Spotlight On: Youth with the Power to Speak Up
“The activists are grieving, too, but it’s not a coincidence that a disproportionate number of the Never Again leaders are dedicated members of the drama club.“
This powerful article from the New Yorker by Emily Witt is a reminder that even in the darkest times, our work connects to the world around us. In the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we are inspired by the students who are raising their voices and rallying others to join them in making change.
In every workshop, we help our students to develop the confidence and collaboration skills needed to create the kind of world they want to live in. The Unusual Suspects believe that youth have the power to speak up, come together, and change the world.
Photo caption: “David Hogg is one of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, in Parkland, Florida, who started the Never Again movement, to advocate for gun control, after a mass shooting at their school.” Photograph by Jonathan Drake / Reuters
By Sunday, only four days after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, the activist movement that emerged in its aftermath had a name (Never Again), a policy goal (stricter background checks for gun buyers), and a plan for a nationwide protest (a March for Our Lives, scheduled for March 24th). It also had a panel of luminary teens who were reminding America that the shooting was not a freak accident or a natural disaster but the result of actual human decisions.
The funerals continued in Parkland and surrounding cities—for the students Jaime Guttenberg and Joaquin Oliver and Alex Schachter and the geography teacher Scott Beigel—with attendance sometimes surpassing a thousand people. On a local level, at least, the activism did not overshadow the grieving. The tragedy affected this student body of more than three thousand people in different ways: some students lost their closest friends, others hallway acquaintances. And the student leaders knew, with the clarity of thought that had distinguished them from the beginning, that the headline-industrial complex granted only a very narrow window of attention. Had they waited even a week to start advocating for change, the reporters would have gone home.
Also, different people express grief in different ways. The activists are grieving, too, but it’s not a coincidence that a disproportionate number of the Never Again leaders are dedicated members of the drama club. Cameron Kasky is a theatre kid. Before he went on Anderson Cooper, he was best known as a class clown. “I’m a talker,” he told me. “The only thing I’ve had this whole time is the fact that I never shut up.” Kasky started writing Facebook posts in the car after he and his brother, who has special needs, were picked up after the shooting by their dad. “I’m safe,” he wrote in the first, posted two hours after the shooting. “Thank you to all the second amendment warriors who protected me.” For the rest of the day, in between posts about missing students and recalling the experience of hiding in a classroom with his brother, Kasky’s frustration grew: “Can’t sleep. Thinking about so many things. So angry that I’m not scared or nervous anymore . . . I’m just angry,” he wrote. “I just want people to understand what happened and understand that doing nothing will lead to nothing. Who’d have thought that concept was so difficult to grasp?”
The social-media posts led to an invitation from CNN to write an op-ed, which led to televised interviews in the course of the day. “People are listening and people care,” Kasky wrote. “They’re reporting the right things.” That night, Thursday, after the candlelight vigil ended, Kasky invited a few friends over to his house to try to start a movement. “Working on a central space that isn’t just my personal page for all of us to come together and change this,” he posted. “Stay alert. #NeverAgain.” He had thought of the name, he later told me, “while sitting on the toilet in my Ghostbuster pajamas.” In early interviews Kasky had criticized the Republican Party, but he and his friends had decided since that the movement should be nonpartisan. Surely everyone—gun owner or pacifist, conservative or liberal—could agree that school massacres should be stopped. The group stayed up all night creating social-media accounts and trying to figure out what needed to be said, “because the important thing here wasn’t talking about gore,” Kasky said on Sunday. “It was talking about change and it was talking about remembrance.” It was then that they decided to petition for more thorough background checks. As Alfonso Calderon, a co-founder of Never Again, who was there that night, told me, “Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at my school, was reported to the police thirty-nine times.” He added, “We have to vote people out who have been paid for by the N.R.A. They’re allowing this to happen. They’re making it easier for people like Nick Cruz to acquire an AR-15.”