At some point during last Saturday's March for Our Lives in Columbus, Ohio, I walked behind two young girls wearing star-spangled blue capes.
The one with the ponytail kept looking around at the crowd of thousands, as if she couldn't believe her eyes. The other girl marched face-forward, holding up a handmade sign: "I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost. — Wonder Woman + Me"
They had most likely seen Gal Gadot utter those very words as Wonder Woman in the 2017 film, and now they saw themselves in her. What a lift on such a somber day.
The march was one of many across the country and around the world to mirror the biggest one of all in Washington, D.C., organized by student survivors of the gun massacre in Parkland, Florida. Many young people spoke, including Naomi Wadler, a black 11-year-old who mesmerized the crowd as she reminded America about forgotten others who lost their lives to gun violence:
"I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don't make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don't lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.
"For far too long, these names, these black girls and women, have been just numbers. I'm here to say 'never again' for those girls, too."
Emma Gonzalez also spoke, and anyone who has seen her speech will most likely never forget it. After naming all of the victims, she did something no seasoned politician would attempt. Without explanation or warning, she stood in silence for four minutes and 26 seconds. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she ignored the occasional claps and chants. From her, we heard only her breathing, until a timer beeped, and she ended with this:
"Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job."
Gonzalez is becoming an iconic image of this burgeoning student movement, and we know this, in part, because of the growing number of right-wingers who publicly hate her.
In a video illustrating a Teen Vogue story about the young activists, Gonzalez stood with classmates as she tore apart a gun-range target. It wasn't long before a right-winger altered Gonzalez's image to make it appear that she was tearing apart the U.S. Constitution, adding fake dark circles under her eyes to make her look wanton and menacing.
A lot of supposed adults feel threatened by this articulate teenager — right-wing actor Adam Baldwin, for example. On the day of the march, he tweeted the Photoshopped image of Gonzalez to 270,000 followers, with a German-language reference to a Hitler Youth song.
Like maggots on manure, other right-wingers swarmed to share Baldwin's tweet. Outrage and condemnation swiftly followed, but that hasn't deterred people like Baldwin. As of Wednesday, he still hadn't deleted it. New York magazine's Chas Danner reported that Baldwin, in a now-deleted tweet, defended the altered image as "political satire" — an amateur's retort, which may explain why so few of us ever thought about him before Saturday.
Two more girls come to mind, and they are the reason I attended the march — as a columnist, yes, but also as a grandmother. Each belongs to a daughter in our family, and at one point, both of them were sitting on my lap as one young speaker after another took the stage.
Nothing focuses the mind like holding two children under the age of 5 just inches away from a poster that reads:
Halfway through the program, the 4-year-old looked up at me and said, "Grandma, why are we here?"
"We're here," I answered, "because we love children."
She shifted to face forward on my lap and sighed. "Grandma, I already knew that."
I rested my chin on her head and tried not to cry.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.