Amidst Tragedy, Teenagers Rise to the Occasion

By: Lucy Terry | Student Life Editor

March 23, 2018

One month after the Parkland shooting in Broward County on March 14th, students all over the country walked out of their schools at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 victims of the shooting and call for immediate gun reform. This National Walkout Day was student led and pioneered by survivors of the shooting. This revolutionary initiative is sending shockwaves into the heart of American  society and government. 

Students at San Clemente High School line up to speak on National Walkout Day.

The now well-known Emma Gonzalez, Jaclyn Corin, and Cameron Kasky were some of the many outspoken teen leaders involved with the walkout. Emma Gonzalez, only 18 years old, has been one of the most vocal proponents for gun reform and heralded the fight against the NRA and politicians who accept donations from the organization. After an 11 minute speech at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale, Gonzalez has been praised and noted as one of the most visible gun activists of our time, and she now appears on social media and the news advocating for her message. Jaclyn Corin, junior class president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, started the #WhatIf movement with a provocative, passionate video on Twitter that gained 1.4 million views within three days. She was the sole person to organize a trip to the state capitol and ended up gathering a crowd of over 100 peers and chaperones to join her; she has also continuously conducted meetings with Florida Governor Rick Scott and the state’s attorney general to discuss reform. Corin’s friend and fellow student, Cameron Kasky, introduced the #NeverAgain campaign onto Twitter as well, which calls on lawmakers to enact stricter background checks for gun buyers and other reforms to make purchasing a firearm harder than it is now. Kasky and Gonzalez both participated in the CNN #StudentsStandUp Town Hall, in which Kasky called out Senator Marco Rubio for receiving donations from the NRA and Gonzalez demanded to know what NRA representative Dana Loesch thought about making it harder to buy semi-automatic weapons and modifications.

A sea of orange posters held by student protesters.

Sam Chen, a junior at San Clemente High School and gun control activist, says, “As the future, I believe it is our duty to speak out and rise up again injustice—teenagers breaking down barriers between what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ have a voice in is truly the foundation of the future. I’m proud to stand by fellow teen activists in our pursuit of equality and dignity; their actions are making such waves in the political and social sphere.”

All of these students have faced great adversity in the past month. Kasky was sent death threats by NRA members on Facebook, Gonzalez was called a “skinhead lesbian” by a Republican in Maine running for House of Representatives, and all of the activists were called crisis actors. These students have not only suffered tragedy at the hands of a peer, but they’ve endured criticisms from adults who act much more juvenile than they do. Despite this, time and time again, these students rise up and shock us with the power and maturity of their words, seemingly leading more in this troubled time than most of our actual leaders have so far.

“The maturity of these activists is unbelievable,” responded activist Carni Campbell, grade 12. “They have dealt with personal attacks, insults, and accusations for speaking up after they saw their friends and peers murdered. They have turned the adult immaturity into fuel for their requests and future plans. Teens have shown more maturity than many adults in this case which should be a statement in itself to the government. When ‘dumb, self absorbed teenagers’ are educating themselves on gun laws and calling for reform while adults insult them, it is apparent change is needed.”

Many believe that this period of teenage activism is reflective of the 1960s, dominated by countless teen-led civil rights demonstrations. This political activism has transcended decades and manifested itself in our own generation. Once again, the teenagers leading this gun control activism are too young to vote and too young to be taken seriously, but old enough to make their voices heard. We are plenty old enough for the public to demand we act like grown-ups when it suits them and far too young to have such opinions as soon as we take a stand. We have paid our dues and we know our power, it is time we were given our respect. Campbell also recognized the power of youth in a democracy: “These leaders have experienced the repercussions of relaxed gun laws and they are ready for a change so they are making themselves heard. This generation is the next generation that will be voting so it would be catastrophic to politicians’ future political careers if they can’t answer the public’s demand.”

Change is coming. It won’t be a matter of if, rather a matter of when. “I don’t believe the walkout was the definitive beginning of a greater movement, but rather a byproduct,” Chen asserted. “The beginning was students speaking out, whether it be on social media or just to their friends, about the issues in our current political climate—the beginning was when we began to wake up. Greater things are on the horizon.”

 

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