The kids you read about in textbooks: #MarchForOurLives, #NationalSchoolWalkout, and more

“We call B.S.”
Emma Gonzales

The reaction to the Parkland shooting — galvanized by the amazing students of Mary Stoneman Douglas High School and across the country — has been truly remarkable. Kelly-Leigh Cooper’s In Florida aftermath, US students say ‘Never Again’ on BBC has video interviews with eight of the student activists as well as a great summary:

Thousands of teenagers, including many still too young to vote, have become grassroots activists. Social media has become a tool for their ideas and campaigns to spread.

With so many powerful new young voices having an impact at a national level, it feels like that this may well be a turning point.

Let’s hope the adults don’t screw it up.

Phil McCausland and Safia Samee Ali’s Students seize control of gun debate describes several high-profile upcoming actions. In chronological order:

Update, March 11: some school districts are threatening students who walk out. The ACLU has an excellent page about student rights — please help get the word out! If you or somebody you know is being targeted by a school district for exercising your right to protest, consider reaching out to your state ACLU or another civil liberties organization.
Wahington DC student-led “die-in”

There’s lots of other powerful stuff going on as well. As well as other high-profile events like the “die-in” in Washington DC, there are lots of local events happening all over the country; look for the students in your communities who are taking the lead (and if you’re on Twitter or Instagram, hashtags like #MeNext and #NeverAgain are useful). Things are all happening quickly, so everything here is subject to change — in fact, I made some significant revisions to this in the first 12 hours after posting!

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Just like Tinker v. Des Moines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students.”
Emma Gonzales

The moment is perfect for a paradigm shift: channeling our national sorrow and rage and shared belief that there’s been enough death into collectively demanding and achieve change. If everything goes well, the intelligence, energy, creativity, and passion of the students (including the black teens who have been fighting for gun reform for years) can complement the experience of long-time organizers — and the intersectional focus of groups like Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, and Black Lives Matter (which just finished a week of #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool).*

And there’s plenty of energy in the communities as well.

To fully capitalize on the situation, adults and students will have to work together effectively. That in turn means that adults will have to listen to students and be comfortable with letting students lead. Historically, let’s just say this has not been a “core competence” of most adult activists or adult-led activist organizations — even with college students, let alone high schoolers. Will the adults be able to learn new behavior?

Of course, the student groups will have to work together as well, and take input from activists with more experience … but to be honest, I’m less worried about that. Emma Gonzales’ shout-out to Mary Beth Tinker (who spent a day at the school a couple years ago) is one of many positive signs. Here’s another, the joint statement from the youth organizers of the March 14 and April 20 events.

So things are off to a promising start. Here’s a bit more about each of the events — along with some bonus links for those in the Seattle area!

The Women’s March-sponsored event on March 14 has provoked a lot of questions. The event is youth-led, but the branding is very much that of the adult-led organization. And Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is an initiative of Women’s March Youth through a coalition with Peace First, Rise To Run, Teen Vogue, The Justice League NYC, The Gathering For Justice, and Rock The Vote; none of these are groups that focus primarily on gun violence. As Kathy Gill notes in her Open Letter to Women’s March Leadership, it’s important for adult-led organization to complement student-led activism instead of preempting it.

Fortunately, it seems like that’s what is happening; see the joint statement with the April 20 walkout organizers I included above. And as Women’s March advisor Kimberlé Crenshaw says, there are no single-issue politics, so the synergies are indeed powerful — the groups involved brings a lot to the table. The Women’s March has a network of people who have done events across the country before; the Gathering for Justice was founded by Harry Belafonte, who’s had decades of experience as an activist; Rock The Vote can help build on this moment by including on voter registration and turnout in the planning for all these events; and Rise To Run’s board includes luminaries like Brittany Packnett, Kara Swisher, and Ilyse Hogue with powerful networks of their own. Teen Vogue seems like a good ally too!

So with luck people will keep working together and this event will prime the pump for the upcoming ones.

Bonus links for Seattle: Seattle Stop School Shootings NOW and Seattle Young People’s Project have updates about local plans.

The early organizing for #MarchForOurLives once again highlights the benefits collaboration. Every Town for Gun Safety (which started up a few years ago as a merger of Moms Demand Justice and Mayors) has a national network and high-level political access (former mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York and Gavin Newsome of San Francisco are on their board). So they’re an excellent complement for the Parkland students and community. The March For Our Lives mission statement is a great overview or the goals of this event, and CNN has some good interviews.

Most of the publicity so far has focused on the national event in DC; there are also going to be a lot of events in the communities.

