Emma Gonzalez: A Young Orator Rises Above the Florida Shooting Tragedy

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Emma Gonzalez: A Young Orator Rises Above The Florida Shooting Tragedy on Tuesday, February 20, 2018.

In a story about the horrific Valentine’s Day massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida last week, the Washington Post tallied that, in the nearly two decades since the shooting at Columbine High School, other such events have impacted more than 150,000 students.

Like all the others, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was followed by the usual somber, muted candlelight vigils, funerals, prayers, and mourning, but then there was something different: three days later, the school’s students held a loud, angry rally for gun control at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Most prominent among the emotional speakers was 19-year old senior Emma Gonzalez, whose opening words planted a stake in the ground: “All these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”

Ms. Gonzalez then went on for another ten fervent minutes in a speech that, by ordinary measures, was too fast, too strident, and too dependent on a sheaf of note pages that she nervously clutched and shuffled. But none of that mattered because her passion—her voice choked often, she wiped away her tears repeatedly—made her rhetoric soar.

And what rhetoric! In sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, she made a powerful case for gun control with the logical progression of a trial lawyer, building to a summation with a technique that the ancient Greek orators called anaphora, or multiple repetitions of a single phrase.

Like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” (16 times), John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not…,” (5 times), and Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight…” (12 times), Ms. Gonzalez coined a mantra.

In her concluding paragraph, she called out the people who are opposed to gun control and punctuated each indictment with the phrase, “We call that BS!” As she counted out each of her eight charges, the throng of students, teachers, and parents chanted along with her, echoing her words.

Across the ocean in England, Suzanne Moore, a veteran columnist for the Guardian, watched the viral video and wrote, “After Florida, I had lost hope. Then I saw Emma González.”

I wept.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Emma Gonzalez: A Young Orator Rises Above The Florida Shooting Tragedy on Tuesday, February 20, 2018.

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