Stories From Parkland: How South Floridians Are Spurring Change
Living here, anywhere in South Florida, means none of us are too far from what happened in Parkland. Just about everyone who lives here knows someone who was there that day, or has family, or friends, or a neighbor with a personal tale that brings a face, right there in your life, to heartbreak.
But since then, something happened that hasn’t come out of the many other mass shootings in this country. A call for change. A mass wave of activism. A few teenagers who went from college applications to cable news interviews.
Whether you agree with the protests, whether you think their message of smart gun control makes sense, it’s no doubt inspiring to see kids so undeterred by a system that seems rigged against them. In fact, it seems they’re downright spurred on by any attempt to hold them back.
More than just the protests, though, there’s also the money raised, the events organized, the outpouring of worldwide support to the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
There are many we could have picked, tales about how people have turned something horrible into a call for good. Here are a few of them.
You’ve probably heard about the speech Emma González gave during the March For Our Lives rally in Washington. But if you haven’t watched it, go ahead and do so now.
It’s already a powerful, impassioned speech about political inaction on gun control and the cost it has taken on students at Parkland and elsewhere. But then she goes silent. She stares straight ahead, off above the 200,000-plus people out in front of her. She seems frozen. Tears roll down her cheeks and collect on the line of her chin.
Even if you’ve seen it before, her gaze is still mesmerizing. Someone comes out at one point and whispers in her ear, checking to see if she’s OK. She just continues, that intense gaze off to the sky. Then an alarm goes off, and she starts again.
“Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
Before all of this, González was already a leader at Marjory Stoneman, serving as president of its Gay-Straight Alliance. She was team leader on a project that sent a weather balloon up past where the atmosphere fades away. During the shooting, she hid in the auditorium for two awful hours.
Afterward, she quickly became a voice for the victims, accusing those who backed the NRA of “funding the killers.” Her main message, though, has been reasoned—make it harder to obtain assault weapons and the large-capacity magazines that make them so deadly. She was among the loudest voices urging action by the Florida Legislature, which in March 2018 passed a series of new laws, including raising the minimum age for buying guns to 21.
Her most well-known moment, the one that went viral, seen now on posters and T-shirts and buttons, perhaps a rallying cry for an entire generation, is a simple recognition of mistruths and lies in politics: “We call BS.”
Road to Change Tour – March for Our Lives
It might have seemed like the kids from Parkland hit their peak at the March 24 rally in Washington. Beyond just the hundreds of thousands of people who showed up that day, 800 similar events were held across the country on the same day.
Then the Parkland kids announced they’d go national. The Road to Change Tour – March for our Lives embarked on June 15 on a two-month trip across the country. The students signed up voters in every congressional district in Florida, visited 50 cities and hit across 20 states.
They honed in on places where the NRA holds the most sway, Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky told reporters during an announcement in March. They also visited cities they knew were plagued by gun violence, like the first stop in Chicago. On their fifth stop, 50 kids from Parkland organized a student walk-out in Janesville, Wisconsin, and visited the home office of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Parkland’s Matt Deitsch told reporters: “What we are trying to accomplish boils down to an acronym, it’s REV: register, educate, vote. We are trying to register as many young voters as we can, educate them about why this issue is important and why they need to stand up now before it happens to them.”
In Milwaukee, 500 people attended a town hall organized by the Parkland students, and local kids spoke about how they had become numb to the sound of gunshots in their city. Local kids in Williamstown, Massachusetts, joined the Parkland students to talk about how life changed since the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut and the lockdown drills and active-shooter scenarios that define life even for elementary students.
The tour also sparked similar protests and gatherings elsewhere, like one held in Tampa this summer. “After the Parkland shootings, I saw David Hogg and all of these influential Parkland students standing up for what they believe is right. I realized that I totally could do that too and wanted to get involved,” Macy McClintock, a high school senior, told Politifact.
" Since the time that I came out here, It has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. "
Near the end of the tour, Kasky told Politico Magazine: “I believe that as long as the American people are able to defeat their apathy, which fortunately has been, I think, receding this year as more and more people are realizing the importance of this election, there will always be momentum in the push for effective change in this country. The students at Stoneman Douglas, we didn’t expose the country to the gun violence problem. Everybody knew about that. What we did effectively was, we shined a light on just how rigged the game is, especially when it comes to money from special interest groups. Now, more and more people are really looking into this and saying, ‘This is where my politician is taking money from.’ I believe that has effectively become more of a concern than ever, and as long as politicians continue to be unjust, it will always be.”
Actions for Change
A group of parents whose kids had been inside Douglas had a pretty simple idea: a food and music festival to serve as a fundraiser. Maybe they’d get a few famous chefs and musicians.
The results they got, for an inaugural festival, were downright astounding. The confirmed chefs included Chicago’s Art Smith, Philly’s Marc Vetri, Mexico City’s Gabriela Camara and Miami’s Brad Kilgore. The musical acts were no less impressive: Nahko, Skip Marley, Spearhead and headliner Michael Franti. Students from Parkland performed alongside them on stage.
“It has been really, truly, amazing,” says Doug Zeif, one of the parents helping to organize it and father of two Douglas survivors.