Bonus links for Seattle (updated March 11): the people will meet on the 24th at Cal Anderson field and march to Key Arena; there’s a GoFundMe fundraiser, a student volunteer signup (by March 12), and you can by T-shirts! Groups from across the state are coming to Seattle although I believe there are also local events elsewhere.

As things move forward, one of the areas where tensions may will occur (at the national event in DC or at local events in various communities) is the question of who speaks at the rallies. What happens when students want to hear from some speakers or performers that adults might find “uncivil”, inappropriate, or too edgy? What happens when a student who’s also a racial justice activist wants to make sure the discussions of gun violence include police shootings, or a gender justice advocate wants to highlight the killings of trans women? In discussions like this it’s very easy for adults to say things like “it’s important to focus, and you’ll understand that once you have more experience” that come across very dismissively — and often become an excuse for not listening.

Then again the students are pretty clear that they’re not going to put up with being ignored, so maybe I’m just worrying for nothing.

Andrea Germanos Because ‘Nothing Has Changed Since Columbine,’ Students, Teachers Call for Nationwide School Walkouts on Common Dreams has more background on the April 20 events. It’s not clear to me how much the organizers are working together yet; and the culture of a grassroots student-led walkout is likely to be very different than the educator-led Day of Action supported by the NEA. Once again though if they can work through the challenges, there are huge synergies — the prospect of joint action by students and teachers is really powerful. Plus, the students could probably help the educators with their social media outreach.

[A quick aside: I’ve seen suggestions that it would be better to combine the two walkouts to focus energy and avoid burning people out. On the other hand, from an activism perspective it’s often better to start out with a fairly easy “ask” — once people have had some initial involvement, they’re more likely to participate again. A 17-minute walkout is a much less costly and risky thing for many students — especially from relatively-marginalized communities, so it’s not a bad place to start. So I agree with the organizers’ view in their joint statement: the events are part of an escalating force in the longer battle against gun control.]

Looking back on when I was a high school student, I have to admit that I personally would not have been very good at making that happen. Fortunately, kids these days are a lot better at this stuff than my generation was. And they have hashtags!

So yeah, I think there’s a very good chance Emma’s right — and these will indeed be the kids you read about.

Originally written February 19, revised substantially on February 20; minor revisions (mostly additional links) through February 25; on March 11, I updated the footnote, links for Seattle, and added in the paragraph linking to the ACLU know your rights page. Thanks to and Kathy Gill for feedback on earlier drafts, and Shireen Mitchell and everybody else for sharing links!!

* Update, February 20–25: the current student activism is getting positive attention in a way that black-led activists haven’t. Jenaya Khan’s Why It Hurts When the World Loves Everyone but Us on The Root, Sarah-Ruiz Grossman’s We Need To Talk About Black Lives And Gun Violence After The Florida Shooting on Huffington Post Black Voices, Lincoln Anthony Blades’ Black Teens Have Been Fighting for Gun Reform for Years on Teen Vogue, P.R. Lockhart’s Parkland is sparking a difficult conversation about race, trauma, and public support on Vox, and Dahleen Glanton’s As country listens to Florida teens, Black Lives Matter youths feel ignored in the Chicago Tribune all have good things to say on this front.

Update, March 11–14: some encouraging links on this front:

  • Hayley Miller’s Parkland Survivors Meet With Chicago Students To Tackle Gun Violence ‘Beyond Gated Communities’ in the Huffington Post, featuring some great tweets from Emma Gonzales, like “People of color in inner-cities and everywhere have been dealing with this for a despicably long time.” Yeah really!
  • Gaby Del Valle’s David Hogg is mad as hell in The Outline, with gems like “I don’t want to see another teacher with a gun. I don’t even want more school resource officers. Do you know the racial discrepancies they have against African-American and Latino students? We’re going to create a system where we widen the school-to-prison pipeline.” Well said!
  • Sydney Brownstone’s The Kids Are in Charge: Meet Two Seattle Students Leading Today’s Walkout in The Stranger quotes Rhiannon Rasaretnam of Tahoma High School: “All of the sudden we have all of these elected officials supporting the March for Our Lives movement. Whereas they stay away from giving outright support for movements like the Black Lives Matter group, because it’s more controversial, because it deals with race, or stuff they don’t want to get into. That’s something I would like to use our platform to address those issues. Because now that they’re paying attention to us, I’d like to help redirect some of that attention to issues that are not fully addressed and should be.”
Image by Sheridan Van Hoy, sheringcreations.com