The chilling sound of an assault rifle, of shots being fired and rising to a crescendo in classrooms, is all too common for students across the nation who grew up practicing active shooter drills at school. But from moments of anguish and moments of silence, the students who were left scared and bereaved, are now empowering the nation.
Following the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland, Fla., student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have taken to social media, made speeches, and condemned politicians for America’s lax gun laws. The rest of the world has followed in their direction.
The #NeverAgain student-led movement has aggregated the voices of people touched by the cold grip of gun violence in hopes of inspiring a new momentum of change, of deviating from society’s inclination to accept the status quo.
— Shomari Stone (@shomaristone) March 24, 2018
On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington D.C., and in cities around the world to partake in the March for Our Lives rally, where resilience thrived through testimonies from survivors and victims.
Children and adults carried signs with poignant messages – of fear, solidarity, and rage.
Damaris Rivas, a sophomore from Rockville High School in Maryland, felt compelled to attend the rally. After believing the Parkland school shooting would be the last, it happened – again. This time, she explained, it was Great Mills High School and her home state on the news.
“Being here is an opportunity for our voices to be heard. Everything that happened today is a step forward.”
The Parkland students have emerged as agents of change, representing the sleeping giants of an age group referred to as the “mass shooting generation.” In the midst of the massacre, which lasted only minutes, the moments of perpetual fear emboldened students to react–to interview classmates, to deliberate solutions, to create change.
“I’m entranced by it. I’ve been involved in student leadership for a long time and I’ve never seen anything like this. It happened because it had to happen,” said Kyler Gray, a demonstrator and student at the University of Central Florida.
The way this movement has succeeded where others have failed is seen through the sustained news coverage. The timeliness of news shifts the media’s focus, but the Parkland tragedy has outlasted other mass shootings.
Yet many students are grappling with the thought of living in a society that allows, and even normalizes, school shootings. Some stay up at night, preparing for the next day by thinking about all the possible security exits in case of a code red.
Some middle school students, like Molly Lawrence, spend lunchtime discussing hiding places with friends.
“The other day I was in the cafeteria with my friends and we were thinking ‘where would we go if a shooter walks in?’”
Zella Ertl, Molly’s cousin, also lives in fear. “Sometimes, I’m scared. There’s the underlying fear that if I go to the bathroom, I’ll be alone,” she said.
For all the trouble America’s complacency has posed, it has also propelled the world’s younger generation to the forefront. It has reinvigorated society by bringing attention to difficult but necessary conversations; it has assured those doubtful about change and deposited hope back into communities.
After the shock waves, the Parkland students persevered, promising to fix America’s broken system. With thundering voices, they spoke out in tribute to the lives lost. At times, using words that echoed, and then, using silence to send their message.
“Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 25, 2018
United by moments of silence, the Parkland students vowed to create change. They spoke for the voiceless. For the victims that died. For the students who missed out on prom night and graduation. For the educators who will never be able to inspire again. For the families of victims whose worlds were shaken by the rampage that lasted 6 minutes and 20 seconds. They spoke for the future.
Jacob Zonis, a senior at Cavalry Christian Academy, a school that is a couple of miles away from Stoneman Douglas, explained how the shooting changed his community. He said he could never see Valentine’s Day the same or be able to associate Feb. 14 with love again, but that the Parkland movement inspired him to believe in change.
In many ways, the reactions of demonstrators, their fervent outcries and demands, the restlessness of the Parkland students and their ability to mobilize the public, show a different sense of reverence. It transcends outrage and pain. Mostly, it epitomizes resilience.
Matthew Ray, a Cleveland High School senior, described the movement as being representative of the voices that were not used in the past. “The youth is saturated. This movement is saturated. It can’t take anymore. It’s bound for a release and it will drip. We have had enough,” he said.