This group — like that underestimated rag-tag band of patriots nearly two and a half centuries ago — want to make it crystal-clear to those who think they’re in charge that the status quo is no longer viable and will no longer be tolerated. (James Coffin, Orlando Sentinel)
The last week I’ve been so distracted I’ve gotten little done. #NEVERAGAIN has taken over my conscience. It has me laser focused on a group of “not-so-rag-tag” teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their every move in their David and Goliath fight against the NRA and the GOP powers that embody the above-mentioned status quo.
It’s now been about two weeks since the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. I’m not going to reiterate the specifics. That’s been done ad nauseam everyday since it happened. But what I am going to do is breakdown these kids’ reaction to what happened – the #NEVERAGAIN movement for gun control.
The day after the massacre, Wednesday, February 14 – the media descended on Parkland like buzzards on fresh kill on the side of the road in Montana. They looked for any teenage survivor who could mutter a coherent sentence. Two that initially stood out were David Hogg and Emma González. The faces of #NEVERAGAIN began to come into focus … even if those being looked at didn’t know it.
As it attempted to pull itself together – the community of Parkland united to hold a rally on Saturday to begin the healing process. As Emma recounted on the Ellen Show last week, “a lady from the school board” asked her if she could give speech at the rally since she had shown composure in front of the cameras over the last two days.
“We Call BS”
At that rally, with pages of notes from her AP Government class in her hand, Emma González, continually wiping away tears – delivered a ten minute oratory that will forever be know as “We Call BS.” With this rousing call to action reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s “I Have Dream” … the #NEVERAGAIN movement was born. The speech highlighted multiple glaring injustices of the status quo leading up to what now looks like the inevitable result being a school shooting massacre. At the end of each, Emma proclaimed, with crowd increasingly joining in – “We Call BS.” This rallying cry was no accident – the four syllables of “We Call BS” was intentional, made to repeated. Very few so-called marketers can hold a candle to González. She held nothing back – everyone was in her sights, especially Trump and the NRA. And each point (centered around gun control and the abolition of assault weapons for civilian consumption) was well documented … unlike those normally spewed by Trump and the NRA.
School shootings are nothing new in the United States. After every one there’s public outcry, groups formed, meetings in Washington called and politicians offer the boilerplate “thoughts and prayers.” But whether it be Columbine, Sandy Hook or any of the many others we’ve forgotten … nothing happens. The NRA draws their line in the sand, which is more or less a return to the Wild West – and Washington cowers. Screams of infringement on the 2nd Amendment drown out any compassion and sensibility.
Now I get the whole NRA influence thing. But aside of being scared that they’ll actually be gunned down … I don’t get the level of fear these politicians exhibit. It’s like reelection plays as hard as basic survival. Will they tumble-down into depths of Dante’s Hell if they lose their perch on the balcony of power of the ivory tower of the capitol? They probably deserve to – but still. It’s just astounding none of these Republicans (and a few Democrats) beholden to the NRA put their integrity and basic respect for human life above their unquenchable thirst for power. But apparently not.
Special interest groups, with the NRA being a poster child, control the fervorous vocal minorities who dictate who wins congressional primaries (especially Republican) in districts that have been gerrymandered to such an extent the general election has been rendered irrelevant. Combine that with the absurd dynamics of the electoral college which awards out-sized influence and Senate power to rural states with small populations and pro-gun conservative agendas … you have the American political climate of today.
Regardless of the reasons, the iron grip the NRA has on this country has literally put us on a path of paranoia and death. And the American public has been complicit in this death spiral. There’s bogeyman under every bed lying in wait … with the only thing that’s going to stop him is an AR-15. To not prepare accordingly is considered criminal. The NRA’s membership of 5 million, parroting platitudes any religious zealot would be proud of, literally controls a country of 330 million. This 2% has hijacked American democracy – and they consider this assault patriotic.
This time it may different though.
David Is Armed And Has The Philistine Is In His Sites
We may have found our David – and he’s in the form of a group of high school survivors of the Parkland shooting who have branded themselves #NEVERAGAIN. This group is headed up by Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and other classmates who are primarily theater students (who I apologize to for not naming them). They have created a campaign like nothing I’ve ever seen. And I’m not just talking about activism. This group of 16, 17 and 18 year olds are waging a war for public opinion as strategically and tactically brilliant as any multi-billion company I can recall.
