They began a movement for kids and by kids. Perhaps you marched or showed up in solidarity with the seventeen lives lost on one of those days. Perhaps you are wondering: What can I do next?
One answer lies in the very means that catapulted the Douglas teens into fame and the impact they have: social media. In the week after the tragedy, Douglas students took Twitter by storm, using hashtags such as #NeverAgain, #NationalSchoolWalkoutDay, and #Enough to stoke nationwide awareness of and fervor for their cause. Students like Emma González, a senior at Douglas who is also president of her school’s gay/straight alliance, quickly gained 1.1 million followers on Twitter after an impassioned speech gone viral, and with her platform she encouraged schools to register for the National Walkout through the Women’s March Empowering Teens site, which neighboring schools such as Wilbur Cross, Hamden High, Cheshire High, Milford’s Jonathan Law High, Fairfeld Ludlowe, Guilford High, Branford High, Daniel Hand High, Weston High, Westport’s Staples High, and Newtown High did within the frst ten days after the shooting. She, along with several of her classmates, led letter-writing drives to spark action in congress, a school-wide protest at the Tallahassee state capitol in the days after the shooting, and publicity for how to start of #MarchForOurLives in any city or town.
The role of social media and activism largely started with the Black Lives Matter Movement, when activists collaborated over messaging apps like GroupMe and spread support and awareness with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Through live video sharing sites like Periscope, activists were also able to broadcast raw experiences and injustices to the world.
Live video has played an outsized role through Snapchat, a medium primarily used by the fourteen-to-seventeen age demographic of which the victims and organizers are a part. On Snapchat Discover, ten-second videos of walkouts all over Georgia, Florida, and surrounding states were available for all users to watch, along with live footage of kids on their first day back at Douglas, taken by kids. Part of what made the shooting so powerful to begin with is that there was real time footage that dozens of students took during the tragedy of the bullets shot, and of students cowering in their classrooms.
The fourteen to seventeen year old students who have led the movement, are, like us, part of “Generation Z.” They are fluent in platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter that other generations find hard to match. Instagram accounts made by these kids have earned millions of likes and comments from other kids around the country and world, allowing excitement to build without control from adults. Activity online has met a wider audience; television networks and newspaper articles, alike, have featured videos, embedded Facebook posts and tweets, and coverage of marches and protests organized through this medium. Technology provided both the means to share a message, and the audience to share the message with.
With tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media, students can make change. Interacting with the vast, international community online can spread messages and inspire change; even major news outlets and newspapers incorporate social media posts into their journalism. Students learned to write, to critically think, and to observe what’s happening in the world. Decide for yourself what is right. All you have to do is type it out. There is an audience that is physically right there for you. Do not stay silent.
Violence in our schools does not end with Parkland: Educator School’s Safety Network has clocked in 50 threats or violence in- cidents per day at schools nationwide since the shooting, up from the previous norm of 10-12 per day. In the first two weeks after the shooting, several Connecticut schools had false alarms: Cheshire High School, Wallingford’s Sheehan High School, and Westport’s Staples High School all had incidents in which a minor attending the school was arrested for expressing an intent to use firearms to conduct shootings in their respective schools.
The reality of another school shooting is not as far as we would hope it to be. In the same spirit of the teens who are still remembered for fervently protesting the Vietnam War and outdated views of the older generation. Let us stick together with these teenagers who are making a difference.
There are many ways to create change, but simply actively participating in this conversation held by kids all over the nation is not a futile exercise; digital characters in a screen turn to physical meetups, which could turn to real legislation that saves lives.
In the words of one student, Connor Hartigan ’19, whose tweets on his opinions on Catalonia have led to him to have thousands of followers reading his every thought, “No matter how alone you think you are, there are going to be people who want to hear you, and they’ll appreciate your words. You can give people hope. Take the opportunity.”
Through the phone, you have a platform. A potential megaphone. And for the children, for the lives that will be lost, it is your obligation, as a human being, to use it.