A Year After the Parkland Shooting, the Student Movement is Not Going Anywhere: A Reflection

Photography/Miami Herald

Photography/Miami Herald

Editor’s Note: This article was written by past Defiant writer Dani Miller.

This last year has been a whirlwind for young people. It’s been one year since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), and never in my lifetime have I seen such an unstoppable force of youth demand that the world pay attention to what we have to say. Spearheaded by the brave MSD students who turned their trauma into a call to action immediately after the tragedy, young people of all different backgrounds have come together to say enough is enough, and congress is listening. We have accomplished a lot in a year, but we still have a long way to go.

Feb 14, 2018 was supposed to be a day about love, flowers, and chocolate, but after a gunman entered a school, killing 17 people and injuring more, everyone's heart in America was broken. This was not the first school shooting that we had seen, and perhaps that was the problem. MSD was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We were tired of mourning. We were done with candlelight vigils and makeshift memorials. We were sick of thoughts and prayers. After MSD, we, the youth of America, declared to do everything in our power to stop the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence.

Boy, have we held ourselves to that promise. In the past year, students all over the nation have registered thousands of kids to vote. We held the largest student walkouts in American History. We, along with a million other people, attended a student led protest against gun violence. We called out politicians to their face. We practically bankrupted the National Rifle Association. We lobbied members of congress for ambitious but common sense gun control legislation. We have made a permanent mark on our nation, and that is something to be proud of.

Here are the facts:  According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)Youth voter turnout for the 2018 Midterm elections exceeded the 2014 Midterms by ten percentage points. According to the Giffords Law Center, 11 states passed laws in 2018 that restrict gun access to people linked to domestic violence, and eight states, plus the District of Columbia, created ways to temporarily keep guns from dangerous or “at risk” people. For the first time in over a decade,legislation that would expand background checks nationwide passed the house judiciary. Florida Rep. Ted Deutch recently introduced legislation to ban high capacity magazines. People said we would disappear after midterms. Not only are we still here, but we are making tangible change.

All of this could not have happened a year ago. This goes to show that youth are powerful. When we amplify our voices, we take back our power and shape our country. We have come a long way in a year and there is a lot for us to be proud of. At best, our movement will save lives.

However, in the words of a wise fictional character, with great power comes great responsibility. When we are given the chance to amplify ones voice, it is important to consider who’s voice we choose to amplify. Consciously or not, our movement has uplifted the voices of the affluent

white community while almost wholly ignoring other minorities and their proximity to gun violence.

In a documentary for the Huffington Post, black MSD students meditated on the fact that while their white counterparts were getting international press attention, their story was wholly ignored.

“The trauma that hurt me the most was being held at gunpoint by an officer that was in pads and a bulletproof vest,” one student said, “A lot of black students deal with that trauma… [and] it’s heartbreaking that that narrative is never being brought up.”

Another student said people are often surprised to find out that there are any black students at all at this notorious high school.

As effective as our movement has been, if we’re not fighting for everyone, it is not successful. Activism that is not intersectional is dangerous, and can be just as harmful as no activism at all. The fact that the narrative of black students, at MSD and around the country, has been shoved to the back burner so white kids are given a platform, and the fact that the leadership in this movement has a very singular, white face, is counter-intuitive at best, and shameful at worst.

In our country, black people deal with gun violence at much higher rates than any other minority demographic. The rate increases as one factors in even more intersections of identity. For example, trans woman of color are victims of the highest rates of gun violence of anyone in the country. Not only that, but there has been a movement against gun violence way before affluent white kids got involved; and that was the Black Lives Matter Movement. People have been on the front lines fighting for their lives, yet the media, and member of congress turned a blind eye, and painted their stories with a much different brush.

While MFOL activists are getting accepted to top universities, BLM activists are mysteriously dying and nobody is covering it. There is a clear disparity in narratives between these two necessary movements and if we don’t work to amplify the voices of those most affected by gun violence, we are not using our platform responsibly.

As we reflect on this past year and celebrate our progress, I hope that we, the students, will work to make the gun violence prevention movement more intersectional going forward. We need to elevate voices other than our own and fight for legislation that will save everyone's lives, not just ours. Then and only then can we truly call our movement successful.