heard the last from survivors of the deadly February school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Dozens of the high school students who were thrust into a mortality crisis before they could order a beer at a bar have graduated from teenage angst to social justice, and they’re continuing to sing truth to power while pulling together to help one another to heal.

Recently, Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Pena, the teenage songsters who wrote “Shine,” the anthem of their movement #MSDstrong, performed in Washington, D.C., at the Fords Theater annual gala. They sang directly to Vice President Pence and FLOTUS, demanding change in gun laws. Then they joined a chorus of classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to sing at the New York Public Theater’s annual gala, following the chorus’ surprise appearance at the Tony Awards that won them a rousing standing ovation.

The musical partners invited me later into their pocket-sized hotel room in Times Square, aghast at the shrinkage of space in our island city.

“Is this what a New York apartment looks like?”

For months, the dominant emotion in their lives was sadness. Then anger: “We’ve gone through an experience that someone who’s 80 might not have gotten close to going through,” exclaimed Sawyer, “so they can’t lecture us on what gun laws should be because they haven’t gone through this!” She plucks at the strings in her jeans. “But lately, I’ve been feeling inspired.”

And as of this week, the two drama students have started volunteering at Camp Shine, a ground-breaking summer camp program that families of the school have launched to help the children heal through the arts. “We had to find a way to keep these kids together,” says Wendy Simon Garrity, mother of Sawyer.

Her instinct was spot-on. Children of trauma most often shut down; they can’t express their feelings, so they withdraw into numbness, or wrestle with the inner crisis of fight or flight. When the families connected with Jessica Asch, a board-certified trauma therapist at New York University, she endorsed their hunch.

“The antidote to trauma is community,” Asch believes. “We have to meet these kids where they are and keep them together.” Her broad experience in working with adolescents, veterans, and other PTSD sufferers including Holocaust survivors has shown her how effective it is to use various art therapies to encourage trauma victims to be in touch with their real feelings and to find support in the embrace of their fellow survivors.

“‘In the beginning, the only people who supported the civil rights movement were a few whites and mostly African Americans,’ Sawyer said. ‘It was them against the world. And that’s how it feels—it’s just us teenagers against the world.’”

“Parkland has had so much media attention, these kids haven’t had an opportunity to be messy, they’ve been so busy performing,” for their cause, says the psychologist. An academic research study will be conducted on the Parkland program by the trauma center at University of Miami. The long-range hope is it will result in a curriculum that can be made available to other communities shaken by their children’s exposure to violent death.

At the camp, Garrity and Pena are joined by 35 students, six of them among the wounded, who are being guided in music therapy, art, drama, and storytelling and other relevant artistic expressions such as graffiti and photography that are therapeutic for victims of trauma. Their charity, Shine MSD, has raised just enough money to provide a two-week camp. They hope to attract donors who will fund another month of the camp to reach all the traumatized students. The program is designed by some of the nation’s leading creative arts therapists, and it is thus far supported by the royalty fees earned by their song “Shine” on iTunes, and from donations by a few celebrity benefactors like Miley Cyrus.

Andrea Pena & Sawyer Garrity– songwriters of the #MDSstrong anthem "SHINE"– high five in Times Square.

Andrea Pena & Sawyer Garrity– songwriters of the #MDSstrong anthem "SHINE"– high five in Times Square.

The two girls told me the story of how their celebrated anthem came to be.

Last Valentine’s Day had started out for 15-year-old Andrea Pena in an exchange of gifts with her boyfriend. At school everyone was cracking jokes about being single, passing around a box of Pringles and saying, “I’m a single pringle.” When a weird second fire alarm sent her and Sawyer and scores of kids and adults outdoors, the girls joked, “Oh, Culinary burned down,” referring to kids in the Food Services department who often burn while they learn.

The words “Code Red” drove them back inside. Sawyer Garrity, then 16 and all of 5-foot-1, jumped over a table to get into an office in the Drama Department that turned out to be full of windows. For the next hour and half, she and Andrea and 10 others crouched beneath a desk while hearing the shots and screams of friends’, sounds that would never be muted in their minds. Seventeen people, including teachers, lay dead.

