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Mar 19 2018
by Rina Lee

The Student-Activists Behind #NeverAgain and #MarchForOurLives

By Rina Lee - Mar 19 2018
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On March 24, 2018, thousands of Americans will join the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a protest called “March for Our Lives” to press lawmakers to enact tougher gun-control reforms and school safety measures.

“Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school,” its mission statement pronounces. “Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives." 

The planning for this demonstration comes in the wake of the deadly school shooting on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Armed with a legally-purchased semi-automatic rifle, multiple magazines and smoke grenades, 19-year old former student Nikolas Cruz had entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) and opened fire for six minutes, leaving 17 dead and another 17 critically injured in what is now known to be one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history.

Amidst the heartbreaking grief and anguish that followed, however, there are also undeniable sentiments of deep anger and bitter disappointment.

“I believe this was a tragedy that could have been avoided,” a sophomore at Florida State University told Fresh U. “It was like watching a train wreck. You know something’s going to happen – you just don’t know when. But the conductors aren’t listening.”

“We’ve been pressing for gun control legislation for years now,” another student remarked. “How many more mass shootings will it take for some people to listen?”

According to USA Today, several students and teachers who had fled the school told reporters that they had always been aware that Cruz possessed guns.

Jim Gard is a math teacher at MHDHS who had taught Cruz in the past.

"We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” Gard stated in the Miami Herald. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

There had been numerous warning signs, according to the Washington Post. In February 2016, the Broward County sheriff received a report from an unnamed neighbor whose son stated that Cruz had posted a photo of himself with guns on Instagram, claiming that he planned to “shoot up the school”. Furthermore, in September 2017, the FBI was notified about a YouTube user called "nikolas cruz” who had written about becoming a “professional school shooter”. Finally, in January 2018, just one month before the fatal shooting, the FBI received a direct complaint from “a person close to Nikolas Cruz” who was worried about Cruz “getting into a school and just shooting the place up”. The caller further expressed concerns about Cruz’s “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting”.

All these red flags had been ignored.

“If only, what if, just maybe – those are the thoughts that have been running through my head since February 14,” the sophomore at Florida State University continued. “But there’s no going back now, is there? There’s only one thing left to do – make sure that we do everything we can to prevent another shooting from ever happening again. Because if this doesn’t show us all the issues we are currently facing with regards to gun control, I don’t know if anything else can.”

This was exactly what the survivors at MSDHS thought.

A mere four days after the fatal Parkland shooting, a group of students who had survived the attack created the #NeverAgain movement to demand tighter regulations and stricter background checks for all gun buyers.

They were quick to take action; in less than a week from its inception, the student-activists behind #NeverAgain had already traveled to Tallahassee to call for new laws and to force a solutions-driven debate. Within three weeks, the Florida Legislature voted against the National Rifle Association for the first time in 20 years, and passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, allocating around $400 million to raise the minimum age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21; establish waiting periods and background checks; provide a program for the arming of some teachers and the hiring of school police; and ban bump stocks and potentially violent or mentally unhealthy people arrested under certain laws from possessing guns.

This stunning victory was just the beginning for the MSDHS student-activists, however. With the nationwide #MarchForOurLives protest scheduled for next Saturday, the leaders of #NeverAgain are busier than ever.

But who are they? Who are these passionate teenagers who have finally, at long last, catalyzed the conversation for legislative gun-control reforms? Who are these dedicated student-activists who have helped inspired so much change throughout the nation?

1. Cameron Kasky

Instagram

Cameron Kasky is the initial founder of the #NeverAgain movement. A MSDHS junior and a “theater kid” with a reputation for being the class clown, Kasky took to Facebook to voice his thoughts and opinions immediately after the massacre.

“I’m safe,” he posted after he was picked up from the shooting by his father. “Thank you to all the second amendment warriors who protected me.”

