Imagine waking up the morning after surviving a school shooting, sitting down to breakfast, and logging on to Twitter only to see thousands upon thousands of posts retelling the horror you lived less than 24 hours earlier.
How would you respond?
Rather than hiding away while dealing with their grief, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors are banding together to promote change—and so far it’s working.
Since 1966, there have been 156 mass school shootings in the United States alone. Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu lost his life at Virginia Tech as he tried to prevent an active shooter from entering his classroom. Victoria Leigh Soto, a Sandy Hook Elementary first-grade teacher, hid her students as the shooter came in. When some children got scared and tried to flee, she threw herself in front of them. Aaron Feis, a beloved football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, died while shielding students. Additionally, there have been numerous mass shootings in movie theaters, churches, concerts, and other venues.
We clearly have not found a solution to the problem.
On February 14, a troubled young man stormed into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 and injured 16. He used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Although parents, administrators, school boards, politicians, and celebrities have pushed for stricter gun laws following previous massacres, the resulting policy changes have been minor. The response to this latest tragedy, however, is unprecedented. The teenage survivors—many of whom are seniors—have come forward to be the faces of a new movement.
“Most of the students whom we see at the front of the movement in Parkland are white, and many of them have had access to significant academic and economic resources. This is not to detract from what they’ve done, only to point out that there may be a relationship between the amount of support they’ve garnered and the communities they reflect,” Gretchen Brion-Meisels, a lecturer in the Prevention Science and Practice Program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, points out in a piece on “Student Activism and Gun Control.”
Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World, is a survivor of the Bard College at Simon’s Rock shooting, in which a young man killed two and injured four the same day he bought a SKS semiautomatic rifle from Dick’s Sporting Goods. In the 25 years since that shooting the problem has only grown, but Heitner believes this time really is different.
“Many of these young activists have been raised middle class or are affluent, and even those who aren’t have been part of a very well-funded and robust school system. Outside of school, they have parents who are encouraging them and a community that is supporting them,” which makes a difference, Heitner says.
The Parkland, Florida, teens have been raised to understand that school shootings happen, and they have not only prepared for them with active shooter training but debated the issue of gun control prior to the massacre, giving them the knowledge and the confidence needed to raise their voices.
Most importantly, because of the widespread use of social media, they get the chance to connect with fellow shooting survivors, including those who witnessed massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech, and have a ready-made platform for their activism.
Twitter, Facebook, and SnapChat make it possible for these young adults to speak out forcefully. With the support of parents, teachers, and community members, they are standing up for themselves, for the Sandy Hook survivors too young to speak for themselves, for all of those whose lives have been lost, and for every student across America who fears being shot and killed in school.
No longer are people just talking about change.
Major companies like Hertz, MetLife, Best Western, Delta, and United Airlines have cut ties with the NRA. Dick’s Sporting Goods will no longer sell assault-style rifles, and Kroger’s Fred Meyer stores won’t sell guns to anyone under the age of 21.
REI will no longer sell any products that are owned by Vista Outdoor, which is connected with the NRA and with gun and ammo makers. These products include CamelBak water bottles, Bell bicycle helmets, and Giro ski goggles.
Other companies, like Amazon, Apple, and FedEx, face major financial losses as activists continue to boycott their services until they severe ties with the NRA.
Heitner admits that even though these are positive changes, we have much further to go. Still, we haven’t seen a response like this before, and we have the Parkland, Florida, students to thank for that.
They have garnered a significant social media following, national media attention, and recognition from major companies, organizations, and influencers. As they continue to fight, Brion-Meisels suggests, “We need to believe in these young people, nurture them, and demonstrate that we will stand with them on this journey.”
Activists like Emma González, 18, despite their grief, are courageously stepping into the spotlight to become leaders in the fight for stricter gun control and greater mental health resources. They aren’t just hosting prayer vigils. These students are protesting, rallying, and confronting lawmakers head on.
Their tenacity under such wrenching circumstances builds respect, and with respect comes power. In the less than a month, González has gained more Twitter followers, over one million, than the NRA.
On March 2, she tweeted (@Emma4Change), “You know what matters here? People Keep Dying. Until Politicians care more about People than they do about Money, random and innocent People are going to Keep Dying. #VoteThemOut #NotOnOurWatch #WeCallBS.”
The attitude of these young adults is that enough really is enough. The fight is far from over, but these students aren’t afraid. As Heitner wonders, “When these students go off to college will they continue to focus on activism? What will that look like?”
Only time will tell.
On March 14, 2018, exactly one month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, thousands of students across the country walked out of classes…