The event, which they called Actions for Change, was held on Sept. 30 at Pine Trails Park. It served as a fundraiser for two of the main non-profits started by survivors and their families, Shine MSD and Change The Ref, founded by the parents of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver. They planned to sell 3,000 tickets at $150 each this year, with long-term goals to grow it to 10,000 people in 2019. Maybe it could become regular events, with the next one possibly held this spring. Or maybe it could be a series held across the country.
“Our family was one of the lucky ones, and so now we’re focused on seeing Actions for Change being a way to jumpstart a change toward ending gun violence,” Zeif says.
The goal of the festival, and maybe whatever events follow it, is simple, Zeif says, “Out of this tragedy, we’re all focused on the families.”
Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund
In just six months after the Parkland shooting, the fund set up to help the victims raised money quicker than perhaps any such effort ever.
Nobody keeps track of records regarding such fundraising efforts, but consider this: 36,000 people contributed $10.5 million in half a year.
It was such a stunning figure that the Broward Education Foundation, which had set up the fund, put together a steering committee of some major heavy hitters, including its chairman, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.
“It’s an amazing story of support from people across our community and nation,” LeMieux says.
The committee spent the summer meeting with families of the victims and others who survived, holding town halls and meeting with citizens’ groups where anybody could offer advice on how to split up the money. They listened to stories about how teenagers watched friends bleed out or how one hiding spot just happened to be luckier than another.
In July, the committee oversaw distribution to victims. Families of the 17 killed split $6.8 million. Those injured in the shooting shared $1.63 million, depending on how many nights they spent in the hospital. The students and faculty in building No. 1200, where the shooting occurred, would get checks of $2,500. Everyone else who was on campus that day—1,048 students and employees—got $1,000.
Many of the students and employees will likely have years of counseling, and for some perhaps the money will simply be needed to pay for what’s not covered by insurance. For the injured, the money may cover lost wages and medical bills. Others told the committee they wanted the money to move from Parkland, to try to put it behind them.
“This gives them some freedom to change their lives for the better, to put one foot in front of the other,” LeMieux says.
Lonny Anger’s daughter texted him from a closet inside Douglas. “Daddy, I’m scared,” she wrote. The feeling of helplessness and fear he had that moment are now burned into Anger.
It would take hours before he’d know for sure his daughter was getting out of that closet. Not long after, she was one of the students who produced “Shine,” a powerful song about overcoming and moving beyond what happened.
The song gained so much popularity that it helped kick start Shine MSD Inc., a non-profit dedicated to using the arts to help kids heal from such tragedies. Last summer, the organization held a summer camp for Douglas students. They took music, drama and art classes, and met with therapists, with 30 kids per sessions that lasted a half month.
“It really provided them a safe haven,” says Anger, who serves as a vice president for Shine MSD. In his day job, he’s president at an industrial management company.
The group hopes to hold the camp again next summer for Douglas students, but it’ll need to raise $150,000 by then to see it happen. Anger says it’s something that’s undoubtedly still needed, with many of the kids still suffering. For his daughter, the night before the first day of school wasn’t easy, and then you couldn’t blame her classmates for freaking out when somebody pulled the fire alarm.
“You’re never going to be cured from this,” Anger says. “It’s something that’s going to stick with them.”
At every turn, they’ve come for David Hogg.
After he survived Parkland, Hogg became a face of a movement for reasonable gun control. Then the conspiracy theorists hit hard. They laughably accused him of being a paid actor, questioned the former FBI credentials of his father, and in what some have suggested was attempted murder, called in a fake hostage situation at his home, trying to trigger a SWAT team assault.
Through all of it, Hogg has persisted, and in many cases become that much more committed. When Fox News host Laura Ingraham tried to bully Hogg off the pulpit, he fired back. Ingraham had tweeted about how four colleges had allegedly rejected Hogg, who returned fire by suggesting her advertisers should drop the show. And they did.
Later, Hogg went on CNN, where the anchor asked him, “It seems like you have a lot of power at the moment. I’m just wondering how you feel about all this.”
“I think it’s great that corporate America is standing with me and the rest of my friends, because when you come against any one of us, whether it be me or anyone else, you come against all of us,” he said with the confidence of a lifetime orator.
And yet, in April he will be just 19. He will also be a video blogger with well over a million views on YouTube. The book he wrote with his sister, Lauren, “#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line,” landed on the best-seller list. Despite Ingraham’s ridiculous tweet, multiple universities accepted Hogg, who says he’s taking a year off first. He can’t run for Congress legally until he’s 25, so until then he says he’s planning his campaign.
During the tragedy at Parkland, Hogg and others were inadvertently running right toward the shooter before a janitor stopped them. Hogg says it saved his life, and it’s a moment he has replayed behind microphones and during TV interviews, in which he offers measured, fact-filled arguments. You might not agree with him, but he makes a level-headed case for compromise.
During the CNN interview about the Ingraham incident, Hogg repeated that he didn’t want the Parkland movement to be about the latest tweetstorm. “I’m not the issue here,” he said. “The issue needs to be gun violence in America.”