Politics

Turning anguish into activism, Parkland students push America’s gun-control movement

Portraits of the Douglas school shooting victims

These are the victims of the devastating school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018.
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These are the victims of the devastating school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018.

The leaders of America’s suddenly reignited gun-control movement hold court with cable news networks in suburban parks, strategize in a headquarters at their parents’ house and in some cases are too young to vote or buy a gun.

They suddenly have half-a-million dollars to fund a national rally, but nowhere to put it. And they appear to be on the unlikely verge of pushing Florida’s gun-happy Legislature to enact new laws restricting access to semi-automatic rifles even as they bury the last of their friends.

On Wednesday, they were victims. Now they’re advocates.

Following a former classmate’s Valentine’s Day rampage that killed 17 students and faculty, a group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School upper-classmen has turned their anguish into activism. Still grieving, they have launched an all-out assault on assault weapons, pledging that their school will be the last to become a slaughterhouse and warning politicians to get on board or get out of their way.

“We feel neglected,” Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old junior, said during a Sunday morning appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” “At this point, you’re either with us or you’re against us.”

Starting with social media videos recorded during Wednesday’s attack and building into cable news network interviews and political rallies, Kasky and a small group of friends have slowly grown their profiles, culminating in Sunday’s announcement that they’re organizing a national march next month for gun control. They’ve given voice to a new generation of school shooting survivors and thrust themselves into the middle of a national controversy — a burden heavy for anyone, much less a group of mourning teenagers.

Kasky
Cameron Kasky, in the purple shirt, and other students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School speak with Broward County Sheriff officers Brad Griesinger and Jamie Rubenstein. Joe Raedle Getty Images

By Monday evening, they’d planned a march on the Florida Capitol that appears likely to end with some legislative accomplishments. On Monday alone, Kasky raised at least $496,000 in a GoFundMe account.

“We’re working our assess off, honestly. We’re utilizing tools that previous generations didn’t have. We’re utilizing social media,” said David Hogg, a senior who said he was flying to Los Angeles Monday to be on “Dr. Phil.” “We’re using as many media outlets as we possibly can.”

But Hogg acknowledged that the tight-knit group, which has organized under the “Never Again” moniker, wasn’t entirely prepared for the task they’ve undertaken. “We have no budget.”

Hogg said the group, by one count as large as 20 students, was looking to possibly hire an accountant or an attorney. Kasky’s father, who is an attorney, said he’s recommending that his son create a limited liability company and post the group’s expenditures on their website. He said the kids’ parents were meeting Monday to strategize how to help, but have mostly stayed out of the way.

“We’re reminding them to eat and drink and sleep, buying them food, schlepping them around when their cars weren’t yet available from the school parking lot. Really very little,” said Jeff Kasky. “Everything that has come out of their mouths is their own. We have no right to tell them what to do [on gun control]. We’re just making sure they don’t melt down and collapse.”

So far, the students have gotten by just fine with a little help from their parents, politicians and their own personalities.

emma gonzalez
Emma Gonzalez, 18, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, urges gun control during a rally in support of gun control at the Federal Building-United States Courthouse on Saturday. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

Emma González, a 18-year-old senior, gave a speech Saturday on the steps of the federal Broward County courthouse that was so rousing it was picked up by HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Jaclyn Corin, 17, Stoneman Douglas’ junior class president, worked with state Senator Lauren Book to coordinate a two-day bus trip to Tallahassee, where 100 students are planning to meet with senior lawmakers and members of the executive branch.

“We are so much more powerful than anyone thought we would ever be, and it’s only the beginning,” said Corin, who asked Book to push back the start of the event in order to attend a friend’s funeral. “It’s only been a few days, and this has already spread across the world. And we have our whole lives ahead of us.”

But it’s a daunting task beset by pitfalls. Hogg, among the first students to begin speaking out on news programs after the shooting, has already been attacked by a conservative blog for being outspoken. And on Sunday, following a series of interviews at a Coral Springs park to roll out their plans for a national march, the group argued and split, leaving pizza boxes behind after receiving what Kasky described as a vague threat.

“We need each other, and without each other, the GOP and the NRA and [accused school shooter] Nikolas Cruz win,” he said.

Kasky’s father said there’s talk about bringing in Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit formed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to help with some organizing. But he said the students are driving the train, and the adults are just helping to keep it on the track.

Book, the state senator who is helping to organize the Tallahassee trip and paying out of pocket to help fund some of it, said she organized the event after Corin told her over the phone that she wanted to get Stoneman Douglas students to Tallahassee. Book said she’s eager to help, but is conscious that the students are vulnerable and less than a week removed from an unspeakable tragedy.

“While they want to advocate, we also want to make sure they’re in a safe space and not being utilized for politics,” Book said.

For the students involved, activism has become a part of coping. Adam Alhanti, a 17-year-old junior, said he and his classmates are taking solace in the fight for gun control.

“Obviously our politicians don’t want to do anything about it,” he said. “So the young ones are gonna be the ones to change this world.”

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