When I looked down at my phone last Wednesday to see the notification reading “17 dead in Florida school shooting,” like so many other young people who have grown up under the dark cloud of consistent mass shootings, I thought the same cynical thoughts that have become routine for me.
There will be a week of empty arguments, with Democrats halfheartedly pushing for tougher gun control legislation with no hope of actually achieving it, while Republicans respond by offering “thoughts and prayers” and saying it is not the time to have that conversation. I assume that nothing will be done, and another shooting will happen, where we will repeat the same cycle.
If nothing was done in 2012, after 20 children were slaughtered in their first grade classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or in 2016, when 49 people were murdered in what they thought was a safe space at Pulse Nightclub, or even in 2017, when 58 were killed in Las Vegas while innocently enjoying a concert, then what tragic event needs to happen for change to occur?
The response to this shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a disturbed man murdered 17 people, feels different. Yes, there are still the candlelight vigils, memorials, and mourners, but there are also students who are making their voices heard in support of tougher gun control.
Many of the students are speaking out against lawmakers who claim that nothing could have been done to prevent the shooting while accepting millions of dollars in donations from the National Rifle Association, through protests and rallies. Two nationwide school walkouts are planned for March 14 and April 20, and a march is planned for March 24. These actions will be in solidarity with the victims killed in the shooting and to support enacting stronger gun control in the United States. Young people, led by the students of Douglas High, are using their voices to stand up for our right to attend school without fear that we could be murdered at any second, a right that we should not have to fight for in the first place.
In a speech given at a rally outside a federal courthouse, Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez called on lawmakers to take action on gun control.
“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice,” Gonzalez said. “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS.”
Student journalist David Hogg, a senior at Douglas High, who documented his experience during the shooting, also called for action to be taken in an interview with CNN.
“I want to show these people exactly what’s going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education,” Hogg said. “Let’s make some compromises and save some children’s lives.”
“We are going to be the last mass shooting,” Gonzalez declared in her speech. Of course, achieving the necessary gun control is still an uphill battle, especially when, as Gonzalez vocalized, the NRA donates tens of millions to lawmakers every year. But this surge in student-led activism is something new; something that could mark the end of the cynical passivity that has become the mindset of so many.
The student activists in Florida, and the planned walkouts, rallies, and protests they have inspired across the United States, could be the watershed moment for a larger movement for stricter gun control. In order for change to occur, there must be a glimmer of hope, and for the first time, this cycle of violence that has loomed over the nation for generations seems like it could finally be broken, and I hope it will be.
As young people, we often feel powerless. While we care deeply about many causes, it’s hard to get involved when we don’t know how to, or we lack the resources available to adults. Protests, walkouts, and rallies are vehicles to make a real difference without needing the ability to vote, or having large sum of money to donate.
However, for a protest to be effective, there must be mass participation. Gandhi famously said that silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly. If a majority of people who agree with the cause choose to remain silent, nothing will be done, and the issues will persist.
The Parkland students have lit a spark, but if it fizzles out, it will be a waste of a rare opportunity to start a fire. We can’t let it be wasted.