It started with an image. A united front of three students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This CNN interview was the start of many for the members of the #NEVERAGAIN movement, advocating for stricter gun laws after they were the latest victims of a school shooting, which took over 17 lives. This senseless tragedy is the 18th school shooting to take place in the United States since the beginning of 2018. It is clear that policy makers and those in power are not working hard enough to protect the lives of U.S. youth, so they have decided to take matters into their own hands. The voices of these young adults have received a lot of media attention, but as with most news stories, there is a risk this conversation will loose traction and relevancy with time. We need to continue talking about this movement to ensure it doesn't lose momentum.
In light of this tragedy, many sympathetic narratives towards the shooter have surfaced in the media: stories of a lost young man who was an orphan, bullied and experienced an array of mental health issues. Instead of sympathizing with a mass murderer, we should be focusing on the individuals working to ensure this senseless tragedy never happens again.
Students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been working tirelessly to reform gun laws in the U.S. to ensure the safety of their fellow classmates and for the future of American students. They have banded together to create a force to be reckoned with - many refusing to return to the classroom until their voices are heard and real change is made.
A young woman named Emma González is a major pioneer in this cause. As a survivor in the school shooting, Emma advocates for her fellow friends and classmates who were not so lucky in this attack. She has been known to publicly call out Donald Trump and his large donation from the NRA, (over $2 million if you haven’t heard) and has continued to advocate for the safety of students in schools.
Students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have banded together in the solace of their parents' living rooms, choosing advocacy over sleep in an effort to create real change. In a matter of days, this group of teenage survivors has made itself impossible to ignore, speaking and leading rallies, sourcing social media as a platform to send messages, and conducting many interviews. This has all been in an effort in reach the widest possible audience wide of an audience as possible.
Support has poured in from many different public figures such as Obama, George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Cher and many more. George Clooney, Oprah, and Spielberg have each promised to donate US $500,000 to support the cause. Oprah compared the teenagers as reminiscent of "the Freedom Riders of the 60's who also said we’ve had ENOUGH and our voices will be heard." Cher said she believed the movement could scare Congress into action, adding “KIDS CAN BE CATALYSTS 4 CHANGE.”
All the while dealing with the trauma of the mass shooting, to defamation of their character and accusatory statements as being paid crisis actors, to literal death threats from NRA supporters, these Florida teens have persevered. Change is in the air. These survivors are a mobilizing force that we have yet to have seen in the aftermath of a tragic mass shooting. David Hogg defended the movement quite well in an interview with CNN and Anderson Cooper:
"I am not a crisis actor. I'm somebody who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to have to do this. The fact that some of the students at Stoneman Douglas high school are showing more maturity and political action than many of our elected officials is a testament to how disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America. But we're trying to fix that."
Through all the backlash and defamation these teen survivors are experiencing they have used activism as a coping mechanism into which they can fuel their grief. With a passion to evoke real change and to ensure that a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again, these teens are working late into the night to create a safer future for themselves and others across the United States.
Photo by: Drew Reynolds
This conversation couldn't be more timely or necessary. Teens elsewhere in the country have made similar efforts to advocate for gun reform, but have not received the same level of media attention. A year after the death of Michael Brown, an African-American teen who was shot six times and killed while unarmed by a Missouri police officer, came a rally cry from Ferguson teens.
The death of Michael Brown warranted protests and walk out demonstrations, but these efforts did not receive significant media coverage. Clifton Kinnie, an 18 year-old activist and his peers have been planning #FergusonSummer, a series of non-violent demonstrations set to begin in August. Clifton and his friends are working to build a better future for their peers, while battling systematic racism, profiling, and colourism.
On Twitter, Clifton vented his frustration about the scrutiny the Ferguson protests has previously had in the media:
When we organized in Ferguson, we were labeled thugs & criminals. 800 of us walked out for #MikeBrown. The media said we went about it the wrong way. All we wanted was for the police to stop killing people like us. Black youth BEEN pushing for gun reform.
To which Alexis Michael, a leader in the #NeverAgain movement replied:
Much of what I’ve done and wanted to do was inspired by Black Lives Matter. We’re protesting the exact same way and being called heroes just because the majority of us are white. America needs to do better in so many ways.
The Parkland teens and the teens in Ferguson are creating a movement that hopes to inspire change ensure the safety of teens across America. Most importantly, they've inspired a conversation. We need to ensure this conversation doesn't fade into the background with other old news stories. We need to encourage more voices and louder messages.
Teens across the United States are tired of watching their friends die. They are ready for change and have taken matters into their own hands. This is an important story about redemption, led by teenagers in the community. We need to continue supporting these individuals and the advocacy for gun reform. This conversation is far from over.