Nos. 1–5: Park­land teens turn anger into ac­tion

Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Wind Co­founders, March for Our Lives

Fast Company - - Contents - BY J.J. MCCORVEY

Jaclyn Corin, Emma Gonzáles, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Wind are lever­ag­ing their so­cial me­dia skills to make un­prece­dented gains in the gun-con­trol move­ment.

Cameron Kasky re­calls the eerie re­al­iza­tion that de­scended upon the kids hud­dled in the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School class­room where he and his younger brother, Holden, were hid­ing from a 19-year-old former stu­dent with an AR-15. “I re­mem­ber see­ing a lot of peo­ple not con­fused any­more,” says Kasky. After all the years of lock­down drills, it was hap­pen­ing to them. Since that Fe­bru­ary day in Park­land, Florida, when 14 stu­dents and three fac­ulty mem­bers were killed, Kasky and fel­low class­mates Emma González, David Hogg,

Jaclyn Corin, and Alex Wind have ded­i­cated them­selves to pre­vent­ing it from hap­pen­ing to any­one else. In the week after the shoot­ing, these five teens helped form the core lead­er­ship of what quickly be­came the #Nev­er­a­gain move­ment, a grassroots ef­fort that has in­spired na­tion­wide school walk­outs and lo­cal leg­isla­tive changes, and drew more than 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple, pre­dom­i­nantly youth, to the streets of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and cities across the country for the March for Our Lives rally this past spring. Cru­cially, the stu­dents have even spurred ac­tion in the busi­ness arena, prompt­ing re­tail­ers and banks to sup­port stronger re­stric­tions around gun sales. Hav­ing spo­ken the lan­guage of so­cial me­dia since they had baby teeth, they knew far bet­ter than any brand or me­dia com­pany how to cre­ate an ef­fec­tive vi­ral phe­nom­e­non, mo­bi­liz­ing on Twit­ter and lever­ag­ing press cov­er­age to call for gun con­trol. Plus, says González, “as chil­dren, we’re good at be­ing loud and de­mand­ing at­ten­tion. No one is al­lowed to ig­nore this [is­sue] any­more.”

The quin­tet—along with nearly two dozen of their class­mates—has ac­com­plished more for the cause than any other cam­paign that fol­lowed a mass shoot­ing. “We made one of the largest marches in U.S. his­tory in a mat­ter of five weeks be­cause we were able to co­or­di­nate, com­mu­ni­cate, and get things done faster than any­body be­fore us,” says Hogg. The 18-year-old former news di­rec­tor for the school’s TV sta­tion, Hogg has be­come the group’s res­i­dent pol­icy wonk and strate­gist, adept at pulling the levers of pub­lic opinion on so­cial me­dia. González, 18, who de­liv­ered her in­deli­ble “We call BS” speech in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing and cre­ated an iconic mo­ment on­stage at the march in D.C. when she paused for a star­tling 4 min­utes and 27 sec­onds of si­lence (mak­ing her speech the length of the gun­man’s spree), serves as a pub­lic ad­vo­cate. Seven­teen-year-old Kasky, though joc­u­lar and me­dia-friendly, works mostly be­hind the scenes, de­vel­op­ing the mes­sag­ing that his class­mates and their part­ner net­work use on so­cial me­dia and else­where. Wind, age 17, coordinates cam­paigns with stu­dents and or­ga­ni­za­tions in other states and cities. Corin, MSD’S ju­nior class pres­i­dent, is both a pub­lic speaker and plan­ner: A week after the shoot­ing, the 17-year-old or­ga­nized a trip for 100 of her class­mates to the Florida State Capi­tol in Tal­la­has­see to ap­peal for gun re­stric­tions.

De­spite these ef­forts, Congress still hasn’t taken up any of the stu­dents’ ba­sic pol­icy asks, in­clud­ing uni­ver­sal back­ground checks and ban­ning sales of as­sault weapons and high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines. While in Tal­la­has­see, the group met with state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jared Moskowitz, who even­tu­ally helped push his col­leagues to vote “yes” on a bill to raise the firearm age re­quire­ment to 21 years and im­pose a three-day wait­ing pe­riod on pur­chases. He tu­tored the stu­dents on bill-mak­ing pol­icy and pro­ce­dure, “so they [could] take the ex­pe­ri­ence here in Tal­la­has­see and try to repli­cate it in other places,” Moskowitz says.

Now, as me­dia at­ten­tion around the shoot­ing wanes, the group is en­ter­ing its most chal­leng­ing— and im­por­tant—phase: What hap­pens next.

