Story by Jessica Griffin
It was a cry heard nationwide, past our borders and around the world. On March 24 five high school students from Parkland, Fla. Helped inspire a march that sparked a movement in the wake of the school shooting that resulted in the loss of 17 of their classmates.
The #MarchForOurLives and #NeverAgain movements have filled Twitter feeds for months and they are demanding change in our nation’s gun laws. But this is no simple issue.
The March and The Movement
The #MarchForOurLives that took place on March 24 was seen worldwide, especially on social media. According to a March 22 article in TIME magazine written by Charlotte Alter, the 800 plus demonstrations that had been registered across all 50 states and in six continents filled Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and news feeds all over the world.
Highlights from the marches in Washington D.C. and across the nation showed the Parkland students themselves speaking out, sometimes through silence, and accompanying prominent members of the upcoming generation, including Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jocelyn Waite, PULSE Video producer and junior film major, attended a parallel march in Bellingham, Wash, and said she felt encouraged to be in a supportive environment.
“It was nice to see so many people who felt the same way as I did, who were advocating for change,” she says, noting the crowd filled downtown Bellingham with people of all ages carrying creative signs next to tables set up for people to register to vote. Waite carried a sign herself that said, “We don’t want your thoughts and prayers, we need change,” accompanied by her friend whose sign read, “Make America safe for once.”
Her motivation comes from the tragedies our country has already seen. “So many different families across the country ... have had to deal with [tragedies] like losing their children or losing their siblings when they’re at school, a place that’s supposed to be safe [and] raise our kids to be good leaders, but then … it’s all taken away in an instant," Waite says.
The Political Environment
It’s no secret that our political environment is under immense pressure with this hot-button issue. As a country, we tend to see things two ways: fully left or fully right. But gun reform, like most major political issues, is a lot more complicated than that. There’s no simple solution and most people aren’t totally on one side or another.
“The public wants stronger gun control, but the government doesn’t give it to them and part of that is because of the NRA and [another] part of that is because is because of the Constitution," says Dr. Todd Schaefer, professor of political science. "It’s sort of an interesting case, because it’s like, ‘Gee, the public doesn’t always get what it wants'."
Junior Political Science Major Nikole Chumley has taken notice of this with her fellow classmates when this issue arises. “I think the biggest thing that causes contention or fighting are the methods of gun reform—what does this policy look like or what is it going to look like for people who already own guns, and that’s where the fighting surfaces," she says. "I don’t think it's more [about] 'Should it happen' but how it should happen.”
No matter how passionate you are about an issue, one of the toughest parts can be figuring out how to actually get involved and make a difference. Registering to vote and voting in elections including but not exclusive to the presidential election is important, but Schaeffer thinks there are more effective ways to make your voice heard on issues you care about.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease in some degree in American politics," says Schaefer. "If you’re not out making noise, someone else is and they may not share your same views, so I [suggest] being involved, trying to make public statements, writing your representatives and trying to form groups that promote.”
Schaefer explains that if politicians see the majority of the public being apathetic, then they are going to pay more attention to the minority who are yelling in their ears, so he believes that in addition to voting, continuing to speak up is the best way to get involved in whatever issue you are trying to promote.
This is how the Parkland students did it. They were and continue to be relentless with their voices, speaking up for what they believe needs to be changed. Because of this, they were able to see results pretty quickly. On March 9, Florida passed a bill that bans bump stocks, enforces a waiting period, and raises the minimum age to buy a weapon from 18 to 21 years old and permits police officers to take guns from someone who is mentally disturbed, according to Alter's TIME article.
A New Generation
Regardless of what view people hold on gun reform laws, this movement stands out among the rest right now for one reason: the youth. Like many revolutions in the past, the power seems to come from young people and that’s what the driving factor is for the Parkland students and their vision for this movement.
Chumley also notes that this issue is a product of the generation that is spear-heading it. “It’s student-led, it’s young people-led, because we’re at a time where the people who are more against these social movements are the people that cause these institutions to be put into place or kept these institutions in place and it’s finally come to a head,” she says.
According to Alter, the students only allowed their speakers, poster designers and artists to be under 24 years old for the March on Washington. Leading up to the day of the march, Alter also noted that nationwide, almost 14 million students left their classrooms on March 14 for the National School Walkout to protest the rising number of school shootings.
The heart of the movement is that it’s being led by the generation that grew up knowing nothing about a time when lockdown drills didn’t exist. According to the Everytown for Gun Safety and Support Fund, there have been 305 school shootings since 2013.
As far as our political leaders go, Chumley notes, “Senators and congress people have to listen to the high schoolers when before, not many high schoolers would have been calling into their congress person. Now, you have these high schoolers who are spear-heading this movement even though they personally can’t vote." She adds that the actions of these students may have an impact on voters who may support the movement with their vote.
There’s also something to be said about a generation that was raised on gun lockdown drills now growing up and having the roles switched—becoming teachers at these schools. This is the situation for Julie*, a CWU alumna who had a potential gun threat at the school she was student teaching for. Julie was student teaching for a kindergarten class in a K-12 school in Washington when an older student was expelled for bringing a weapon on school grounds.
After that, the faculty and staff were warned that if they saw this student on school grounds, they would be considered a threat. Before student teaching began, Julie notes that she knew teaching is a service job and once you enter that classroom, every student immediately becomes your full responsibility, “You just have to deal with that and just pray that it’s not going to happen to your school,” she says.
After becoming aware of the threat and the location of the school in town, Julie took certain precautions like shutting the blinds in her classroom but having to do so in a way that would prevent the kids from noticing, mentioning that kids feed off of the emotions of adults, and especially teachers. She didn’t want to make them uncomfortable or nervous in any way.
As for herself, being a student teacher is stressful enough and with this added pressure, Julie stresses the emotional toll it took on her, “especially as a teacher. There’s a lot of emotions involved in it and so this type of thing is really random and you don’t know what could happen and so I was preparing for the worst.”
As for the future, she states, “I definitely think it’s something that I’ll always take with me, whatever school district I’m in."
Hopes for the future of this movement
“I just hope that kids aren’t afraid to speak up when they feel endangered," says Julie.
After describing her experience at the Bellingham march, Waite states that her hope is “continually putting pressure on the NRA and politicians who get funding from the NRA and [pushing] them to change their stances on gun control and get some sort of larger policy in place.”
Chumley's passion couldn't be overlooked in her hope for this movement. “I hope that we do have gun reform. I don’t think military-grade weaponry should be in the hands of citizens. And with gun reform, I want a specific targeting of making sure that gun reform does not indiscriminately affect people of color and that police officers also need to adhere to whatever gun reform happens," she says.
Being invested in politics gives Schaefer a solid view on the issue. “I hope that they sustain it and that the people that are involved realize that they should continue to be involved, whether it’s on that issue or something else, but my own personal view is I do not believe gun rights are absolute. I think, like all our freedoms, there are limits. So, for me, I just think it’s frustrating to live in a country where there is this level of gun violence."
*Name changed because the source was not permitted to share information on the situation with those outside of school faculty.