I asked them, as many do, “Do you think you can, through your art and music, convey the reality to others that his might happen to you, to your school, to your children?” Sawyer replied solemnly, “I don’t think we could ever push the feelings that we felt onto other people. No one can relate unless it’s happened to you or to your child.” Both girls admitted that when their drama teacher, Melody Herzfeld, tried before the shooting to rehearse them into imagining how they should respond to a gunman’s attack, they paid no attention.

“Oh, it’s never going to happen here,” they thought.

The first two days after the massacre, the girls had spent in solitary anguish, slouched in their separate homes, Andrea bent over her Yamaha keyboard (“I’ve never had a big fancy piano”), Sawyer glumly picking at her guitar. She has been writing songs since she was 6 years old. Her father, Joe Garrity, told me he’d scratch his head when his little daughter would emerge from her bedroom and say, “I’ve got the bridge!” But Sawyer, who will be a senior this fall, admitted to me that she had never taken her guitar seriously until she faced a mortality crisis decades before she was ready to cope. The two classmates began texting each other.

“We have to do something,” Sawyer wrote.

Andrea, a rising junior, fiddled around with a few chords on her keyboard. “This could be something,” she thought. She didn’t dare voice the intention of writing a song; she had never done that before. So she sent Sawyer a voice memo of a riff. It touched something in the baby-faced girl with spigots of curls falling over her eyes. Sawyer played those chords again and again until some lyrics popped into her mind.

“You, you threw my city away…”

She texted them back to Andrea, the granddaughter of people who fled Castro’s Cuba and found refuge in Puerto Rico (though young Andrea never wanted to learn Spanish when her kindergarten friends in Florida teased her for her accent).

Andrea sent another voice memo, more chords. Sawyer’s sorrow suddenly released a powerful chorus of resistance:

You’re not gonna knock us down

We’ll get back up again

You may have hurt us

But I promise we’ll be stronger

A couple of days later, they got together and finished off the song as if it all came naturally.

They first shared “Shine” with the public at a town hall a week after the massacre. With 15 minutes to teach the lyrics to a chorus before performing, they weren’t even aware that CNN would be broadcasting their song to untold millions around the world, beyond the 7,000 in their audience. But they had been well taught how to hold presence during a performance. And they had words ready to stake their claim to being, not just authentic, but real:

We’re, we’re gonna stand tall,

Gonna raise up our voices so we never, ever fall

We’re done with all your little games

We’re tired of hearing that we’re too young to ever make a change.

The audience response was rapturous. But the most touching moment for the girls came when the news anchor of CNN, Jake Tapper, came down to their dressing room and told them, “That was the most moving song I’ve ever heard.”

Belonging to a rather nondescript new generation, the girls told me they don’t even know what their “name” means—“It’s just a letter. Gen Z.”

I suggested they should be called Gen Now.

“I like that,” Andrea said. Sawyer chimed in: “I like that one.”

They recalled Jimmy Fallon saying at the school’s graduation ceremony, “Everyone’s saying you guys are the future, but I feel like you guys are the present.” They liked that, too. I proposed they might belong to a Third Culture generation.

“I definitely think so,“ Sawyer said. “Not just because of our awareness of gun violence, but also the way we’ve been speaking up for Black Lives Matter and LGBT rights and all. We’re so open to new culture now and more willing to listen—and we’re not as closed off and ignorant about other people. It’s like we’re coming together and embracing each other more than anything before.”

But of course, it’s not unlike anything that came before. And the girls have recently recognized that—it’s called the civil rights movement. And they want to build on it.

“In the beginning, the only people who supported the civil rights movement were a few whites and mostly African Americans,” Sawyer said. “It was them against the world. And that’s how it feels right now—it’s just us teenagers against the world.”

