Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Ryan Deitsch, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, and former student Matt Deitsch spoke on Tuesday at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics on the impact of their actions on the national gun control dialogue after the Feb. 14 shooting at their school that left 17 dead and 17 injured, in a forum titled “#NEVERAGAIN: How Parkland Students are Changing the Conversation on Guns.”
Gonzalez, known for her “We Call B.S.” speech at an anti-gun rally in which she called for an end of blaming the victims of school shootings and denounced politicians that take donations from the NRA, began the forum by asking for a moment of silence in light of the tragedies that have continued to occur since the Parkland school shooting, such as the one that occurred in Maryland Tuesday morning.
The moderator, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Woman and Foreign Policy Program Meighan Stone, began the conversation by asking the students about what specifically they were calling upon leaders to do to stop tragedies like these from occurring in the future.
“We’ve been silent for too long as a nation, we’ve allowed these things to continue for too long,” Hogg said. “What’s important is that we make sure we speak up to these congressmen and these local state legislators and let them know that … if you choose not to vote on the side of students lives, that’s completely up to you. And if you choose not to vote on just the side of human lives that are instantly taken—thousands of people—every year, that’s okay, because we’ll vote you out.”
Stone then asked Kasky, one of the three initial co-founders of the student-led gun control advocacy group Never Again MSD, to share the moment after the shooting he decided to use his voice in a way that others haven’t before.
“While I was in the car on the way home … after what happened on Valentine’s Day, I was listening to the news, and I was looking at my phone to see what was going on, and I started to realize, I’ve seen this before,” Kasky said. “I’ve seen this happen countless times. And what happens is we get two weeks in the news, we get a bundle of thoughts and prayers, everybody sends flowers, and then it’s over, and then people forget.
“And I said … what can we do differently this time? I thought about how other movements had not gotten the change that they needed. I realized that we need to step forward now.”
As the forum continued, the students discussed making the issues they were discussing “election issues” and how they were planning on holding elected leaders accountable—past this Saturday’s upcoming March for Our Lives and in the months to come.
“We need to ask every politician to make a central and public stance on this issue so that in November, our job as voters is that much easier,” Wind said. “Because in the end of it it’s not about Democrat or Republican. It’s about children’s lives or children’s deaths … No person should be afraid of texting their parent a final ‘I love you.’”
The students then answered several questions from the audience—one of which came from a junior at Newton North High School, who said that upon meeting with her school administrators, they had told her that they planned on putting off conversations surrounding gun control issues because they believe that the community is not ready for them. She asked the Parkland students what steps she thinks her high school and others across the country can use to make change.
In response, Matt Deitsch emphasized the importance of students finding ways to connect with peers and educating them on these issues, even when they may not be supported by their schools.
“If all of you leave today and end the conversation as you leave the door, then we failed you and you failed us,” he said. “We need you to perpetuate this conversation every day, because you can’t vote every day but you can educate yourself every day.”
At the close of the forum, Kasky answered a question about where the students see the #NeverAgain movement a year from now.
“For the first time in a very long time, I’m looking ten years from now, and I’m hopeful,” he said. “It’s important that we use any chance we get at unity we get to come together.”
Featured Image by Abby Hunt / Copy Editor