Issue 14

March For Our Lives

In May 2000, one year after the notorious Columbine School Shooting, three-quarters of million people marched on DC, and listened to a series of speeches delivered by those directly affected by gun violence. They heard from parents who had lost their children in the most unimaginable way, and they were told that they were witnessing the emergence of new era in American gun control.

In a way, they were - however not in the way they imagined. The two decades since the Million Mom March has been a renaissance of sorts for the NRA, who during that period brokered in some of the most relaxed gun-control laws in the world - including open-carry laws and the notorious stand-your-ground law which lead to tragic death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.

In 2018, 122 school shootings after the Million Mom March in DC, young Americans have come to the conclusion that, as apparently well-intentioned as their parents might have been, their efforts have added up to remarkably little with regards to gun control and stemming the near-uniquely American problem of school shootings.

The bizarre frequency of school-shootings in America has led to an unfortunate but understandable jadedness across the rest of the world.

A news notification on your phone - 10 dead in Oregon - 28 dead in Newtown, Connecticut - 17 in Parkland, Florida - swipe away, I’ve read this story before - I’ve read this story so many times before - nothing was changed - nothing has changed - nothing will change. I cannot engage.

Except this time something feels different. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, when 17 high school students were murdered on Valentine's Day by an ex-student, it felt as if the threshold had been breached. The typical narrative of feigned shock, prayers, political stalemate and silence was avoided. Rather than allow this narrative to play out, and merely wait for the next massacre the students of Parkland decided to act. They recognised that the adults in the room, either incapable of making change, or uninterested in making change, were not going to fix the issue - thus the solution to this heinous phenomenon became their concern.

The March for Our Lives movement was born. Spearheaded by survivors from Parkland, and survivors of gun violence across the United States - students, as young as 9 - the movement became the greatest hope in two decades for moving the American gun control debate in the right direction.

On March 24th this year, a student-led demonstration marched on cities across the United States and in sister demonstrations across the globe. In what has been described as the largest student demonstration since the Vietnam War protests of the late 60s and 70s, Emma Gonzalez (18), Edna Chavez (17), David Hogg (17), Naomi Wadler (11), Zion Kelly (16) Cameron Kasky (17), and Yolanda King (9) emerged as the leaders of a 1.2 million strong force to say: ‘Enough is enough - the time for change is now.’

Gonzalez established herself as a potent force for change when she delivered a powerful address at a school walkout, organised by a neighbouring school's students in solidarity with the Parkland victims, just three days after the shooting.

"We 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. Just like Tinker v. Des Moines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students." - Emma Gonzalez

Her speech at the DC rally in March, comprising near 6 minutes of complete silence recalling the period of time it took the shooter to stalk the Parkland High School murdering 17 students, will be held up as the standout piece of oration in the argument on gun control.

David Hogg is another student who has established himself as a central organising figure in the movement. In a recent New Yorker article, Hogg is depicted as the grand conductor and policy wonk of the March for Our Lives group, effectively directing the phenomenon.

Hogg, who has faced down accusations of being a mid-twenties crisis actor, a liar, having his home ‘Swatted’ and numerous other attacks online has shown inspiring spirit tackling and debating politicians like Florida Governor and NRA beneficiary Marco Rubio, and NRA spokesperson, Dana Loesch.

"First-time voters show up 18 percent of the time at midterm elections. Not anymore. Now, who here is gonna vote in the 2018 election? If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking. They’ve gotten used to being protective of their position, the safety of inaction. Inaction is no longer safe. And to that, we say: No more." - David Hogg

The March for Our Lives movement epitomises the 2018 understanding of the term youthquake. It is a monumental, radical shift in society fuelled and driven by young people. Recognising the power and thrust behind the movement, older generations, politicians, celebrities, national media platforms and businesses are stepping in behind the young people, following them, offering them support and allowing them to lead. For many, this time feels different.

In the Era of Self Salvation, when young people are driving lasting and meaningful change – older people who also want to see the world change, are stepping in line and allowing the youth to lead. They recognise that they had the opportunity to change things and didn’t, now it is the new generation’s turn.

The March for Our Lives movement demonstrates clearly that it's no longer: 'The kids are alright.' It's: 'We're alright because of the kids.'

Fionn Rogan