But they both notice more and more adults coming to their performances and wanting to learn from them, just as they find themselves learning from their parents’ generation and their fearless protests against the Vietnam War. “There was nothing ever like that before, where young people and then people in general were coming together and standing together,” Sawyer mused. “So powerful.”

Salute LaGuardia Community College, N.Y.’s Opportunity Engine

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This article originally appeared in the New York Daily News.

What is LaGuardia?

1) An airport; 2) A famous New York City mayor; 3) The greatest engine of aspiration in the city.

You have probably passed No. 3 hundreds of times on your way to the airport of the same name, but likely never knew that a full block in the immigrant heart of western Queens holds LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York.

Day and night, all weekend, winter and summer, LaGuardia’s 20,000 degree-pursuing students rush in and out of its doors hungrily cramming the education that most of their parents missed.

On Thursday, more than 1,500 will graduate with associate’s degrees, many on their way to earn bachelor’s degrees elsewhere.

More than 57% of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year. Mainly immigrants and minorities, they are among the diminishing number of our young people who still believe in the American Dream and capitalism. And they are often willing to work two or three jobs to support children they’ve already had and parents they help to survive for the chance to earn their ticket to a middle-class life.

Jade Griffith is an African-American woman, already 26, whose adolescence in New Orleans was torn up by Hurricane Katrina. Her whole family was designated as “refugees” and sent to Texas.

“My mom was always push, push, push,” she told me. “I wish I would’ve listened and never moved out of my parents’ until I had it, like, all together. I wanted to be married first, but I just wasn’t thinking,” she admits. “I got pregnant at 24. Next thing I’ll be 30, and you should know what you want to do by 30.”

Her boyfriend, Shomari, put his dream as a rapper on hold and moved with Griffith to New York so she could apply to LaGuardia. She was accepted two years ago. Shomari has been working a full-time job at a manufacturing warehouse where, if he stays on, the company will pay for his college.

But crises challenge LaGuardia students every step of the way. The couple and their infant son were evicted from their basement apartment. That means, as Griffith is about to earn her degree, the family will spend another suffocating summer in a homeless shelter — a single room with a bunk bed and a crib. She has two final classes to complete this summer.

But her academic record is so impressive, she got the word she’s been praying for. She will walk with her graduating class on Thursday at Barclays Center.

Griffith reflected on how LaGuardia has helped her to mature: “We are a family, together. And soon, I’ll have a degree.”

In this graduation season, those of us lucky enough to have graduated from places like Columbia University or New York University feel our hearts swell with pride and nostalgia. We write out a check and send it off to schools sitting on endowments that boggle the mind: Columbia’s was $9 billion in 2016. NYU boasts of a mere $3.5 billion.

Even though LaGuardia’s tuition is low for New York State residents, students still have to pay for rent, MetroCards, food and other living expenses. The college reports that 68% of its graduates subsequently attended four-year colleges, far more than the national 51% average for those who complete community college.

But here’s the killer: degree delay. It takes too many students up to six years to earn their two-year associate’s degree. What holds them back? Housing insecurity; domestic violence; illnesses like ulcers and depression, and fragile child-care arrangements.

As the gulf of income disparity has swallowed much of the middle class, concern has focused on creating greater economic diversity at elite colleges. But the truth is, the vast number of high school students do not have a prayer of gaining admission to Columbia or NYU or any other elite American university. It is community colleges that accept 7.7 million students annually and represent 45% of all the undergraduates in the country.

Yet these same colleges are the only sector in higher education where, over the past five years, revenues per student have declined.

“Community colleges are separate but unequal,” laments LaGuardia’s dedicated president, Gail Mellow, herself a product of a community college that gave her the foothold to earn a doctorate.

LaGuardia should be a source of great pride among the pantheon of public colleges in the CUNY system. Yet it has a paltry endowment of $4 million.

What if most of the 20,000 were able to graduate in two or three years and go on to four-year schools? Wouldn’t that make an incredible difference in the workforce and economy of New York City? What if the heavy hitters out there set aside 5% of what they contribute to their beloved alma maters and sent it instead to LaGuardia?



Is Trump Out to Make America White Again?