Even while the media coverage has concentrated on condolences, skepticism of their efforts have been in abundance. References to the failed efforts of Sandy Hook and Columbine seem to litter most conversations. After all, it was adults who organized those efforts and they failed to gain any traction up against the NRA. What could these kids do that the adults couldn’t?
But this is exactly the point. Being kids, specifically survivors of this horrific experience, they represent the exact ones who are most directly affected by this gun nonsense. During the Ellen Show interview Emma proclaimed, “our classwork in school prepared us perfectly for this moment to rise up and make this change.” Their theater experiences prepared them to communicate in public. Their AP social studies classes focused on current events and nuances of the reasons behind them. But probably most of all, their lives have been forged in the world of the internet and social media. Organizing … and organizing now is what their generation is destined to do. God help those who are on the receiving end of it. In this case – it’s the NRA and the politicians that bow down to them.
Within hours of the massacre, those students who didn’t have Twitter accounts, launched them, Emma being one of them. They set up hashtags such as #neveragain and branded their campaign will repeatable catch phrases and continuity – all of which could be repeated in their public appearances. With the foundation of the movement set-up and ready to proliferate, they took to the mainstream media … and the media was all too ready to oblige. And it wasn’t just the main players of the movement in front of the camera. It was Delaney Tarr with her speech at the Tallahassee capitol proclaiming: “we’re coming for you.” It was Ryan Deutsch. It was Cameron Katsky eviscerating Marco Rubio in a CNN Town Hall meeting. These kids were better in front of the camera than the six figure mainstream media hosts interviewing them. And their message was consistent: “get rid of the assault weapons.”
But it wasn’t just the mainstream media. The real power behind #NEVERAGAIN was Twitter. Each of the students quickly begin amassing big followings, several over 200,000. But the gorilla in the room was Emma González. In less than two weeks Emma has amassed over 1 million followers, more than twice as much as the NRA or any of their spokesholes.
These are not just faceless survivors or victims – they’ve become revered personalities to their peer group around the country. Following their tweets, reactions and mentions, we see them as friends, cohorts and especially leaders in this struggle we many of us feel strong about – including me. I can’t even imagine being their age – the camaraderie must intense. It’s not like politicians who seldom make themselves feel real, let alone engage.
Their online messaging and delivery is impressive to say the least. Their approach is creative and varied. Five days ago David Hogg posted a tweet asking for a boycott of Florida for Spring Break until they pass some sort of gun control legislation. That tweet has accumulated 70,000 comments and 61,000 retweets. A multinational corporation couldn’t buy that. And this is just one off-handed tweet by a kid. Welcome to the true power of social media.
The actions of the kids of #NEVERAGAIN have not gone unnoticed by the opposition though. Cameron Kasky deactivated his Facebook account because of death threats. Twitter has a lower character count so the trolls can’t go into such graphic detail, he said. Because of their composure, the kids have been repeatedly called “crisis actors” by the right-wing media and their pundits, such as Fox News. GOP politicians can’t believe kids are behind this and claim the left, such as George Soros, are organizing it. The Democratic party could only hope to organize and execute a campaign so sophisticated and effective. One of the movement’s most effective wordsmith snipers is seventeen year old Sarah Chadwick. She routinely goes after the right’s big hitters, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingram, Ann Coulter, etc.; and decimates them with her wit. After the CNN Town Hall, Chadwick volleyed maybe her most epic of tweet bombs: 300,000 likes and counting!
Or on a more solemn note, Antonio Delotero‘s retort to a right-wing commentator’s criticism – that since it was only days after shooting and they hadn’t even buried their friends, there’s no way they could put this movement together … was spot on and showed who the real adult was.
With the attention the #NEVERAGAIN movement has been getting, donations having been rolling in. Two of the most notable were $500,000 each from both George and Amal Clooney, and Oprah Winfrey. That said, it must be noted that this movement is running on social media and publicity – not money and paid advertising. That’s the brilliance of it. It doesn’t need millions of dollars to make an impact – not like unimaginative politicians seem to think. If #NEVERAGAIN wakes up the political world to other ways of doing things – ways that don’t come with donors and financial springs attached, it’ll be a success. But that’s probably too much to ask for.
