“We are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”
— Emma Gonzalez, senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, addressing a gun-control rally
This protest feels different. In the aftermath of yet another shooting rampage, the angry and organized outcry by surviving students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has fanned a flicker of hope that the latest killings might prompt some tightening of state and national gun laws.
Using the hashtag #NeverAgain, many students who survived the Feb. 14 massacre have led an impassioned campaign against Florida’s relaxed gun laws, relaying their outrage to state legislators and savvily blazing a trail through the media with their stories of loss. They have coupled those tales with unflinching demands for government accountability, forcing even the adults in Washington, D.C., to pay attention.
After facing criticism over his response to the mass shooting, President Trump met with students, teachers, parents, and their local officials at the White House on Wednesday. When visitors asked what he could do to make students feel safe again in school, he suggested that teachers be trained to carry concealed weapons in class. During a lively CNN town hall session Wednesday night, several Douglas High students asked tough questions of Florida’s U.S. senators. The students plan a national school walkout day on March 14 and a march on Washington on March 24.
Douglas Johnson is a lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School and a former director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. He teaches members of social protest campaigns, human rights non-governmental organizations, and agencies like UNICEF how to improve strategic thinking and expand their tactical knowledge. In a Q&A session, he talked with the Gazette about why the #NeverAgain protest is doing well out of the gate and what it may need to do to ensure that its efforts change gun policies and don’t fade once the media spotlight turns elsewhere.
GAZETTE: You’ve helped lead and advise many social protest groups over the years. What’s been your impression of the Parkland student-led uprising?
JOHNSON: So far, I think it’s been a very impressive effort on the part of the students there. They’re doing many of the classic things. I thought it was particularly effective for them to decide to go en masse to the state legislature and lobby and tell their stories. A classic organizer problem is how to couple real people and real stories to a problem so that they’re harder to dismiss and harder to ignore. And I think making it up close and personal, especially while this tragedy is right there, so visible to them, is a really good approach. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t been done before. What’s working for them are two things: One is the immediacy of this effort, and, sadly, the probability of another event like it happening within a very short period of time.