We see this phrase trod out after every mass shooting in America, but little has been done to galvanize citizenry, let alone the legislature, to make impactful changes to gun reform. This is rapidly changing.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, a group of survivors banded together to create a resistance movement. They decided to not let the gun reform conversation drift away into the abyss. #NeverAgain took a new, forceful direction and morphed into the March for Our Lives campaign. This grassroots-organized resistance has a simple Mission Statement: “March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.”
Instead of accepting “thoughts and prayers,” these students took immediate action. They organized a grassroots resistance movement built upon speaking to media outlets, engaging in town hall style debates, and increasing momentum through small victories. This was all followed up by an announcement for a nation-wide March for Our Lives event on March 24, 2018 in Washington D.C.
Just five weeks after the shooting at their school, these young activists organized, planned, and implemented one of the largest youth social movement protests in American history. With some estimates of over 800,00 people marching in Washington D.C., and over 1.2 million total across the United States, the question arises of what has made this resistance movement become so successful where others have failed to gain traction of this magnitude.
While social movement theorists may be divided on how they view the best way to grow resistance, the March for Our Lives organizers have taken this grassroots route explained above. These students understand the importance and power of their collective voice and are using their tragedy to empower themselves and other youth across the nation to become engaged at the local level of politics. The March for Our Lives event itself was fully organized by these students and funded through donations received on their webpage and a GoFundMe page, but the students make it very clear that they plan on keeping their grassroots narrative free from outside influence: “We don’t accept influence. The second we let corruption, greed, and money get involved with this in the wrong sense, we lose track of where we’re going” Cameron Kasky, student activist and Parkland survivor. That “track” of where they are going next is to continue increasing the movement’s momentum, strengthen engagement in local conversations, and further encourage youth to raise awareness of gun violence issues. In effect, they plan to continue building the resistance on the grassroots level.
One of the biggest successes of the movement is their understanding of and focus on intersectionalist ideals. Recognizing the importance of diversity, from 11-year-old Naomi Wadler talking about African-American inclusion, to 17-year-old Edna Chávez gun rights activist in South Los Angeles, to the powerful silence of Emma Gonzalez, an openly bisexual survivor and leader of the March for Our Lives campaign, the vast majority of the speakers at the D.C. event were students passionately speaking out and promoting institutional changes to the system through bringing together voices from different walks of life to share their experiences and create an impetus for change within their generation. The Parkland activists, as said by survivor Jaclyn Corin understand that Parkland has “received more attention because of its affluence, […] but we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.” To take this even further, Parkland survivor Sarah Chadwick recognizes, “If we could use our white privilege to amplify the voices of minorities, then we’re going to use it. The more we ignore it, the worse it gets.” This is a big difference from other organized resistance movements because the inclusion of minorities at a grassroots level has given more power to more voices, which in turn makes the movement more united.
Getting everyone involved, specifically youth, is their desire and how they are framing the future of March for Our Lives. On Saturday, Cameron Kasky said, “The march is not the climax of the movement. It is the beginning.” The next steps of their resistance movement are to establish stronger grassroots organizations and channel this energy into town hall meetings with representatives on 7 April, which falls during Congressional recess. As of the time of writing, these efforts to help students organize have spawned 180 town hall style events (with some representatives holding multiple events) during the month of April. This is what theorists have argued make strong resistance movements and exactly what the Parkland survivors are doing. Using enthusiasm and vigor to get create conduits for action around the nation, these impressive young adults are building up the voices of youth to force change and, as amplify their voices.
As Emma Gonzalez said, “Fight for your life before it’s someone else’s job.”