The Origins of the Never Again Movement
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The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 8
The Origins of the Never Again Movement
Emily Witt discusses the group of students who organized for change after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Released on 03/21/2018
(light music)
The most basic belief behind Never Again is
that there should never again be another massacre
in a high school by a school shooter.
That's a very simple idea many adults I think
find naive.
[Newscaster] At least 17 people are dead
in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday.
The world saw very quickly that the teenagers
of Majory Stoneman Douglas High School were not
just gonna accept thoughts and prayers.
They weren't gonna accept that kind of consolation.
They felt that what had happened to them
could have been prevented.
As I got there, many of the students from the high school
were there to console each other.
When you're in high school, your friends are really
the only people that understand you.
The first indication that I had that this was
following a different narrative was a tweet
that I saw re-tweeted from a student named Sara Chadwick.
She had responded to President Trump's condolences
with a defiant rejection of them.
She said, I don't want your condolences.
One of the students that had been active
on social media and speaking with the news media
was named Cameron Kasky.
And the night after the vigil, that happened
the day after the shooting, he invited some friends
from drama club mostly over to his house
to discuss how they could use their individual voices
to combine into a coherent message
and start a movement.
The name he came up with was Never Again,
which he felt was something that was non political.
They all got together and started discussing
how to come up with a coherent message
and a plan to reach lawmakers, to reach the public,
to boycott the NRA.
All of those things were on the table
from the very beginning.
This is one of the best public high schools in Florida.
It's an affluent community.
Jaclyn Corin, she's the junior class president,
she told me that she had written a 50-page project
just two months before on the issue of gun control
for her AP Composition and Rhetoric class,
where she'd had to go through and consider
all sides of the issue, consider how special interest groups
like the NRA, use their power to mobilize their base
and fund lawmakers.
They were very well versed in how this issue
plays out in the political arena.
One of the students that was emerging as an activist
was a senior named Emma Gonzalez, and she had appeared
in national news interviews, speaking very eloquently
about the need for gun control.
Emma Gonzalez came up on stage and spoke with just
so much raw emotion and a very pointed
and specific critique, where she made it clear
that she knew as much about policy as any lawmaker.
She was ready to go head to head with people
that claimed it was all right for anybody
to go in and buy an AR-15.
I'm asking your opinion as a representative of the NRA.
She was just immediately recognized
as a powerful voice and an iconic figure.
So by the sixth day, there were funerals every day
that week, the memorial in this public park
that had been set up had attracted people
from all over the country to help the students grieve.
And meanwhile the activism was taking place
at a very rapid pace.
Jaclyn Corin had put out a call to invite 100 students
up to Tallahassee to speak with state lawmakers
about the possibility of passing some gun control laws
in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy.
These students gathered in a parking lot outside
of a public supermarket, and they got on three buses
and caravanned the eight hours up to north Florida.
The student activists knew that they were going
to meet with one of the most pro-gun state legislatures
in the country.
Laws like the Stand Your Ground law, the Concealed
Weapon Law, many of these laws were pioneered
in Florida by a lobbyist named Marion Hammer.
After the students left for Tallahassee,
I decided to go by the high school.
There was a big crowd of young people,
and I started talking to a student named Catherine Silva.
And it turned out that she and her classmates
had marched to Parkland from West Boca Raton High School,
which was 12 miles away.
I realized then that the activism wasn't limited
to the students at Parkland.
(crowd chanting)
So I understood that the passion around this issue
was bigger than one school.
[Crowd] What do we want?
Gun Control.
When do we want it, now.
The state legislature in Florida is a very
old school place and these students,
with all their passion and all their urgency
were not gonna disrupt business as usual.
(crowd chanting)
They wanted to have a face-to-face conversation
where they shared their message that not everybody
should be able to buy a military-grade assault weapon.
I think the focus on activism prolonged
the news cycle of an event like this.
Usually the media would come and cover the tragedy
and cover the biography of the shooter,
and the biographies of the victims,
and then depart.
And the way in which certain of the students
became very well known personalities very quickly
also attracted the derision of people
who called them crisis actors.
The students handled with humor.
They were not scared of those messages.
I think it's also important to remember
that while there are a group of activist students
that are out there in front of the media,
I spoke with many students that were not on camera,
have not made this their life's mission,
but felt the same urgency about the need
to change national gun laws.
We have to ban assault rifles.
They were illegal in 2004 and they have
to be illegal again.
The teenagers have already influenced
so much change.
A boycott inspired by them resulted
in many major corporations canceling their discount
programs for NRA officers, proposals by even
very pro-gun lawmakers like Governor Rick Scott,
Senator Marco Rubio to enact some very minor forms
of gun control.
The NRA is very effective at mobilizing its constituency.
The anti-gun movement does not have the same ability
to write an email and bring out hundreds
of thousands of voters on election day.
If the students can change that, then I think
we will see some real change.
Because right now in Florida and also
in the federal government, pro-gun lawmakers
are in control.
[Group] Sensible gun laws now.
I know that wisdom can come from young people.
I mean when you look at many of our activist leaders
in the past, they were pretty young.
Like many other people, I've been moved
by their refusal to back down, the coherent message
that they've brought to the debate.
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