To date we’ve seem some legislative movement, or should I say talk about legislative movement. Most of it is mainly posturing for the media and wishful thinking by the GOP hoping that with some vacuous promises and intentions – this effort will just go away like all the other ones. But most of all, the biggest outcome so far is that NRA is looking fallible – and in some cases, outright panicked.
As part of their tactical game plan #NEVERAGAIN is targeting specific people and villainizing them by simply showing who they are. The main NRA spokesperson, Dana Loesch, could not look more evil. Put against Loesch at the CNN Townhall, Emma González began her questioning with a matter-of-fact comment: “Dana Loesch, I want you to know that that we will support your two children – in the way you will not.” Bring it on Emma!
Wayne LaPierre and his other disciples are coming off even more toxic than usual as they attempt to engage these teenagers on their home field of Twitter. Comments directed to the heroes in #NEVERAGAIN containing anything but support are met with thousand of reply flames, often of unflattering personal nature.
But #NEVERAGAIN is still in its infancy, barely home from the hospital (literally and figuratively). The real pressure is yet to come … and that pressure will come from March For Our Lives.
March For Our Lives
Organized, by Junior Class President, and #NEVERAGAIN co-founder, Jaclyn Corin, March For Our Lives will be a march for gun control on Washington D.C. on March 24 and anywhere else where a group chooses organize. Even though the Washington march will be the focus – the real genius behind this will be the organization of the other marches and database they are assembling from it. Having almost four weeks, the millions of #NEVERAGAIN activists are encouraged to not only organize hometown marches … they are being recruited to create and share their own videos of activism under the hashtag #WHATIF. These second tier activists will seep into every community in the country and many around the world. Using the #WHATIF hashtag as an aggregator of the fight against the oppression of the elders, the viral potential is enormous. And with it will be political pressure that will very difficult to ignore, even for the most ardent NRA allies.
It’s About Much More Than Guns
This is not about guns and school safety. Well it is … but it’s about so much more. #NEVERAGAIN is about empowerment. It’s about young people realizing they can create change directly – not just rely on their parents and other adults. #NEVERAGAIN has created a platform that highlights a new sense of adolescent civic self-efficacy.
Our young people are beginning to think they can change the world. They have the tools in social media, unbridled optimism and the energy they never thought could be used in the adult world. They are now finding out the adult world is theirs too. They’re finding out that their parent’s institutions and processes that are bedded in years and years of youth repression are not the only game in town, and their game may very well be more powerful … and they are masters at it. They had the key. They just didn’t know what it opened.
An Open Letter To The Education Overlords
As Trevor Noah said in the above video clip; after Parkland we now know what is possible if we give young people the resources and combine it with their ideals and passion.
Ask yourself, and even more so your school board and district superintendent: “Are you taking steps to create kids like this … or are you looking at young people as just future pawns in the system you created? Do you see them creating their own system? And if so – are you prepared to live in this system they create … or will you respond by just keeping them down – and instead try to hang on to the status quo where you’re the ones in control.
If you are prepared to be part of the solution … ask yourself:
- Are the schools in your community stacked with debate, speech, journalism and theater classes like the ones that prepared the students of Parkland?
- Do your schools teach life – and how to succeed and excel regardless of the discipline each student may desire to pursue?
- Does your district base its idea of success on graduation rates, college acceptance and test scores – or does it look years in the future? Schools routinely espouse inclusion and teaching leadership – but few even know what that means, let alone able show young people the roads to attain it.
- Does your district visualize your community as a function of the future for its students? Do you even try to empathize and look at your community through your students’ eyes? Is your community inviting with opportunities to grow and build a life? And what steps is your community doing to make it that way?
Do your schools empower young people – or they afraid of what may happen if they do? Are they looking for and then nurturing the students to become your local versions of Emma or Sarah or Cameron – the young people who are not only challenging the system – but changing it?
Where your community ends up and how it competes will depend on how you answer these questions. Our young people are not the future – they are today! And if you don’t realize it now, soon enough you will. Because, as Delaney Tarr proclaimed … “we’re coming for you.”