The Nation Moved On From Parkland. We Haven’t

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The Nation Moved On From Parkland. We Haven’t

A question no student should have to answer.

A question no student should have to answer.

Mathias Wasik VIA FLICKR

A question no student should have to answer.

Mathias Wasik VIA FLICKR

Mathias Wasik VIA FLICKR

A question no student should have to answer.

By OLIVIA BONENFANT, Contributing Writer

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When the news notification for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting first popped up on my phone screen, I turned it off without looking.

Being in high school at that time meant knowing that nobody cared about you. Nobody who was supposed to, anyway. Six years earlier, the murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School failed to convince anyone it needed to convince that it should be more difficult to get a gun. Conservative politicians far-removed from the realities of gun violence offered no solutions, and many of our parents seemed to only see the dire situation as another political debate. Children dying didn’t change anything for these people who knew little of its true cost. It was just another talking point in a debate that would never be resolved, about the shapeless, abstract “gun problem” we collectively faced.

As high school students, it wasn’t shapeless or abstract. We huddled in the corners of our classrooms so our teachers felt better and our parents felt like something was being done. We kept track of the kids that sat in the back of our classrooms, hoodies pulled up and alt-right Reddit threads running across their computer screens. We worried when we had classes on the second floor of our schools because if something happened, it would take all that much longer to escape. We were the ones that watched the news, and beyond those apologetic anchors offering thoughts and prayers saw classrooms that looked just like ours, bodies under sheets that could have just as easily been us. Somebody we knew. Somebody just trying to go to school and live to graduate.

So I turned off my phone. I couldn’t stand to watch another set of kids be robbed of the chance to live, knowing full well any outpouring of sympathy from the government or media was just performative. If they really cared, they would have done something to save us.

Parkland was different because it was close. To everyone out of high school it was a tragedy; to those of out of high school who paid attention it was an unacceptable injustice. To people in high schools across the country, it felt closer than anything like it ever had. The news showed us Snapchat videos of the shooting unfolding right before our eyes. They showed us screenshots of texts that children sent to their parents telling them that they loved them, because they thought that they would never get another chance. They showed us yet more endless circles of debate about what to do about the problem of school shootings without getting rid of its source or even restricting how a person in this country could get their hands on a gun or ammunition.

And of course, the obligatory thoughts and prayers that accomplish no more than they mean.

Being in high school one year ago was a harrowing wake up call. Nobody cared what happened to us. Nobody was going to save us. The people in power will keep doing what they have always done as long as no one says anything, and we only had ourselves to change that.

I want to say it worked. From the outside, it looks like it did. Kids across the country organized walkouts, spoke their minds and refused to let the “gun problem” debate rage on without the people directly affected by it getting a say. We cared even more than it must have looked like we did. I remember the news reporting the sorry percentage of under-eighteens at Washington’s March For Our Lives, but how were we supposed to get there with no driver’s license, barely any money of our own and school the day before? Statistics lie.

Our main weapon was walkouts. That was our chance to break the rules, organize our own little branch of a nationwide protest against our grim and terrifying reality, regardless of where we lived or what our parents’ politics were.

And all across the country, that chance was ripped out from under our feet.

At my high school, a group of students got together and took charge. They set up a GoFundMe campaign, made tee shirts, set up a Twitter account and posted updates from the news while counting down to the date of our walkout. Our district took notice and reached out to help.

They promised there wouldn’t be consequences if we all walked out of class. Typically, they’d give demerits and suspensions, but they were willing to be generous for such an important cause. In fact, they’d put up sign-up sheets at lunch. They’d take down posters made by students outside of the official committee, to cut down on potential confusion and because they said the word “gun.” They advised us that this whole thing would be much better received by the community if it were rebranded. After all, they wanted the rest of our town to be as proud of us as they were.

By March 14th, our student-led protest was a school-sponsored “Remembrance Walkout.” A friend in California had the same thing happen. A friend in North Carolina followed her class to a mandatory all-day assembly to honor the victims. I can’t think of anything more insulting.

One year later the class of 2018 can vote. Many of us did in the 2018 midterms. Many of us are in college (hello!).

One year later, Parkland is trending on Twitter, as the politically aware take a moment out of their Valentine’s Day to remember. If you’re in high school, there’s nothing to remember. The threat of gun violence is your reality, and it’s not even a new one. The best thing we can do is try not to forget.