Editor’s Note: CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem is the author of the best-seller “Security Mom: My Life Protecting the Home and Homeland.” She is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration and CEO of Zemcar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
To: The Enough is Enough Generation
From: A Security Mom
Re: Passing the Baton
Remarkable job on Saturday. I joined the crowd in Boston and watched images of the rallies throughout the nation and world. The signage was witty and powerful; the speeches were energizing and inspiring; the music – well, let’s just say you all should DJ every party.
I’m pretty sure you are aware of this, but my generation, your mothers and fathers, have not been particularly effective in minimizing the major harms you will face in the days, months and years ahead.
I’m just another mother in the crowd, but I’ve spent much of my career trying to protect this nation as a homeland security expert. I’m a Security Mom, a term used to describe a demographic of parents who worried about the threats our children faced and, as a group, tended to vote for candidates who promised that government would protect us. Security Moms tended to worry about the rise of terrorism, or some Ebola outbreak, or wars coming to our lands, and sought to elect politicians who would protect our homeland and our homes.
The effectiveness of the anti-gun control lobby took gun violence out of the equation of what constitutes homeland security for too long. It was so effective that we often couldn’t even see how absurd that distinction was until you showed us otherwise. Why would some risks – terrorism, climate change, pandemics – be viewed as national security issues and yet the one most consequential means by which you all were at risk of getting killed – gun violence – was somehow removed from the discussion?
You have reminded us that our homeland security is ultimately about your capacity to return home, whether from school, church, the movies or a concert – even your own backyard.
It isn’t about some faraway threat, some radicalized guy in Syria, or some nation state positioning nuclear weapons our way; it is about your homes. You have made the demand for tougher safety and security measures, once the bastion of conservative voices, a progressive rallying cry.
More significantly, us Security Moms and Dads were, in hindsight, too passive in how we thought about taking charge of your safety. We expected it from government and complained when it wasn’t forthcoming; we too often thought it was government’s obligation to fix the problem, solve the issue and protect us. And we too often waited patiently because that is how we thought it worked – that is what we thought we were supposed to do.
And while we waited, mass shootings occurred. Again and again.
I had young children when the Sandy Hook massacre took place in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. I remember hearing the news when I was at the gym and needing to sit down on the floor; grown men were crying. And nothing changed.
I know, because I have three kids, that patience is not one of your virtues. It is your strength. And you have made your impatience move us from our expectation of what government should do to more about what it must do. And if it doesn’t, then you will vote to move those who disagree along. You own this. As Parkland student activist Emma Gonzalez said at the march in DC, “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
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You have been called naive or too emotional to know otherwise. Jaded and objective hasn’t worked so well for your parents, so embrace the description. Use your means of communication – social media – to expose the hypocrisy of those who disagree. You all are the best thing on Twitter these days.
Continue to mourn and rally, and know that you will not succeed in all you want to accomplish. But know that even for a security professional and a mother, I’m more than confident it is time to pass the baton. We tried. Now, it’s your turn to school us.