As Kasky began reflecting on his horrific experience, desperately hiding in a classroom while listening as those around him were killed or fatally wounded, he grew increasingly frustrated with the current state of the US legislature.

“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?”

He knew he had to do something, and that he needed to work quickly in order to take advantage of the national media attention. The next day, after a candlelight vigil, Kasky invited his friends, Alex Wind and Sofie Whitney, over to his house to start the #NeverAgain movement.

“Working on a central space that isn’t just my personal page for all of us to come together and change this,” he wrote on Facebook. “Stay alert. #NeverAgain.”

The #NeverAgain movement gained rapid momentum on social media, growing by over 35,000 Facebook followers in just three days, and on February 18, 2018, Kasky announced the group's plans for the nationwide #MarchForOurLives protest, scheduled to take place on March 24, 2018.

"The thing that inspired us to create the march was people saying: This is not the time to talk about gun control, this is the time to mourn," Kasky stated on the Ellen Show. "We understand that, so here's the time to talk about gun control: March 24th."

People Magazine has written that as the founder of the #NeverAgain movement, and despite numerous death threats from NRA supporters, "Kasky has committed himself to advancing legislative changes that will make it more difficult for people to get guns, and in the process, has helped inspire advocacy around the cause."

For more information, follow Kasky on Twitter @cameron_kasky.


2. Alex Wind

Instagram

As one of the core founding members of #NeverAgain, Alex Wind, a junior and a drama student at MSDHS, has become one of the most visible student-activists speaking out for gun-violence prevention.

“We’re just trying to create the presence that we, as a community, never want this to happen again, and it never should happen again,” Wind told People Magazine. “It shouldn’t have happened after Columbine, it shouldn’t have happened after Sandy Hook. Now it is us, and it will never happen again. We are determined. We are trying to heal through reaching out to the community and making the world a better place.”

Wind refuses to allow another senseless tragedy from occurring in the US ever again. He was one of the first survivors to criticize Trump’s response to the school shooting, calling out the president to enact tougher gun-control reforms.

“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school,” Trump had tweeted on February 14, 2018.

“Make stricter gun control laws, then,” Wind fired back a few hours later.

Twitter

For more information, follow Alex Wind on Twitter @al3xw1nd.


3. Sofie Whitney

Instagram

Sofie Whitney, a senior at MSDHS, is also one of the initial founding members of #NeverAgain.

“I’ve been there since basically hour one,” Whitney told Buzzfeed News. “Cameron just felt really inclined to make a specific movement. You can’t just make change. You have to be organized.”

Whitney also commented on the inevitable comparison between the shooting at MSDHS and at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012.

"I think the difference between us and Sandy Hook is that those kids weren't old enough to speak their experiences and their tragedy,” she remarked on CNN. “We're running the 'Never Again' movement, we're running March For Our Lives, all student led. And I think it's really symbolic that we're doing it because we're the ones who experienced it.”

For more information, follow Sofie Whitney on Twitter @sofiewhitney


4. Emma Gonzalez

Instagram

Recruited by Cameron Kasky on February 17, 2018, Emma Gonzalez, a MSDHS senior, quickly became one of the most prominent and recognized members of #NeverAgain. Her impassioned speech at the Fort Lauderdale gun-control rally on February 18 – which she had written the day of – is widely regarded as the defining moment of the event and a key driving factor of the group’s early movements.

“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, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting,” Gonzalez told the crowd. “And how about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the student's fault, the fault of the people who let him buy the guns in the first place (…) To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.”

“Shame on you,” the crowd echoed.

“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS,” Gonzalez continued. “They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

Her speech, unsurprisingly, went viral, helping to draw worldwide attention to #NeverAgain and stirring thousands to action. 

“This is how I’m dealing with my grief,” Gonzalez explained in the New Yorker. “The thing that caused me grief, the thing that had no right to cause me grief, the thing that had no right to happen in the first place, I have to do something actively to prevent it from happening to somebody else.”

