Another school shooting in America. It hardly seems newsworthy anymore sometimes because it’s becoming so common in my country. This time Parkland, Florida is the city added to the list of other communities where a gun was fired in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, killing 17 people. That’s a list no one wants to be on. But the national conversation around this shooting is turning out to be very different. Is it because the shooter was more imaginative that those before him? No. Is it because it was more students died? It’s true that this was the most deadly massacre since Sandyhook Elementary in Newtown, CT, but no. There is something else distinctly different happening in the media and it has everything to do with the response of the victims themselves.

An Unusual Response

Generally, we have a gruesome routine of reactions to an American mass shooting. People express shock that such a tragedy could happen. Politicians send out statements of “thoughts and prayers” to the families of the victims. Some citizens and a few politicians start to call for stricter gun safety laws. Then, critics accuse gun safety advocates or trying to politicize the conversation and being insensitive to the feelings of victims by wanting to talk about gun policy “too soon” while families still grieve. This loop gets played out over and over again with each deadly shooting. It’s so cliche that we have late night comedy show sketches and parody news articles about it.

But this time, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School have a completely different reaction in 2018 than those from the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 or any other school shooting. They immediately took to social media – some during the actual event – and took the story into their own hands. What we are seeing from these young leaders is extraordinary.

Seventeen-year-old senior David Hogg thought to record footage on his phone during the shooting and spoke passionately to MSNBC within hours. During the shooting, he didn’t know he would survive, so he thought his recorded last minutes might show the world what happened in a way that would actually change things and prevent future tragedies. He told reporters, “We don’t need ideas. We need action. We need action from our elected officials and we need action from the civic public. Because without that, this is going to happen again.” Most people are not so eloquent or composed at any time, much less immediately after an emotional trauma.

Students Use Twitter as a Platform

As the hours passed, more students mobilized. Florida senator Marco Rubio made a very typical statement cautioning against jumping to conclusions before the facts are in. He asserted that it was not appropriate to use the incident as an opportunity to call for increased gun control. When his comments went out via Twitter, several Parkland students used that as an opportunity to directly communicate with their senator. One of them, identified as @sarahchad_, on Twitter sent him this message: “As a student who was inside the school while an active shooter was wreaking terror and havoc on my teachers and classmates with an AR-15, I would just like to say, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

Fox News celebrity Tomi Lahren found herself the target of Parkland students when she tweeted the argument that “the Left” should give time to let families grieve and asserted that the shooting was not a “gun issue.”

“I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

“A gun has killed 17 of my fellow classmates. A gun has traumatized my friends. My entire school, traumatized from this tragedy. This could have been prevented. Please stfu tomi”

Mobilizing for the Future

By Saturday, the students were officially coordinated and mobilized. They held a Rally to Support Firearm Safety Legislation that hit its peak with a fiery speech from Emma Gonzalez that quickly went viral. Speaking forcefully through her tears – voice never wavering – she made it clear that Parkland students were determined to be the last school shooting and the ones we would read about in future textbooks for changing the conversation about gun control.

The rally and social media activity created massive momentum that continues to build. On Sunday, high school junior Cameron Casey and his classmates announced the nationwide “March for Our Lives” to take place on March 24. It will happen in Washington D.C. and around the country in collaboration with Everytown for Gun Safety. So many students contacted gun safety organization Moms Demand Action for Gunsense in America (started after the school shooting in Newtown, CT and affiliated with Everytown) for collaboration that there is now discussion about the advocacy group forming a special student branch. I hope that these savvy teens continue to make giant waves and be an important part of gun policy discussion moving forward. They have already grabbed the narrative and I hope they don’t let go. I think this last tweet sums up their resolve nicely.

@longlivekcx

let it be known that cruz messed with the wrong school. We as students are using social media as a platform to have our voices heard. Let it be known that we are and will be in contact with our legislators and politicians.

Change is now and it is starting with the survivors.

The website for the new student branch of everytown is “Student’s Demand Action” http://act.everytown.org/sign/join-students-demand-action?source=twno_216&refcode=twno_216&utm_source=tw_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=216

Cindy Levin

Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.

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