Mobilization and Empowerment: Looking at Youth's Power of Change- Making in the Face of Tragedy

Robert Lee of CAHC describes the actions taken by student survivors in the aftermath of the February 14th Florida school shooting.

Today, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., return to school.

I do not want to focus on the tragedy that occurred February 14th, nor do I really want to get into the political debate of gun control. What I want to do is bring to your attention the power of youth. Like the mythic phoenix that rises from the ashes, youth reacting to a disaster can do amazing things. Youth are widely underestimated, deemed as not “experienced enough” “educated enough” or “articulate enough” to make ‘adult’ decisions. That is not the story of the student survivors of the Florida school shooting.

The tragedy that occurred on February 14th sparked a flame within the surviving students of Stoneman Douglas High, the school where the tragedy occurred.  They channeled their sadness, anger, and frustration into political activism. Just hours after the tragedy, students turned to social media to advocate for more gun control. They had started the #NeverAgain movement. They initially spread their message through Twitter using the main hashtag #NeverAgain and supporting hashtags of #BanAssaultWeapons and #GunControlNow.  They implored other youth throughout the country to get involved in the cause, using the hashtags #StudentsStandUp and #StudentsWalkOut. The response was positive, and the flame spread, the youth of America unified their voice.

But they didn’t stop there. With the flame raging into a fire, the students sought to confront law-makers face-to-face about Florida’s gun control policies. On Tuesday, February 20th, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mobilized and traveled to Florida’s state capitol in Tallahassee. They marched to the capitol building, rallied on the capitol steps, and spoke with their legislators. They called on all representatives to move House Bill 219 (assault weapons ban) from committees to the House Floor for “questions, debate, and a vote.”  They spoke eloquently. They spoke passionately. They spoke with true conviction. But like the second act in every play, the outcome was bleak. The call was rejected, the ban would have to wait until after the next regular session.

However, the movement did not stop; I repeat, the movement did not stop. Like any powerful fires, their fire didn’t go out, but rather it grew. It grew into a bonfire. Students throughout America, from coast to coast, from California to Florida, are protesting Florida’s rejection by organizing school walk-outs. This unified action has gotten the nation’s attention, shining a bright light on the inspiring drive and motivation propelling today’s youth forward.

Currently, youth survivors and adult allies are organizing a rally, appropriately named, “March For Our Lives,” scheduled to take place on March 24th, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (The Twitter hashtag, #MarchForOurLives showcases their plans.) They are reaching out far and wide, even promoting the march on CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The rally is expected to have “sister marches” in other major cities throughout the country. I feel that as a member of the public health community and facilitator of youth leadership, it is my responsibility to stand with them. (If you are an American Public Health Association- APHA- member like myself, go to the APHA website to find APHA statements on gun violence and how to support youth activism.)

I, for one, will be watching, marching, supporting, and applauding the courage these young people have. I hope they continue to burn bright and soar on the wings of the phoenix.