Time magazine's annual "100 Most Influential People" issue always garners plenty of attention. But there's a little something extra in this year's edition — a blurb written by former President Barack Obama about the Parkland students, who were featured in Time's "Pioneers" section.
Obama has long advocated for gun control reform, an issue that seemed to become almost personal to him after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took place during his first term as president.
Writing about Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and Alex Wind — five of the most prominent survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — Obama extolled their refusal to accept the status quo.
"By bearing witness to carnage, by asking tough questions and demanding real answers," he wrote, "the Parkland students are shaking us out of our complacency."
But his comments on the activism of Parkland students also included a harsh rebuke of anyone who is resistant to gun control reform. In the blurb, he wrote, "The NRA’s favored candidates are starting to fear they might lose. Law-abiding gun owners are starting to speak out." Obama predicted that "the possibilities of meaningful change will steadily grow" as these young activists eventually gain the right to vote.
Obama's hard-hitting criticism of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and those who support its agenda is unapologetic. Perhaps because he’s no longer constrained by political concerns, Obama’s language toward those who oppose gun control reform seems markedly less restrained than in previous years. He’s also able to use the Parkland students’ views as a conduit for what, one assumes, mirrors his own. “They see the NRA and its allies—whether mealymouthed politicians or mendacious commentators peddling conspiracy theories—as mere shills for those who make money selling weapons of war to whoever can pay,” Obama writes.
Obama also ties in other youth-led causes in commending broader activism spearheaded by young people. Referring to the nation’s past as “defined by the youthful push to make America more just, more compassionate, more equal under the law,” Obama sees today’s younger generations continuing that tradition. “This generation—of Parkland, of Dreamers, of Black Lives Matter—embraces that duty," he writes.
The language throughout is glowing with hope about what young people are capable of achieving. Earlier in his blurb, Obama writes the Parkland students "have the power so often inherent in youth: to see the world anew; to reject the old constraints, outdated conventions and cowardice too often dressed up as wisdom."
The reaction from students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following the Feb. 14 mass shooting that left 17 dead has had a pronounced impact on the gun control debate. Rather than receding into the black hole of yesterday's news, many students stepped into the spotlight and made themselves a human face of school shooting tragedy — and they've been difficult to ignore.
Michelle Cottle writes at The Atlantic, "These teens have elbowed their way into one of this nation’s most vicious policy debates, demanding to have their say." And they've done so while coping in the aftermath of a harrowing trauma that "would leave most adults curled in a prenatal pretzel under the bed."
And real policy progress is already a reality. Florida raised the age for all gun-purchases from 18 to 21. Most types of gun buys now require a three-day waiting period in the Sunshine State. And bump stocks are illegal. According to The New York Times, the legislation passed in the wake of the Parkland shooting is the "first successful gun control measure in Florida in more than 20 years."
And when you've helped effect that kind of tectonic shift on a historically contentious issue in America, a complimentary blurb from a popular former president makes a lot of sense.