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How many times did we, Democrats living in big cities, say among friends, “It’s unimaginable to think of Donald Trump becoming president?” It turns out, unimaginable is a brain trick: If you cannot imagine it, you cannot think it, or admit evidence to the contrary. It’s a diagnosable state of being out of our minds on a certain subject.  Like Trumpism.    Which is why we lost.

I was chastened when a Republican friend sent me an article from National Review by Lee Habeeb, a reasonable conservative VP of Content for Salem Radio Network:

“The media elites don’t understand that this election wasn’t just about the economy, immigration, and national security. It was about them. This election was an outright rejection of their condescending ways — their smug indifference and outright hostility towards anyone who holds a differing opinion or world view.”

Are we are guilty of unconscious bias? I’ll say yes for myself. I thought that at the core, it was misogyny that fueled the retaliation of angry white working class men. I started listening to Democrats in Youngstown, Ohio during the last week before election. I was so often met at the door by a male, a registered Democrat, who virtually snarled as he boasted his Trump allegiance. Asked how his wife was voting, men like  him would only grudgingly admit his “old lady” – still at work – was probably voting for the nasty woman.

I just don’t see that Trump has any thought-out policies to bring back Youngstown’s steel mills, which  began shutting down in the SEVENTIES, beaten by Japan.  Then their city was taken over by gangsters.  Men with high school educations, who wanted to do the same work their fathers and grandfathers had done, remained in their rural areas or small towns or hollowed out city, expecting jobs to come back—jobs that were rendered obsolete by the pitiless march of technological progress.  Meanwhile, their wives and daughters have been surpassing them in education and aspirations, moving to big cities and competing to be bosses in 21st century jobs, or risking success as digital entrepreneurs.

But that’s not the whole story. We have to listen and internalize the grievances of the other side, or there’s no rational debate or gradual reconciliation. Here’s an example of a truth that is hard to swallow, again from National Review:

“Watching the elites pounce on Trump’s every stumble and impute to him a racist heart only strengthened his connection to his followers.”

To be sure, Trump hit a nerve with his roguish exposure of an elite establishment in Washington. Showing off how he beat the system by making the government pay for his business failures and stiffing Uncle Sam on nearly two decades of taxes tickled people who wished they knew how to do the same thing. They never demanded disclosure of Trump’s financials because they didn’t want his chicanery to allow the elite to shoot him down.

The biggest shock for many of us was a gender backlash that did not materialize. 53 percent of all female voters chose Trump, according to exit polls. Almost fifty years after the birth of feminism, there weren’t enough of us women who saw the menace of a man raised to be a “killer,” a man whose role model is an autocrat – First Pal Putin – and who is using the well-worn strategies of Cult of the Strong Man to nullify many of values of democracy. It hurts to admit that more women than ever imagined want the protection of a demagogue.

***

I found relief from the waking nightmare when the women of my church gathered in a safe, intimate setting to admit the brokenness we’re feeling. The first was a fragile woman who was sexually abused as a child and is re-living her trauma, along with present fears over having a boastful sexual predator in the White House. Another was the mother of a daughter who was had been so proud as a pre-teen when Hillary Clinton first ran for president in 2008, she wrote the candidate a beautiful letter. When she called her mother at 2:30 am Wednesday morning, once the about face from polls and predictions hit home, the two women sobbed together. The mother told us “I had nothing to give her, I could not make it better “

An African-American grandmother told us how frightened the young men in her family are feeling when they see Go Back to Africa graffiti on their school walls. She feels helpless to protect them.

I haven’t heard any of my “cosmopolitan elite” friends vilify the white working class. They found their revenge against being ignored by both parties for decades with the election of Donald Trump. Yes, some are racists who were legitimized by him and the white supremacists. But many just found a scream of agony in Trump’s bellicose rhetoric that gave them a voice. I believe they were duped into believing he really cares about them. He promised “I alone can fix it.”

The neglect of rust belt left-behinds by both parties for decades is good reason to be angry. Beneath the anger is that harsher emotion – raw fear for survival.

