Our Students Respond to Parkland

A message from Julian and A’niya, Generation Citizen’s Student Leadership Board Members

There are no words to atone for the tragedy of 17 youth lives lost within a school’s walls. But we wanted to offer you all our thoughts.

On behalf of Generation Citizen and our Student Leadership Board, our hearts go out to the students, teachers, staff, and families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We are saddened for the victims and for those who lost a loved family member or friend. We are disappointed that this type of violence continues to happen in schools across the country. As high schoolers ourselves, we know that every school should be a place of joy, safety, and learning and that this sense of security has been shattered for so many.

We are hopeful, however, because of the response of the Parkland students to this tragedy. We love seeing students take action so quickly and so collaboratively. Their work shows how capable young people can tackle any problem in their community when they bring their unique passion and idealism to the table. We feel that their strong voices and actions will create change for our laws and society.

A mass shooting such as this one demonstrates that we must take action now to keep tragedies like this one from happening again. As we address potential action, students should be at the lead. We have shown over the past week, and before then, that our voices must be taken seriously.

We also think the inspiring activism of the students demonstrates how important Action Civics is for all students. We believe that all students should be able to organize such a powerful response when they face challenges in their own communities.

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez said in her remarks at a town hall meeting Wednesday night, teachers were the ones who prepared her and her peers to be able to seize this moment. Schools can help ensure that all young people are prepared to step into this role when needed.

This particular tragedy strikes a personal chord as well. Last spring, one of our own Generation Citizen projects was aimed at stemming gun violence, with Julian’s class focusing on the protection of women and children in their town of Lowell, MA. Our class ultimately partnered with the Sheriff of Middlesex County and the Lowell Police Department to create a city-wide gun buyback program. With the help of more than 30 houses of faith and 10 nonprofits and businesses, our class organized a one-day event in a local church. To advertise it, we wrote an op-ed and published it in the city’s newspaper; we gave interviews to local TV, radio and news teams; and we posted flyers around town in five different languages. One spring Saturday, because of our idea and implementation, the police collected 39 guns.

When we began planning the day, so many adults did not take us seriously, an experience familiar to many young people. Adults did not think we could affect change. We had to make so many calls and take so many meetings to show that we wanted to actually make this happen.

And just like the Parkland students, our class showed adults that young people should be listened to. As young people, our voices and actions can transform the conversation. It shouldn’t take a crisis for this change to happen, yet those in power often have not been through the situations that we young people are experiencing or are not conscious of the urgency of our needs. This moment reminds us that we must prepare ourselves as young people to make these needs clear.

Our voices matter because tragedies like Parkland that are occurring around the world are affecting our lives, education, and feelings of security. We deserve to be heard because our voices are the change for both the future, and today.

We are so proud of these students. We do not know and cannot imagine what they’ve been through. What we do know is that their leadership and persistence offer a powerful example to the rest of us. They reinforce our belief that change is possible. And just like in every successful social movement in history, young people must be at the lead.

Julian Viviescas, Lowell High School
GC Student Leadership Board Member

A’niya Allen, Oakland Technical High School
GC Student Leadership Board Member

A Note from Generation Citizen’s Director of Programming, Sarah AndesRegardless of your politics, in the coming days we encourage GC classes to consider the example of student-led advocacy set by the MSD students.

  • Utilize GC’s Advocacy Hourglass framework which you’re working through yourselves to analyze the choices made by the Parkland students in their current campaign. Which tactics have you already attempted? Which might you add to your plan?
  • Read transcripts of or watch students’ media interviews to examine the specificity of their policy goals and the intentionality of their targets. Are your asks and those you’re making asks of clearly aligned? Are theirs? Will your asks solely drive emotion or do they entail action on behalf of the audience?
  • Watch footage of Wednesday’s town hall forum and notice instances where speakers and audience members promoted or undermined civil dialogue, regardless of how you feel about their political stances. What language did they use to do so? How does this compare to the language used in your own planning and action thus far?

As always, let us know how else you’re tackling these important discussions and how we can help. My email is sandes@generationcitizen.org.