The Parkland Students Aren’t Just Clapping Back At Critics, They Are Setting An Example

It was a Valentine’s Day that ended with broken hearts, but rather than allow themselves to be swallowed by grief for the 17 people that died after a school shooting in Parkland Florida, rather than fixate on the lives cut short or futures that they will never get to share with their friends, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have channeled their pain into action.
They organized nationwide walkouts and marches for gun safety, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from cities around the world and they lobbied the Florida legislature to pass a sweeping gun safety bill and as a result of their efforts, major U.S. corporations have cut ties with the National Rifle Association. Yet, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have found themselves the target of lies and personal attacks from members of the public and people in power.
In the most recent in a slew of attacks on Parkland student activists, Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized 17-year-old David Hogg for being rejected from multiple colleges. “David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA...totally predictable given acceptance rates.)," she tweeted.
This comes mere days after Republican lawmaker Rep. Steve King of Iowa suggested that the high school activists who believe the minimum age requirement to buy a gun should be raised to 21, shouldn’t be allowed to vote. King also criticized 18-year-old Emma González for wearing a Cuban flag patch at the March For Our Lives.
Adding insult to injury, a fake image of González tearing up the Constitution went viral less than two weeks after a GOP candidate in Maine called González a "Skinhead Lesbian." (He later dropped out of the race).
Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum on CNN suggested that “instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem,” student activists should “do something about it” such as take CPR classes.
The truth is the students are doing quite a lot. In addition to the marches, walkouts and lobbying, they are organizing town halls and voter registration drives, calling on the very people whose job it is to make change to actually do their job or get voted out.
But almost as impressive as what they are doing is the way in which these students have responded to their critics. They have grown up reading books like Harry Potter which exemplify the power students have to change the face of history. They’ve matured in the internet age and have a unique understanding that being at the forefront of any movement sadly means such insults are far too common.
“I mean, we’re kind of the faces of the movement,” David Hogg told the New York Times Tuesday. “Together we kind of form an unstoppable force that terrifies them,” Hogg said, adding that he and González were being attacked “because they know we’re strong.”
At a time when women who have faced decades of personal and workplace harassment are beginning to come forward in waves and have their voices heard, the next generation of women and men are putting the world on notice that they will not stand for this type of behavior.
The students are apt at using Twitter to mobilize but also as a support network, coming to each others defenses, promoting allyship and thanking those in power that are doing the same. In response to Ingraham’s tweet, Hogg compiled a list of her top 12 advertisers and tweeted it to his nearly 600,000 followers encouraging them to contact the companies.
In response to Sen. Santorum’s comments González tweeted “#DisappointmentIn4Words You Should Learn CPR.” She also called out lawmakers who send messages of support to communities after school shootings but do little to change policy adding “#DisappointmentIn4Words Sending Thoughts And Prayers.”
In the wake of the continued criticism of González, fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas student and organizer Cameron Kasky shared a more than 300 word statement praising her for the amount of love she brings to the world and those around her: “There is a goodness there that I have never seen before,” he wrote. "Emma is a pure beacon of light in this world that makes me so much happier to live in it ... The light she brings with her brings us out of the darkness surrounding us.”
If there is hope of creating a new standard for decency in public discourse and online, these students are setting an example of how it’s done. While the students have been critical, they’ve remained largely civil abstaining from the kind of personal attacks that adults are throwing at them.
“I still laugh about how ridiculous adults can be & how we as children are cleaning up their mess,” Parkland student and activist Jaclyn Corin tweeted.
Yes, they are young and as a result might feel more comfortable making blunt polarizing statements that adults might shy away from. Their tweets came come with their own hallmark teenage snark but, each of their assertions is based on a lived experience that cannot be disputed (even those some might try to).
At the same time the students are quick to recognize their privilege and are doing their best to uplift marginalized voices. The “Parkland kids will save us” and “Parkland kids are the future” narrative has been written countless times in the month and a half since the shooting. There is a chance that these students will become jaded in the face of inaction by congress, but the truth is for these students, the future is now.
Their critics owe them an apology and the rest of us owe them our gratitude for the example they’ve set of how to be voices for change while demonstrating a decency and civility that is sorely lacking in our country’s leadership.
González's speech at the March For Our Lives was a poignant reminder of just how high the stakes are. These students are fighting for their lives before someone else has to and no matter how nasty it gets, these students promise they are not backing away from the fight.
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