Since the march, Corin, Hogg, González, Kasky, and Wind have launched a flurry of ini­tia­tives to ex­tend the move­ment’s mo­men­tum. They now over­see a March for Our Lives non­profit, which em­ploys a hand­ful of former class­mates and serves as the group’s op­er­a­tions hub. The or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ported “Town Hall for Our Lives,” a cam­paign that en­cour­ages stu­dents across the country to cre­ate events to press lo­cal law­mak­ers for gun re­form, and de­buted an on­line toolkit to ad­vise high school­ers who want to start their own clubs. This sum­mer, the five lead­ers are trav­el­ing around the country to speak at youth events. “At ev­ery one, we make sure there’s a voter reg­is­tra­tion booth present,” says Wind.

The move­ment’s strength re­sides in the roughly 4 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who will turn 18 this year and be able to in­flu­ence the midterm elec­tions. Young peo­ple “have the po­ten­tial to be the big­gest vot­ing bloc in Novem­ber,” says Jen To­lentino, the di­rec­tor of pol­icy and civic tech for the non­profit Rock the Vote, which pow­ers on­line reg­is­tra­tion forms and text-to-vote codes for March for Our Lives. Rock the Vote says it has reg­is­tered more young peo­ple through March for Our Lives than many other part­ners.

Pri­vate en­ter­prise is tak­ing note. After March for Our Lives was an­nounced, ex­ec­u­tives be­gan reach­ing out. Lyft do­nated free rides to sis­ter marches in 50 cities; Delta Air Lines of­fered char­tered flights for MSD stu­dents and fam­i­lies to at­tend the D.C. event. Bank of Amer­ica has stopped lend­ing to some as­sault-style weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers, and Cit­i­group pro­hibits re­tail­ers that use its fi­nan­cial ser­vices from sell­ing guns to peo­ple un­der 21 or who haven’t passed a back­ground check. And both Wal­mart and Dick’s Sport­ing Goods raised the age limit for gun sales from 18 to 21. “We have heard you. The na­tion has heard you,” Dick’s CEO Ed­ward Stack wrote of the ac­tivists when he an­nounced that his stores were also ban­ning as­sault ri­fles.

The stu­dents have be­gun en­gag­ing both com­pa­nies and con­sumers in new, more proac­tive ways. When Fox News host Laura In­gra­ham mocked Hogg in a tweet in late March, he pushed a list of her ad­ver­tis­ers to his nearly 800,000 fol­low­ers. Within days, more than 20 of her show’s spon­sors—in­clud­ing Nestlé, IBM, and Hulu—had with­drawn. Hogg’s logic is sim­ple: “If some­body’s do­ing some­thing stupid and it’s just for the money,” he says, of the way In­gra­ham baited him to ap­pease her base, “go after the money.” In April, he launched an­other boy­cott, aimed at in­vest­ment gi­ants Black­rock and Van­guard to protest their hold­ings in gun man­u­fac­tur­ers. This came even after Black­rock—which wields more than $6 tril­lion in as­sets—cre­ated two gun-free funds in re­sponse to the shoot­ing.

The March for Our Lives founders are aware that their promi­nence and im­pact stems, in large part, from their be­ing white and well-off. They’ve re­sponded by seek­ing out a wide range of al­lies. They speak fre­quently with Michael Skol­nik, who runs a so­cial im­pact con­sul­tancy called the Soze Agency and serves on the board of the Trayvon Martin Foun­da­tion. And they’ve reached out to both Chicago’s Peace War­riors, a group of black stu­dents who have been com­bat­ing gun vi­o­lence in their neigh­bor­hoods, and the Dream De­fend­ers, a Florida-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that was formed after the mur­der of Trayvon Martin in San­ford, Florida. “We feel a new sense of in­spi­ra­tion around the pos­si­bil­ity of a cross­class, cross-race move­ment here in Florida,” says codi­rec­tor Rachel Gilmer. “This move­ment is big­ger than the Park­land kids who are on TV.”

By ex­pand­ing the gun-safety con­ver­sa­tion be­yond its pre­vi­ous si­los, the March for Our Lives founders are en­sur­ing that the cause doesn’t live— or die—with them alone. It’s why they ceded the stage at the march to speak­ers like Naomi Wadler, the 11-year-old who called at­ten­tion to the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of black fe­male victims of gun vi­o­lence, and 17-year-old Edna Chavez, who told the crowd how she learned at a young age to duck bul­lets in South L.A. “It was sim­ple priv­i­lege that got us the spot­light,” says Kasky. “We have an op­por­tu­nity, a plat­form, and we’re ded­i­cat­ing our­selves to us­ing it for ev­ery­body af­fected by gun vi­o­lence.” In the United States, that’s a grow­ing— and em­bold­ened—group of vot­ers.

“We’re good at be­ing loud and de­mand­ing at­ten­tion,” says Emma González. “No one is al­lowed to ig­nore this [is­sue] any­more.”

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