The Kids are Alright: Parkland students set example for powerful activism

Photo courtesy of Slate.

Photo courtesy of Slate.

Callie Grober, Opinion Editor

Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Columbine. Red Lake. These names are all too well-known in our country. Americans have become so used to school shootings that the aftermath inevitably follows a three step pattern. First, grief and terror ripple throughout the country in the wake of the shooting. Second, anti-gun activists attempt to use the situation to persuade politicians to bring about change, while conservative politicians offer their thoughts and prayers, shifting the conversation to mental health or deflecting hard-to-answer questions; before finally, in a matter of weeks, the shooting fades into the background of the news cycle and the nation’s psyche, as America makes no progress in a deadlocked gun control battle.

Now, a new name emerges: Parkland, distinguished from others by the unprecedented social media response from survivors themselves following the shooting. This unique form of activism is innovative and could bring about the change our country so desperately needs; it provides momentum that all American youth should capitalize on in the name of progress.

Parkland students are now speaking out in favor of gun control by using Twitter and  appearing on live TV. They’ve confronted many politicians and conservative figures with a new kind of ferocity, lead a town hall meeting hosted by CNN, spoke at rallies and organized marches– all within 10 days of the brutal massacre of 17 of their peers.

One notable student leading the fight against gun violence — and it is definitely a fight in which these students have to prove, over and over again, that they should be taken seriously — is Emma Gonzalez. The 18 year old gave a powerful, impassioned speech at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale, just two days after the Parkland shooting, proudly proclaiming that “[They] are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because… we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

After previous mass shootings, parents of victims have advocated for stricter gun control, but to have students themselves vigorously speaking out is a new phenomenon — one that is very powerfully energized by the students’ first-hand experiences. It should not take grieving students vowing to fight gun violence themselves – because politicians are incapable or unwilling – to spur our government into action; Congress should have done something after the first mass shooting. Yet, here we are, with no meaningful change in law or policy, after roughly 150 mass shootings in the United States– and they are becoming deadlier and deadlier.

To all of those passionate about change in any political area: follow the example of the Parkland students. Be inspired by their courage and pursue change on your terms, as those from Parkland did. Walk out in the face of the government, and your school’s administration, even if they threaten suspension. Don’t let yourself be silenced; your voice is perhaps one of the most powerful tools you possess: use it!

The Parkland students are much more than the traumatized children that some have attempted to dismiss them. They are using their voices to step in where our own government has been dodged responsibility and failed society insufficient. When leaders act like children, children become the leaders we need.