When we look at what has happened in the five months that have passed since the shooting of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took place in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, we’re left with a clear-cut vision of the difference a few people can make in promoting positive change out of the worst of circumstances.
If the situation had played out differently, David Hogg and his sister Lauren would not have survived the shooting, and we would not have the short, gripping first-hand account of the shooting and its aftermath they provide though #Never Again: A New Generation Draws the Line, recently published by Random House.
The basic details have been abundantly covered: 17 students and others on campus that day were killed by a former student. An Instagram video taken and posted by a student and numerous text messages provided some of the earliest, most graphic images and descriptions of what was taking place. The survivors immediately began asking what they could do to help stop the cycle of violence involving shootings on school campuses, followed by meaningless expressions of sorrow and prayer, followed by inaction, and then followed by more shootings. David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) students began meeting within days to create a plan of action, which led to their formation of Never Again MSD (also known as #NeverAgain and #EnoughIsEnough); spawned the global March for Our Lives movement that helped organize events in more than 850 cities worldwide the following month; and has also spawned the Vote for Our Lives movement currently mobilizing young (prospective) voters across the United States in an effort to respond positively to a situation that they—and many of us—feel is completely intolerable and could more effectively be addressed than it has up to this point.
The human part of the story comes through loudly and clearly in the book, as this excerpt (written by Lauren) shows: On the night of the day that the Parkland shooting took place, “I basically passed out. I couldn’t physically stay awake. The same thing happened the next night and the next night and on like that for weeks. During the day I’d have to take naps, then I’d pass out at eight or nine every night and wake up in the middle of the night, so I’d start the next day exhausted again. It’s still hard for me to get a normal night’s sleep. So many of the kids at my school are like that. I never thought trauma could take that kind of toll, but it does” (p. 68).
Many have expressed shocking cruel and brutal disbelief in online posts that students as young as these writer-activists are could help mobilize and inspire the level of action they have already inspired through social media platforms and other resources—boycotts that caused “big companies from Delta Airlines to Hertz” to distance themselves from the NRA; gun-control legislation in New York, Vermont, (Deerfield) Illinois, Florida, and Maryland; and those marches themselves (pp. 124-126): “Then we left Dr. Phil and went home with friends to our old neighborhood, and I had to go to sleep again because I was falling asleep even in the car. The next morning, really early, something like four a.m., my phone started buzzing and buzzing,” Lauren writes (p. 81). “I finally got up and looked at Instagram to see why people were on there, and I saw all these white supremacists and neo-Nazis saying horrible stuff on my Instagram account, like You’re going to hell, you’re an actress, your whole family is going to hell. There was one that read, Your whole school is not real, you’re all actors. I thought that was just so bizarre that someone would even think that. My whole school?”
The narrative throughout the book responds to that disbelief. David describe how what they learned at home from their father (a retired FBI agent) about remaining as calm as possible under the most trying of circumstances helped carry them through the moments during which the shooting was occurring. David also writes about how his experience gathering and posting news reports through coursework he was completing led him to actually take videos of himself describing what was occurring and sending those for posting before that initial day of horror was over. Both acknowledge the positive impact their instructors and coursework had in preparing them for their transition from learner to activist—a much-needed tribute to what is good in our educational system at a time when so many critics complain bitterly about how ineffectual that system is. And they explicitly acknowledge how that magnificent community of learning pulled together in ways that brought friends together to apply what they had learned so they could attempt to change a world that so clearly is far from the world of their dreams.
The #NeverForget chapter at the end of the book provides a resource we would do well to read and reread on a regular basis if we do not want to lose sight of the human tragedy at the heart of this political movement: a list of some of the people who “have been killed in gun violence” since 1999, along with brief, often-poignant descriptions of those who are no longer with us. It’s difficult to imagine being able to read those descriptions without feeling a tremendous sense of loss and a desire to be part of the community attempting to respond positively to those losses with more than expressions of sorrow and prayer.
What we’re left with at the end of the final chapter is an inspiring call to action that again circles back to the importance of a well-functioning educational system that prepares our learners/youngest citizens to use all the resources available to them to not surrender to despair: “We learned to love people for what they are instead of hating them for what they’re not. And like the namesake of our high school—Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who changed her world by a full-on engagement with it, every day, as a journalist, a suffragette, and conservationist—we are learning to change the world by presuming that we can” (p. 141).
N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Media, scheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the thirteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.