Hooray for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida! Everyone’s heard about the 19-year-old former student who walked into the school with a legally purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and killed 17 people–mostly students. I cannot begin to imagine what those survivors experienced. Yet they did their best to push the horror of the shooting aside, and they stepped with determination right into the middle of the sticky gun control discussion.
The kids went to see the Florida lawmakers to insist that something be done to prevent such massacres in the future. “Yes, yes,” everyone was quick to say. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Really? Well, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much. The kids ignored the rhetoric and demanded action. Real, concrete solutions.
So mere days after the murder of their friends, Stoneman Douglas High School students harnessed their pain and led the charge in the gun control debate. Their intensity and heartfelt determination forced Florida to change laws that had seemed immovably sealed in cement. They also went to Washington D.C. where they were welcomed with the same “thoughts and prayers” line, but didn’t get the answers and agreements they sought.
They also help town hall meetings. In February, one young man made headlines when, during a CNN Town Hall, he called out U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s donations from the National Rifle Association.
Two dozen students wearing matching “March For Our Lives: Road to Change” T-shirts announced the tour at a news conference at Parkland Amphitheater, where the students just months ago held a vigil for the 17 killed in the rampage.
Now the school year is over, and many of those active student leaders have graduated. But don’t be fooled. They are just getting started. They’re giving up summer jobs and vacations to tour the nation for a drive to get out voters–especially the young ones who don’t usually get involved. They will be traveling on a 20-state bus tour encouraging millions of voters to cast ballots in the midterm elections.
Yes, it is a change from their original platform of gun reform. Or maybe not. Perhaps what is really needed to achieve real gun reform is to get disinterested citizens energized about voting.
“Real change is brought about by getting out there and making sure we’re holding our politicians accountable by voting, getting those out of office that don’t represent us the way they said they would,” said Cameron Kasky, who just graduated. “And getting those into office that are going to be morally just and represent the people.”
If this reminds you of the Freedom Summer, the volunteer campaign in the summer of 1964 to try to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi, you’re right. That was organized by civil rights groups, including the most active one — the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Their goal was to expand black voting through registration, participation, and education in the South.
The Parkland students’ tour will include stops at rallies, round tables, churches and schools, said Emma Gonzales–another leader. The tour will have 75 stops, including caucus states like Iowa and South Carolina.
“We support policy over people. We do not endorse any candidates,” student leader Chris Grady said. As for the one policy or message the teens most want to promote: “Vote,” he said. “Vote!”
I say, “Amen, teens! Lead on!”