I get it. I empathize.

But there are many other racial and ethnic groups who now fear for their survival, on hearing Trump’s darkest appeal: white nationalism.

How close is that to white supremacy – the kind that exhilarated the audience at an AlternativeRight.com conference to the point of raising their hands in a Nazi salute to their leader Richard B. Spencer?  Here is a definition of the two by a professor of politics at Birkbeck University in London, who has spent years studying the behavior of ethnic majorities in the United States and Britain. White nationalism, he told The New York Times, “is the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.”

Our prevailing demographic momentum is moving in exactly the opposite direction – toward a non-white majority before 2050. That may be the deepest underlying fear that is promoting voices of white supremacy. Here is the alarming connection between out-and-out racists and white populists:

“White supremacists and white nationalists both believe that racial discrimination should be incorporated into law and policy,” according to Professor Kaufman.

Richard Spencer, the publisher of AlternativeRight.com, has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” to remove non-white people from American soil.  Whoever heard of “peaceful” ethnic cleansing?

Stephen Bannon, named by Trump as his chief strategist, is the former editor of Breitbart News, a platform he proudly defends as the voice of the alt-right. Bannon claims that he does not share Richard Spencer’s white supremacist views, but Bannon has spoken out even against highly-skilled immigration, casting it as undermining white dominance of the culture.

“When two thirds or three quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia, or Asia, I think…” he has said, critical of their non-whiteness – then adding, “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

The Trump machine is already in high gear. It’s the first TEN days of the Trump presidency we have to be prepared to challenge if necessary. I, for one, am most concerned at his surrounding himself with hyper-masculine men and military warriors. He appears to be elevating generals with heavy combat experience to top positions. This shows either ignorance or dismissal of the constitutionally enshrined principles of civilian control of the military. If Trump names another war-time general as secretary of defense, America may be led by a junta.

There’s one white Midwestern, middle-aged, ball-cap wearing, working class male whose voice we cannot dismiss: Michael Moore, who five months ago predicted—mirthlessly– that Trump would win. Moore is now rallying us to be prepared to fight back to stop Mr. America First from tearing apart immigrant families.

Immigrant women and girls are among the most vulnerable of Trump’s targets. The Tahirih Justice Center is the only national organization in the U.S that advocates and provides services for this population.  I received a plea from its tireless founder, Layli Miller-Muro, an attorney.  The Trump regime is expected to deny immigration and refugee protections for people from Muslim countries, and pose an “ideological test” for those wishing to enter the U.S. from any country. This would impact all refugees and immigrants, including women and children who desperately need protection from gender-based violence.

We must also keep reminding the public that Trump has turned his transition team over to foxes who are sucking up the same old salivating corporate consultants and lobbyists from the Washington swamp and putting them in charge of guarding the chicken coops that hold our purse strings, the reins on big banks, and the balance of our Earth’s imperiled ecosystem.

Above all, Trump wants to be adored. He is a master mind reader on what his audience wants. If he listens to his advisers at all, and they warn him that a policy will turn his worshippers against him, he will probably flip the script to please them.

Let’s milk his raw id to keep the killer Trump at bay.

Our American Network: Gail Sheehy Interviews Curemark CEO Dr. Joan Fallon

Gail is back with another inspiring Women Who Dare episode, which originally aired live on OurAmericanNetwork.org on Tuesday, 10/27, 10p.m. ET. This time, we hear the story of a chiropractor who dared to give up everything and go back to school at age 50 to pursue an unconventional cure for autism.

Listen to Gail’s interview with Dr. Joan Fallon:

“Segment 1 - Gail Profiles Joan”

Audio Player00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.1. “Segment 1 - Gail Profiles Joan”11:002. “Segment 2 - Lee and Gail Discuss the Profile”10:01

Original story here: http://www.ouramericannetwork.org/story.php?title=Women-Who-Dare-Gail-Sheehy-Interviews-Joan-Fallon-About-Her-Journey-to-Cure-Autism

The Gun-Control Movement Gains a Few Hard Inches at UT-Austin

Illustration by Jim Cooke

Illustration by Jim Cooke

This article originally appeared on Jezebel.

