Unpacking the the Stoneman Douglas Shooting: Discussing the Rise of Student Activism

Contributed by: Allyson Garcia


On March 13th, Girls Empowerment Network hosted Girl Advocacy Day – an event aimed to inspire youth to be civically engaged and help them develop their unique voice to advocate for themselves and the wider community. During the event there were activities where participants would choose a social issue and work to create a policy/resolution to potentially implement at their school or university campus. For youth undecided about the social issue they are most interested in, they were given the opportunity to collaborate and identify an social issue that they recognize as important and impactful. This group chose to address gun violence on school campuses. The topic choice is not surprising, given the events of the past few months.


On February 14, 2018, 17 students attending Stoneman Douglas High school lost their lives in the 17th school shooting to occur in the US since the beginning of the year. There is much to unpack about the event and the response that has unfolded in the weeks since. One among them: the subsequent rise of activism from the students at Stoneman Douglas High, their steadily increasing influence, and how to discuss student activism with the youth in your life who are interested in participating.


Most people are aware of the presence of social movements in US history. What many don’t know is that these movements have largely been incited and sustained by student activism. The impact of young folks advocating for themselves and their community cannot be denied. In the weeks since the Parkland shooting, student activism has resulted in serious discussion about gun reform through their #NeverAgain movement. Their pressure has spurred several corporations to cut their ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), as well as cease the selling of assault-style rifles and raised the minimum age to purchase of guns — independent of national legislation.


Their movement has gained significant visibility in the few weeks it has been active, and many teenagers are aware of the movement and may have talked about the National Anti-Gun Walkout that was held on March 14th. Most Texas schools had their spring break from March 11th-17th, so a majority of Texas students were not able to participate in the event. Nevertheless, Texas students have definitely shown interest and support of the Never Again movement. In February, around 500 Austin-area students walked out in protest of gun violence from various schools.


Students are keeping the momentum of the movement flowing and it wouldn’t be surprising if the youth in your life have been exposed to the movement and perhaps have discussed participating in it with you.


Another walkout is scheduled for April 20th–on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. March For Our Lives, a march in DC and in 817 other locations worldwide, happen just last week, on March 24th. If the youth in your life express interest in participating in the walkout or in a future march here are some things to know, consider, and discuss:


1.School punishment for walking out of class


Since the walkouts have begun, the question of school punishment has been raised, and consequences of last week’s walkout have already been seen. Here is a link to a page listing the rights of students during walkoutsand here is a link to an article discussing the various repercussions that students have faced. You may need to have a serious discussion to insure that the youth in your life 1) fully understands their rights and 2) understand that they may face various consequences.


[More resources on both these topics will be available at the end of the post.]


2. Colleges supporting #NeverAgain


Given that students have already seen consequences to their protests, college applications and admittance might be a concern for both you and the youth in your life. Here’s some good news: colleges across the country have released statements over the past few weeks with assurances that protest-related academic suspension will not impact their admittance. Still, it’s a good idea to grab your magnifying glass, and do some research on colleges your youth might have their eyes on to see if they have made such a statement. And if they have not, there is also a conversation to be had in that– what your potential college values and their stance on social issues. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is the environment where they will potentially be spending the four years of their life in, which is a significant investment.


3. The lasting impact of gun violence (beyond elementary-high school into college and beyond)


While the #NeverAgain movement definitely feels immediate right now, its goals and impacts are long-term and long-lasting — much like many student-lead movements in our country’s history. Your youth may be protesting as high schoolers, but gun violence extends beyond that, into colleges and life afterward. Unfortunately, gun violence in America is extreme in its reach and devastation. Advocating for change in gun control today can mean creating greater safety for tomorrow in ways that radiates beyond just school campuses. Change will be impacted in neighborhoods, places of worship, businesses, and homes. This leads into point four:


4. Protesting with intent and understanding


Choosing to advocate for the #NeverAgain movement should be done with intent and understanding of what the movement means, aims to accomplish, and the consequences (both positive and negative) of participating. In point three, I discussed some of the movement’s goals and how it could impart lasting change, and it’s really important that youth have a clear understanding of the scale of the movement and the very real results it produces. Protests and walkouts can seem like their are the “popular” or “trendy” topics at the moment, but participating in them should be done with deeper intent than getting a good instagram picture out of it. The movement is seeking serious change and those participating should take the movement seriously, with the understanding of how they may be judged and treated based on their decision to protest; how their dissent creates serious conversations to create change that affects not just them but everyone in our nation; and how their participation fuels a movement larger than themselves, a movement was born from the deaths of victims of gun violence. This engaging should be intentional and cognizant of these facts.


5. Safety tips for marching and protesting


If your youth intend to participate in a walkout or march, there are some safety tips that can be followed to ensure that you are doing what you can to make the experience safe as possible. Here are a few basic tips:


  1. 1. It may seem unimportant, but having water and snacks like granola bars at marches is really important. Take care of your body with nutrients and sunscreen — just like any other outdoor outing! Long hours outside can be draining; it’s important to be physically prepared for it.


  1. 2. Go in groups of people you are familiar with, have their phone numbers, and set up a designated meeting spot in advance to regroup if you get separated. Don’t count on phones to schedule a meeting time and place. Batteries may die, or if there is a disturbance, phones can even be lost. Be prepared in advance.


  1. 3. Know your rights. Before participating in an act of civil disobedience, know your rights to protest and voice.

[More resources for safety tips will be at the end of the post.]


There is so much to unpack about the Never Again movement, and given that the force of its current power does not seem to be waning anytime soon, it is likely that this will not be the last blog post on the topic. I hope that this post was an accessible source of information for you and that you were able to gain a deeper understanding of the movement and how to discuss participation in it with the youths in your life. I encourage you to continue to learn more about  Never Again, and to keep an eye out for its events and updates.


Here are a few resources for more information on the topics I’ve touched on and for updates on #NeverAgain:


ACLU: Students’ Rights

ACLU: Some Proposed Punishments for Walkouts are Illegal

Vox: The National School Walkout, Explained

Offspring: A Student’s Guide To Walkouts and Protests

NACAC: College and University Update on Disciplinary Actions [Link also under point 2 above. The listing is being updated as needed, so make sure to check it more than once.]

Vox: America’s Gun Violence Problem in 17 Graphics

Twitter: The Official #NeverAgain Twitter Page

Time: What to Know About March for Our Lives (A Chronology of the #NeverAgain movement events)

Amnesty International: Safety During Protest

Felicia Gonzalez