Cameron Kasky embodies our generation


Cameron Kasky spoke during Session Three of Mock Convention. Photo by Lilah Kimble.

Virginia Laurie

“I didn’t like the kid,” one of my peers said recently.

He was referring to Cameron Kasky, co-founder of March for Our Lives and the #NeverAgain gun control movement, college student and one of the speakers in Session Three of Mock Convention this past Saturday.

When I asked why he hadn’t liked Kasky as much as the other speakers, he said, “I just thought it was kind of disrespectful, that he only wore a t-shirt and jeans, and that he hadn’t researched Mock Con beforehand or really had a speech prepared.”

All of these are valid criticisms, and nobody’s under obligation to like any speaker. I don’t think Kasky himself would be offended if he heard this. He had fun in a moment where he pointed out someone in the audience who had fallen asleep during his speech. He called himself a “slacktivist” or someone who’s deemed and activist but isn’t “particularly inspiring or brave.” He’s got thick skin and a good sense of humor.

He was also self-deprecating about his own choice of apparel. He said, “what you’re all doing here is really remarkable, I mean, it’s a Saturday and you’re all wearing suits. That’s fascinating. I’m not even wearing a suit – look at me, I look like the most standard person in the entire world, I’m not even wearing a belt.”

But all the reasons my classmate mentioned for disliking Kasky’s speech were reasons that it resonated with me so much.

In between Sessions Three and Four, I overheard a girl in D-Hall telling her friends, “I just think he’s so representative of this generation,” and I wholeheartedly agree.

I found Kasky’s casual attire and mostly off-the-cuff “speech” impactful, mainly because it didn’t feel like a speech. It just felt like a college kid having a conversation with a bunch of other college kids, which is really what it was.

If Kasky got onto the stage in a formal suit and spoke to us about the importance of voting like Donna Brazile or elaborated on his life and work experience like Trevor Noah, it would’ve been inauthentic.

It’s Kasky’s self-deprecation, along with his dark, ironic sense of humor, and jaded, cynical view of the current state of politics that captured the zeitgeist of our generation.

He’s one of us, Millenials or Gen Z’ers or Zillenials, or whatever you want to call the kids who have only recently gained the right to vote.

Kasky said, “We were all kids pretty recently, still are in some ways.”

We’re the generation that grew up in an era of gun violence and social media and every other bit of turmoil or innovation that’s led us to this moment before the 2020 election. A generation with its own language of humor. A generation with one of the highest rates of mental illnesses. A generation that is largely disenfranchised in every way.

Kasky said, “I can see the looks on your faces, it’s not just because it’s early. We are all nationally depressed. Round of applause for us, man.”

And I’m sure part of my classmate’s disappointment stems from the fact that Kasky only glancingly touched upon the issue that he’s known for: gun violence. However, I appreciate Kasky turning his focus on mental health instead, which he called “one of the most important factors of activism.”

Kasky was given a platform in front of hundreds of college students, and he told them what he thought they should hear: “take care of yourself” and “ask yourself more than ‘am I okay?’” and “look out for those around you.”

Kasky’s advocacy in favor of gun control is important, but this was not the audience that could do something about that.

Yeah, we can vote for candidates that advocate for gun control, but as Kasky pointed out, aside from dropouts like Beto O’Rourke and Eric Swallwell, all the current Democratic candidates have accepted the generic, baseline stance on gun violence.

He said, “I do not think that gun control is number one on the list of things to look for in this election cycle…I think that gun violence is a problem with such a simple answer and yet we’re just not doing anything.”

Further, Kasky came to speak to us at an incredibly raw moment in his personal life. Kasky told the audience how it was the day after the two-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting in which 17 of his classmates were killed.

He told us he’d just come from D.C., where he’d met the father of one of his murdered peers who made an art installation commemorating the tragedy and the Trump administration’s hollow promise to act in the wake of it.

Two years is not a long time. His and his classmates’ trauma is still incredibly fresh. I respect that he came to speak to us at all in spite of this.

He said himself, “It’s been a difficult couple of weeks: it’s been the primaries, this week was the anniversary of the shooting, and so many other things that have really taken up space in my head.”

Kasky followed his own advice to take care of himself. To use his platform to speak how he wanted or needed to about more than one of the “other things” and important issues that occupy his mental space, such as the shortcomings of candidate Bloomberg.

On his Twitter page, Kasky has retweeted many tweets regarding Bloomberg’s sordid history as an elected official. Tweets about how he’s upheld racist policies in New York and been accused of sexual assault and harassment by just as many women as Donald Trump.

He tweeted, “I can’t even imagine how many women have been forced into silence by Donald Trump and Mike Bloomberg.”

Kasky also tweeted after his speech: “Today at Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention, I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to remind an energized, organized and engaged group of student leaders that if Bloomberg gets the nomination, our country is choosing between two racist, sexist billionaires.”

Kasky is just a college kid. He’s just an average teenager who’s been thrust into a role of prominence by a traumatic event. While the advocacy of the students of Parkland and founders of the March for Our Lives movement has inspired the world, they’re just teenagers. Kasky isn’t even 20 years old yet.

He recently retweeted a tweet from someone who told him “you’re a child and your opinion means almost nothing. you were a tool to wage an emotional war against people’s own PERSONAL rights.”

While this is obviously a gross response to the work of someone fighting to end senseless violence by advocating for a common sense solution, it’s true that Kasky is just a kid. A kid who has had to live through a trauma and then gotten dragged through the media and emotionally exhausting narrative being shared across the country.

In fighting for gun control, he and his classmates such as David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Jaclyn Corin and Alex Windhave have all had to relive the trauma of the event over and over again.

Kasky talked about how this wore on him. How he confused his fervor for activism with serious mental illness. Kasky said, “You can’t save the whole world if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

I don’t care that he didn’t focus on gun control; I’m glad he didn’t feel the need to force himself to. I don’t care that he wore jeans and a t-shirt; he spoke to us about overcoming suicidal ideation and how we’re voting not for ourselves, but for everybody, about empathy and respecting human dignity. I don’t care that he didn’t research Mock Con ahead of time; most Washington and Lee students were just along for the ride and equally uneducated on the ins and outs of what it is. Finally, I don’t care that he didn’t have a written speech or notes. Cameron Kasky simply spoke to us from the heart.

He hasn’t chaired the DNC or run for office or hosted an award winning talk show. He’s just a college kid from Parkland, Florida with a limited worldview, charismatic personality and humility. He’s struggling to get his diploma just as we are. He’s well-spoken, sarcastic and

likable, but he’s not special. Or rather, he’s special in so far as he’s a reflection of the current moment.

He talked about TikTok and Tumblr quotes and skipping assigned readings, about being depressed and dealing with it, about not being inspired or optimistic, but still fighting the good fight, and it was his candor and non-pretentiousness that inspired me the most.

Inspired me to do what, exactly? I don’t know. He doesn’t know. None of us know.

Welcome to 2020. We’re all just doing our best and trying to get by. That was what Cameron Kasky said to me.