On the first day of fall classes on August 24 at the University of Texas, Austin, students were scrambling to catch florid plastic dildos flying over their heads, eager to display them on the outside of their backpacks. Outrageous? Embarrassing? Absurd? That’s the point. More than a thousand protesters— students and professors—were gathering beneath the campus’s clock tower to expose the absurdity of a gun culture whose laws encourage students to carry concealed guns on to college campuses but ban the open display of sex toys. At a pre-rally the day before, 4,000 of the playthings disappeared over the first 30 minutes in a mashup of outstretched limbs.

There is provocative juvenile symbolism and then there is provocative juvenile symbolism. Last year, as part of the ongoing campaign to make everyone everywhere accept guns as an inescapable feature of everyday life, the Texas state legislature passed a law permitting seniors at all public colleges and universities to pack heat on campus. They timed the law to take effect on the 50th anniversary of the darkest chapter in UT Austin’s history: August 1, 1966, when a student climbed the infamous clock tower with a footlocker full of weapons and showed the world how easily someone could buy enough guns in America to commit mass murder in a public space.

Jessica Jin, the organizer of the “Cocks not Glocks” protest, never thought she would be interested in protesting America’s insane love of guns. She was raised in San Antonio by parents who were Chinese immigrants. She describes them as a Tiger Mom and a professorial father who cared not a whit about U.S. politics. That left Jin, she says, with no role models for how to be an American. In public schools, she received an education steeped in Texas-style hyper-conservatism.

“Conservatives follow the rules and work hard for what they want,” she recalled a fourth grade teacher lecturing. “Liberals are loosey-goosey, they ignore rules and kill babies. Now, which are you: conservative or liberal?” (You can guess which every student chose.)

Jin says she was subjected to constant ridicule as a “slant-eye” and was uncomfortable with the “inauthentic” American name her parents chose for her—yet the last thing she wanted was to stand out as different. She was a stickler for rules, and by fifth grade, she had abruptly come of age politically. On the news she heard about a President named Clinton and an intern named Monica Lewinsky. She ran home and told her father he had to vote for George W. Bush.

It was by extreme accident that she swerved 180 degrees in her early twenties to become a Democratic activist. She was disturbed by a flurry of campus shootings around the country. Last October, as she drove through Austin, she heard a right wing pundit say on the radio that Americans would just have to live with these acts of violence and brace for them to happen. “I just rolled my eyes so hard, I thought my eyeballs were going to roll out of my head.” In response, Jin created a Facebook group and posted a subversive joke to mock the fact that the state has a law against “obscene public displays” of such reverential items as dildos, but was about to encourage post-adolescents with raging hormones to carry guns on campus:

Your dildo will be just as effective at deterring a mass shooter, but much safer for recreational play.

The next day, Jin cringed. “I thought it was an extremely immature and crass joke,” she told me. But overnight her post went viral and thousands of people RSVP’d, wanting to join in a protest she flippantly suggested against the “campus carry law.” The coverage was international, in the BBC, the Sydney Morning Herald, all over Europe. As Jin said, ”Other countries love making fun of our gun culture, and this gave them another opportunity to laugh at it.”

From then on, Jin threw herself into planning the very real Campus Dildo Carry protest staged this week at her alma mater. Ultimately, she said, her joke was a good thing: “That helped me make young women comfortable with my more subversive messaging, because they appreciate the satire and humor.”

She has since received support from other women active in the gun control movement, including Sarah Clements, who was jolted into awareness of the total disregard for the most defenseless victims of gun violence when she heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her mother Abbey was a second grade teacher there. Six teachers—all in the pathway of the gunman—were murdered, along with 20 children under the age of eight. Abbey managed to hide her students in a supply closet, and all survived.

