Former President Barack Obama penned a tribute to the teenagers who've pushed for gun reform in the wake of the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, for TIME's "100 Most Influential People" roundup. The teens––Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and Alex Wind––were praised by the nation's 44th president for "calling us to account."
America’s response to mass shootings has long followed a predictable pattern. We mourn. Offer thoughts and prayers. Speculate about the motives. And then—even as no developed country endures a homicide rate like ours, a difference explained largely by pervasive accessibility to guns; even as the majority of gun owners support commonsense reforms—the political debate spirals into acrimony and paralysis.
This time, something different is happening. This time, our children are calling us to account.
Obama notes that the teenagers "don’t have the kind of lobbyists or big budgets for attack ads that their opponents do" and that most of them "can't even vote yet." Regardless, the teens have "the power so often inherent in youth: to see the world anew; to reject the old constraints, outdated conventions and cowardice too often dressed up as wisdom."
Putting it even more succinctly, he says they possess "The power to insist that America can be better."
Obama's words come after a tumultuous two months for the students. While they've helped organize the March for Our Lives and have sustained a national conversation on gun control since gunman Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 innocents on Valentine's Day, they've also become the targets of the NRA as well as the "mealymouthed politicians" and "mendacious commentators peddling conspiracy theories."
There is no doubt Obama was addressing politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whom the teenagers have criticized for continuing to accept donations from the NRA and who has refused to support any gun reform legislation brought to the Senate floor since the massacre, and commentators like InfoWars host Alex Jones, who has suggested that both the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings were hoaxes.
The teens, however, are undeterred. As Obama puts it:
They’re as comfortable speaking truth to power as they are dismissive of platitudes and punditry. And they live to mobilize their peers.
Already, they’ve had some success persuading statehouses and some of the biggest gun retailers to change. Now it gets harder. A Republican Congress remains unmoved. NRA scare tactics still sway much of the country. Progress will be slow and frustrating.
But by bearing witness to carnage, by asking tough questions and demanding real answers, the Parkland students are shaking us out of our complacency. The NRA’s favored candidates are starting to fear they might lose. Law-abiding gun owners are starting to speak out. As these young leaders make common cause with African Americans and Latinos—the disproportionate victims of gun violence—and reach voting age, the possibilities of meaningful change will steadily grow.
"Our history is defined by the youthful push to make America more just, more compassionate, more equal under the law," Obama concludes while evoking the struggles of Dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) and members of Black Lives Matter (who have pushed for accountability in the wake of police brutality which disproportionately affects minority communities):
This generation—of Parkland, of Dreamers, of Black Lives Matter—embraces that duty. If they make their elders uncomfortable, that’s how it should be. Our kids now show us what we’ve told them America is all about, even if we haven’t always believed it ourselves: that our future isn’t written for us, but by us.
The reaction to the president's tribute is overwhelmingly positive. Parkland student Jaclyn Corin thanked the president for his tribute.
"Thank you @TIME and @BarackObama for honoring all of the Parkland students through your kind words," she wrote.
Thank you @TIME and @BarackObama for honoring all of the Parkland students through your kind words #Time100 https://t.co/BRbccRL4YC— Jaclyn Corin (@Jaclyn Corin) 1524148691.0
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also weighed in, saying: "In all the years I've been advocating for stronger gun laws, I've never seen the passion, momentum and dedication that young people are showing today."
In all the years I’ve been advocating for stronger gun laws, I’ve never seen the passion, momentum and dedication t… https://t.co/CLfjddIlkw— Senator Dianne Feinstein (@Senator Dianne Feinstein) 1524162199.0
The former president is not without his detractors, however.
Elliot Hamilton, a conservative writer for The Daily Wire, referred to the Parkland students as "gun grabbers" and slammed Obama for "endorsing their nasty campaign."
Anther social media user, in a response to Senator Feinstein, criticized the students for being "pawns in a anti-2nd Amendment agenda."
@SenFeinstein @BarackObama Correction: SOME of the Parkland students, those willing to used as pawns in a anti-2nd Amendment agenda— Neal Behimer (@Neal Behimer) 1524164189.0
This isn't the first time Obama has made headlines for praising the Parkland survivors.
The former president and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, penned a letter to the survivors in the days after the shooting.
In their letter, the Obamas thanked the students for “awakening the conscience of our nation.”
Throughout our history, young people like you have led the way in making America better. There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the letter @BarackObama and @MichelleObama wrote to the #ParklandShooting survivors. In it, the f… https://t.co/35eMKft2ig— Mic (@Mic) 1521651293.0