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The Silence Heard Round the World

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By now, everyone and her sister has probably told you to watch Emma Gonzalez’s speech at today’s March for Our Lives. And soon, there will be infinite dissections of what she said—and didn’t.

Here’s mine.

On first watch, you wonder—as did so many in the audience—if she is breaking down, if it has just become too much to bear. Re-watching, all I see is the determination. There are moments when the crowd tries to buoy her, when they try to break her out of a supposed reverie, assure her that they support her, that they want to hear her—through those moments she is far stronger than they are. She has her point to make and will not be swayed. She is actively refusing to speak.

There are times when words aren’t enough. There are times when naked grief and outrage are eloquent. They make us deeply uncomfortable. Even when we are on her side—we are unsettled.

Re-watching this, I mostly hear her breathe. Maybe it’s all the yoga training, but that breath is just so powerful. It is a stark reminder of all those who no longer have breath to draw. It is a reminder of each breath we take and what we choose to do with it.

Emma G is brave enough to hold her silence when that is the point she wishes to make. She will not be deterred. She will stare us down. She will make us listen to each breath. She will make us listen to her not speaking. She will hold the space as long as necessary. The power of this performance is the way that attempts to fill the silence, however well-intentioned, fizzle in the face of her unflinching intensity.

Listen to the whole thing. Listen again. Listen to her speak. Listen to her breathe. Listen to her silence and all the things that rush to try to fill it. Listen to her silence drown them out.

Her refusal to speak is her rejection of the crazy world that put her on that stage. It is the loudest call to action I have heard in a long time. We need to be unsettled. We need to question our assumptions about what is possible. We need pay attention to the silent woman who insists that we hear the multitude of silences of those we’ve failed. We need to recognize when that woman is commanding us to listen. We need to rethink what leadership looks and sounds like.

Because this is a woman I am ready to follow.

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