I’ve been trying to process some of my experiences at the BOOST Conference last week, particularly as they relate to the co-founders of March For Our Lives, Matt Deitsch and David Hogg. I pretty much watched from afar, but since I have so many friends on the BOOST Leadership team I was afforded some post-conference insight. Three things continue to rattle my cage.
1) "If the conversation stops we lose. If the conversation keeps going we win. Keep the conversation going."
- Matthew Deitsch, Co-Founder, March For Our Lives
This was a punch to the gut, and even mores as today’s news brings word of yet another school shooting, this time outside of Denver. Matt talked about the befuddlement of why so many tragic events seem to have a moment of attention and then disappear. He asserted that it’s often because the conversation stops.
And so March For Our Lives was founded with an insatiable drive to maintain conversations about gun violence and control. Be it universal background checks, stopping the gun show loopholes, requiring stricter training and storage measures, etc. The conversation and the movement must not stop or take a break. Matt spoke of his conversations with people assuming they would be diametrically opposed to his position and they found common ground. The NRA is in a position with waning influence in some ways, but also pushing back to reclaim it. The conversation must not end.
2) "There is no way to say that an issue is ‘their’ issue and still consider yourself an American."
- David Hogg, Co-Founder, March For Our Lives
This goes right to the heart of finding common ground and wrestling honestly with it rather than dehumanizing an opinion. For my many friends in youth ministry and communities where guns are common: how do you and your peers, your bosses, your congregants, the students and families with whom you work, process that young people in the US are 10x more likely to die from a firearm homicide than in any other industrialized nation? How do you grapple with the fact that youth suicide by guns is 8x more in the US than any industrialized nation? How do you have that knowledge and so much more and not even bring gun regulation/control/etc. into the conversation on youth safety? It’s not an issue for “them” - it’s something with which we all grapple. Let’s keep our conversations humanized.
3) A Series of thoughts and statements:
Me, in my mind, from across the pool: “He looks like he’s just enjoying himself, like he can be a kid for a few minutes.”
Matt Deitsch, paraphrased, to one of my BOOST friends: “It’s been so much fun just being a kid.”
David Hogg, paraphrased, to one of my BOOST friends: “I can’t wait to start college in the fall so I can just be a normal person and not talk about trauma all of the time.”
The first two of these things happened at the BOOST Conference Duck Derby, a fun, fundraising event where teams compete to ferry a large inflatable duck across a pool and back in a relay race. Matt was part of the TOMS / March For Our Lives team that won the event. I was watching from across the pool area as Matt laughed, cracked jokes and seemed completely in the zone of fun. It just about made me break down and cry at the moment, and did for real when my friend told me that Matt said something eerily similar to the thoughts in my head. David’s words were to other friends as he talked about looking forward to starting college in the fall.
You see, these two young men not only talk about trauma, gun violence, their own stories and the stories of thousands of others they’ve met who have been affected by gun violence, but they get trolled every day for doing it. And not just Internet trolled, with anonymous threats and hateful words that would be enough to make anyone paranoid. But IRL trolls. People who track their speaking engagements and travel plans and show up to threaten and intimidate them. All because they are part of a group of young people who spoke out against the violence done to their friends and classmates and haven’t stopped, and who ask of us all to keep the conversation going.
These two young men, their friends and compatriots in March For Our Lives, and so many other young people live with the threat of physical and emotional harm being done to them daily. So a race with inflatable ducks, or a break to have a meal filled with laughter, has become an extravagance.
All of these things and more compel me to continue the conversation. I confess it’s been something I’ve engaged in fits and starts, and there are many issues about which we need to keep conversations going. But as the community of Poway, just 25 minutes from me, continues to pick up its pieces, and reports come from friends at UNC-Charlotte from last week, and Highlands Ranch starts their journey, I will do some small part to keep the conversation going. It’s not all that I’ll do, but it is the least, and that’s a start.