“I direct-messaged Jessica after her page went viral, because I know what it’s like to be harassed online for doing this type of work,” said Clements, now a junior at Georgetown University. “I told her how inspiring her radicalism was.” Jin responded immediately. Clements offered an ear to absorb some of the fears and frustrations the novice activist was experiencing. She was the first of many survivors and their family members who contacted Jin to make sure she was well-informed. They suggested professional strategies to help bring millennial women into the gun sense conversation.

On the night before her long-planned event, Jin was delighted that local sex shops had made donations of phalluses to meet the unexpected demand. She was particularly tickled by the gift of over 100 hand-crafted ceramic phalluses sculpted by a woman for her 1980s thesis on “toxic masculinity.”

But when I saw her late that night, fatigued beyond speech, her tiny frame dissolved into a sofa like a soggy pretzel. Would she recover from her exhaustion? Would anybody show up? Or was it all just a big joke with no impact beyond the ephemeral world of social media?

The same week that Jin called for her dildo protest, about a thousand of the university’s academics—under the banner of Guns Free UT—held a solemn commemoration of the 14 people killed in 1966 and the 32 others who were wounded. Scars from that massacre are still raw for survivors like Claire Wilson.

It happened on a beautifully sunny summer day as students passed to their first classes, among them Wilson, who was a new freshman, and her boyfriend Thomas Eckman. Wilson didn’t register the pain, only the jolt. It was the first shot. The sniper was a Marine and picked his targets. “Baby, what’s wrong?” Eckman said. Wilson was visibly pregnant and the bullet had found her baby and annihilated it. All at once both she and her boyfriend were falling to the ground. “I had no idea what it was,” Wilson recently told an Austin TV station. “I was just lying there looking up and thinking how beautifully blue the sky was.” Her boyfriend made no sound. The second bullet had split his back and killed him almost instantly.

The horrifying memories may have faded for some, but the bullet holes in the clock tower are still visible. Hundreds of students, professors, tourists, and store clerks witnessed the 96-minute killing spree as they crouched behind trees, hid under desks, took cover in stairwells, or, if they had been hit, played dead. “It seemed like every other guy had a rifle,” recalls Ann Major, who was a senior at UT Austin at the time and is now a romance novelist living in Corpus Christi. “There was a sort of cowboy atmosphere, ‘Let’s get him’ spirit.”

That day, August 1, 1966, engraved a new template on American culture, to be copied by high schools like Columbine in Colorado, where two disturbed high school boys unleashed a wave of me-too killings; state universities like Virginia Tech that gave us the massacre of 32 people; churches like the historically African-American Emanuel congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, where a 21-year-old racist killed nine people with a handgun; and nightclubs like Pulse in Orlando, Florida, where 49 mostly Latino LGBT people were slaughtered and 43 wounded easily surpassing the Texas clock tower killings and setting a record as the most violent mass murder in U.S. history.

That night of the Orlando bloodbath was when Robert Disney, a tireless veteran of the 40-plus-year-old Brady campaign, began to believe a tipping point has been reached. “It activated gays and lesbians to join the mounting movement against gun violence,” he said. People of all ages and walks of life are being drawn into a mass consciousness about something that has gone terribly wrong with our way of life, Disney said. Parents expect to send their children to schools and universities where they will be protected while they grow up. Private citizens of all ages and persuasions expect to pray or play without the risk of paying with their lives.

“We see a major cultural shift occurring,” Disney said. And the most hopeful recent addition to gun sense activism is that the millennial generation now has a “poster girl” in Jessica Jin.

On the big day, as students passed to their early classes, not a single backpack could be spotted carrying a signature sex toy. The most active hawkers at that hour were middle-aged men offering copies of the New Testament.

It wasn’t until noon that volunteers began screen-printing orange tees at breakneck speed with the hashtag #COCKSNOTGLOCKS.

A five-foot-one junior, Rosie Zander, began waving a gorilla-sized plastic phallus and shouting, “We’ve got dicks for you! I’m the Oprah of dickage!”

UT Austin students wear dildos while protesting on August 24, 2016. Photo by Gail Sheehy.

