I remember where I was when the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre took place. I was in ninth grade and sitting at lunch when the news broke. Someone had walked into an elementary school with an automatic weapon and killed students and faculty members. The school went into a lockdown so no one could enter or exit the building. I was 14.
I remember where I was when I found out about the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas massacre. It was the second day of Spring Recruitment for our sorority. I got a note on my phone that someone had walked into a high school in Florida and killed several students and faculty members. My cousin was in high school in one of the neighboring cities in Florida so I texted her to make sure she was okay. I reached out to a friend from camp who was an MSD alumna to send her love. I cried to my sorority sisters and begged my mom, who was running for Congress at the time, to make sure nothing like this would happen again. I was 19.
Now, I sit in my living room grappling with the Robb Elementary School massacre. Someone walked into an elementary school with an automatic weapon and killed 21 students and faculty members. They had to ask the family for DNA samples because the weapon had damaged them so much that they were unrecognizable. I think of my brother and sister, 10 and 7 respectively, and try to hold my heart together as I imagine losing them to an incident like that. I cannot fathom the insurmountable amount of pain that would put me through. I am 24.
Since the day I was born, there have been 103 notable mass shootings. On the day I was born, a 15-year-old killed his parents and then walked into Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, and opened fire on his classmates. He killed two more people and injured two dozen more. I came into this world with tragedy and here I am, 24 years later, still dealing with tragedy.
It extends beyond school shootings. I remember when someone shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. I remember when someone walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and opened fire. I remember when a 21-year-old went into a church in South Carolina and killed the constituents after their Bible study. I remember when someone went into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and killed 49 people. I remember when someone opened fire in Las Vegas during a concert and killed 60 people. I remember when a gunman walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people during Shabbat services. I remember when a gunman walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 people. I remember when someone walked into three different massage parlors in Georgia and killed eight people. I remember when a white supremacist walked into a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and killed 10 Black people grocery shopping. I am 24 and remember those. I am 24 and have forgotten others.
I can’t stop remembering where I was when I found out about the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh. It was a Saturday and I spent the day in bed crying all day. One of my acquaintances from college was the son of the rabbi of the Tree of Life synagogue. I was supposed to go to my job as a seventh-grade Hebrew School teacher the next day. I had to grapple with the thought, would I risk my life to defend my students from an active shooter? I was not much older than them. We were “prepped” on how to talk to our students about what happened. I had the oldest children in the Hebrew School. They were old enough to understand antisemitism and some of them had experienced it. I had to try and convince them we were safe at our temple and that it would be okay when I wasn’t even sure of that myself. I was 20.
I am 24 and living in “the greatest country in the world.” Yet every day, I am reminded that America is not that.
It extends beyond the shootings. Two years ago today, a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes before killing him over a suspected fraudulent $20 bill. The existence of Black Americans and people of color is constantly threatened simply because they exist. Earlier this month, a leaked majority opinion from the Supreme Court expressed that they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark legislation for abortion access, that could have implications for gay marriage. We are two years into a pandemic that has shown no sign of slowing down and has killed a million Americans. One gallon of gas is over $4 and the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. We are facing a formula shortage. Roads and bridges are falling apart. There was a literal plot to overthrow the government in favor of a president who was already impeached and lost the popular vote TWICE. Our planet is dying.
I am 24 and cannot see a future for myself.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am a white woman from a middle-class home. I have a Bachelor’s degree and less than $50,000 in student debt. I have a job with benefits and am able to afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment. I am Jewish, but I cannot be easily recognized as such. I have never been homeless. I have never had to go hungry. I am one of the lucky ones and I am still hopeless.
And yet, there is no solution to our problems. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson outlines how the GOP has moved past the idea of a traditional political party, entered the realm of conspiracy and cult, and ends the article … encouraging people to vote. The article itself and the way it outlines the ways the GOP has entered cult-like territory were very interesting and informative. However, going out and voting won’t change that. As of today, the Executive branch is run by a Democrat president, and there is a Democrat majority in both chambers of Congress. And yet, there has been no progress. Our planet is still dying, people are still struggling to make ends meet, and our elected officials have, effectively, shrugged their shoulders and done nothing. Yet they still want us to believe they are doing something, anything to support the American people.
I am 24 and have lost faith in the institutions that are supposed to protect me.
How am I supposed to have faith in them? Republican members of the government have given their constituents the middle finger in favor of party solidarity and money. Democrats in government are quick to point the finger at their Republican counterparts but continue to do nothing to protect the rights of the American people. Legislation that the majority of Americans support is not legislated because these individuals that we’ve already voted for have decided it’s not in their personal interest to pass them. How are we supposed to have faith in a system that has continually failed us?
I have voted since I turned 18 in every election I have been able to. Even before I was able to vote, I donated my time, my money, and my voice to try to help those in need. I have been told my whole life that one of the most important things you can do is help others. I’ve lobbied Congress members for protections for houseless Americans. I’ve stood with the Reform Jewish Youth Movement to fight against gun violence. I’ve worked with several progressive organizations in an effort to uplift marginalized voices. I have put in the work, and yet there is nothing to show for it because our government has not made our existence a priority.
I am 24 and tired of excuses.
Want young people to vote? Prove to them that the government hasn’t abandoned them. Put in the work to pass legislation that would benefit the American people, not corporations. Stop treating social issues as talking points for getting elected and use them to motivate the work you’re doing. Do the work to change the biases that you have against certain groups. Actually, talk to your constituents about what they’re looking for in a representative and do what they want. Do your job.
I am 24 and should be hopeful for the future. Instead, I am 24 and tired.