For more information, follow Emma Gonzalez on Twitter @Emma4Change.


5. David Hogg

Instagram

Also recruited by Kasky on February 17, 2018, David Hogg is a passionate seventeen-year-old student-journalist at MSDHS who has received nationwide praise for his firsthand interview that he conducted onsite and in real time as the deadly shooting occurred.

On February 14, 2018, Hogg found himself huddled in a cramped closet with his classmates as Cruz unleashed a torrent of bullets upon the MSDHS staff and students.

One by one, as his peers began quietly calling their parents, telling them how much they loved them, Hogg decided to pull his phone out as well – but not to make a phone call. To film. To tell a story that needed to be told.

Though he did not yet know whether they would live or die, Hogg did recognize that this moment was one that needed documenting -- if not for him to report, then for the survivors and the lawmakers to understand how desperately the country needs to implement reforms to prevent another mass shooting from ever happening again.

"If I was going to die, I wanted to die doing what I love, and that's storytelling," he told CNN. "And this is a story that needed to be heard. (…) At least our echoes, our voices would carry on and possibly make some action."

There, desperately hiding from the pounding bullets and the screams of the injured, Hogg began interviewing the MSDHS students around him.

"I want[ed] to show these people exactly what's going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education," he explained. "That's not OK, and that's not acceptable and we need to fix that."

Hogg has since turned to the media to help spread the role of the #NeverAgain student-activists as survivors in the shooting, as well as to voice their opinions on gun control and gun violence, and has conducted numerous interviews on CNN and CBS, calling on elected officials to pass gun control measures.

Contrary to accusations that he is in favor of repealing the Second Amendment, however, Hogg commented on CNN that he doesn’t "want to take a constitutional right away from American citizens." Instead, he believes in the right to own a gun, provided that the holder is mentally stable, does not have previous major convictions and is "not going to go out and commit these atrocities."

"We have a right to live, just as we have a right to bear arms," Hogg pressed.

For more information, follow David Hogg on Twitter @davidhogg111.


6. Sarah Chadwick

Instagram

Another vocal member of the #NeverAgain movement, Sarah Chadwick, a junior at MSDHS, has recently taken to vigorously amplifying the group's gun-control platform through fiery, acerbic and wittingly sarcastic tweets that have drawn global attention on social media.

She publicly slammed Senator Marco Rubio on February 22, 2018 after his inability to provide a direct answer to Kasky's question, "Can you tell me you won't accept a single donation from the NRA?" 

Twitter

For all her sharp sarcasm and humor, however, there is always an important underlying message to all of Chadwick's tweets. 

"Never again should a child be afraid to go to school," she told Fox News. "Never again should students have to protest for their lives."

"'Be the change you wish to see in the world' - that quote is plastered high on a staircase in douglas," Chadwick further expanded in a tweet. "I read it everyday while walking to class, and now I'm here truly trying to be a change in the world."

For more information, follow Sarah Chadwick on Twitter @Sarahchadwickk


7. Jaclyn Corin, Adam Alhanti and Delaney Tarr 

Instagram

Other dynamic members of #NeverAgain include Jaclyn Corin, Adam Alhanti and Delaney Tarr. Since February 14, 2018, their Twitter accounts have been tirelessly active with retweets showing support, links to their appearances that amplify their message, and various other useful, relevant news items.

For more information, follow them on Twitter @JaclynCorin, @AAlhanti and @delaneytarr.


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," the #NeverAgain movement has committed itself to ensuring that the world will never again have to witness another senseless tragedy. 

On March 24, 2018, join these empowered youth leaders and student-activists, alongside thousands of others throughout the US,  on the upcoming nationwide #MarchForOurLives protest that will demand tighter regulations and stricter background checks for all future gun buyers.

The time for action has come.

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Rina Lee - University of Toronto

Rina is an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and the associate editor at Fresh U. You can contact her at rina@freshu.io.

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