“This level of excitement on campus is beyond our wildest dreams,” Zander told me. She is campus director of University Democrats, which has a remarkably small membership of about 70 on a campus of 50,000. An on-campus statue of Jefferson Davis was removed only last year. During our conversation, Zander brushed aside the insults she heard from gun zealots, like the male student who shouted, “You’re a liberal idiot—once you get shot, you’ll understand.” He had obviously bought the NRA line: “The best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Zander went right back to hawking, “Get your dildos now before we run out again!”

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an advocacy group with chapters in all 50 states, was represented at the rally by Nicole Golden, one of three and a half million mothers in a grassroots organization patterned on Mothers Against Drunk Driving.* “We are so happy to see a campus movement beginning on this crucial issue and led by women,” Gold said.

I was jolted back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the great revolutionary movements of my own co-ed years were led almost exclusively by men. Rather than work together, anti-war and civil rights protesters regularly clashed. Women who wanted to play an equal role in these radical movements were ignored, sometimes ridiculed, and reduced to carrying messages and iced drinks to the male hierarchy.

There were plenty of men mingling among the protesters, including a tall handsome senior who had to step away from his Christian fellowship group to tell me what he really thinks of the event. “It’s so shocking, so hilarious, so disgusting, it will definitely create a lot of buzz, but it won’t change any laws tomorrow.”

What would he do, I asked, if he found himself in one of the campus’s 300-seat lecture halls when a “bad guy” with a gun opens up on lots of “good guys” with only four hours of required training to use the weapons in their backpacks?

He took a long moment. “I’d like to think I’d be a hero, but to be honest, I’d probably be too terrified to pull out a gun—it makes you a target.” At the end of our talk, he dared to give his first name: Brandon. He comforted himself by predicting the infinitesimal chance of a lone shooter is matched only by the infinitesimal chance that his classmates with guns would hurt innocents if they fired back.

That is what nearly happened when students in ’66 ran home to get their guns and spread a lot of friendly fire during the long confrontation with the killer. The chief of police, who had climbed to the top of the tower, complained of a bullet that narrowly missed him.

In this era, it is largely and significantly millennial women college students who have broken the harmful silence on campus sexual assault and reinvigorated campus activism. These women have pointed fingers not only at their excused assailants, but also at the university administrations expected to protect them. Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress was as provocative a symbol as Jin’s sex toys. By famously carrying her burden on campus for a whole school year to protest the non-expulsion of her alleged rapist, Sulkowicz helped to build the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Meanwhile, Jin and her fellow organizers are hoping the campus gun movement starts with dildos.

At the end of the event, Jin ran up the steps to admit she hadn’t prepared a speech—she had been busy up to the last moment, lugging around 55-pound boxes of the sex toys.

Jessica Jin collapses after carrying 55 pounds of dildos on August 24, 2016.

“Let’s put a dildo in the hands of every pissed-off college student who hasn’t been heard yet in this safety conversation!” she called out breathlessly, as cheers rose. Then her tone shifted to the personal: “I know it doesn’t feel good to walk around with a dildo. I walked into Home Depot with a dildo on yesterday, buying zip ties for all of y’all, and it felt horrible. Embarrassing. I was self-conscious. I worried about the impact that I would have on the people around me.”

Jin told me she has paid a price in the last year, sacrificing sleep, privacy, and personal safety. One man got ahold of her address and email and keeps sending her threatening messages. But she swears she is not afraid. “If someone were to try to hurt me, it would just prove my point,” she said. “If they were to get that angry over a joke or being made fun of, they can’t control their tempers, and they shouldn’t have guns.”

When she addressed the eager protesters who had answered her call, her voice conveyed no fatigue or hesitation: “We want to force that kind of conscientiousness on people who are so ingrained in gun culture that they don’t understand the impact they’re having on the people around them.” More cheers.

“So strap it on, deal with the discomfort, deal with the weird looks. Wear it loud, wear it proud. And don’t take off your dildos until people take their guns home.”