Park­land ac­tivists vow to keep push­ing for change

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Doreen Chris­tensen Colum­nist

First they cried. Then they marched. Then they got to work reg­is­ter­ing stu­dents to vote in the midterm elec­tions, vow­ing to break the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion’s stran­gle­hold on politi­cians.

The March for Our Lives stu­dent ac­tivists and shoot­ing sur­vivors from Park­land learned a pow­er­ful les­son in pol­i­tics on Tues­day. While Tues­day’s re­sults ap­peared to send NRA-backed can­di­dates to the gover­nor’s man­sion and the U.S. Se­nate, fi­nal re­sults won’t be known un­til after re­counts.

The teens be­hind the move­ment had an ide­al­is­tic and sin­gle-minded goal to up­end the sta­tus quo after a gun­man mur­dered and maimed 34 at their high school on Feb. 14. Their fight was full of fury and hope as mil­lions marched in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on March 24.

The teens and vic­tims’ fam­i­lies cru­saded for nine long months. Those work­ing for gun re­stric­tions cel­e­brated the loss of nearly 30 can­di­dates around the coun­try backed by the pow­er­ful gun lobby. Stu­dent-led reg­is­tra­tion drives also de­liv­ered young vot­ers to the polls in record num­bers. Those who cam­paigned for hard­en­ing schools are likely to have more friends in Tallahassee as the state turned a deeper shade of red.

“I’m shak­ing with anger right now,” March for Our Lives found­ing mem­ber Ja­clyn Corin said at an Elec­tion Day watch party. “It’s

like the same feel­ing I was get­ting the night of Feb. 14, so an­gry that I don’t know what to do with that anger,” ac­cord­ing to a video posted on Twit­ter.

High-pro­file stu­dent lead­ers David Hogg, Emma Gon­za­lez and De­laney Tarr, as well as vic­tims’ par­ents Manuel and Pa­tri­cia Oliver, An­nika and Mitch Dworet, Jen­nifer and Fred Gut­ten­berg joined Corin at a Co­ral Springs res­tau­rant to watch

live elec­tion re­sults.

“This isn’t the end of the race, this is per­mis­sion to start,” Hogg said. “The shoot­ing at Stone­man Douglas has all been train­ing for us on how to get cor­rupt politi­cians out of power and how to elect morally just lead­ers that care about this coun­try and the chil­dren of this na­tion.”

He later Tweeted that he’s fo­cused on the 2020 elec­tions.

Ryan Deitsch, an­other found­ing mem­ber, said the young ac­tivists re­main op­ti­mistic.

“We are do­ing ex­actly what we said we were go­ing to do re­gard­less of elec­tion re­sults,” said Deitsch. “We up­ended a lot of NRA politi­cians and are go­ing to con­tinue to reg­is­ter young vot­ers and keep work­ing to in­crease gun-safety leg­is­la­tion to save Amer­i­can lives.”

The group achieved an ex­tra­or­di­nary vic­tory while the sear­ing pain of the tragedy was fresh. A sweep­ing law was passed in Florida with changes to school safety and gun ac­cess from a ma­jor­ity Repub­li­can Leg­is­la­ture, which for decades has been a bas­tion of gun­rights leg­is­la­tion.

The leg­is­la­tion tight­ened gun reg­u­la­tions and al­lows some teach­ers to be armed. The NRA im­me­di­ately filed a fed­eral law­suit to block some of the law from tak­ing ef­fect.

Artist-ac­tivist Manuel Oliver, the fa­ther of slain stu­dent Joaquin Oliver, said he was happy with the over­all na­tional elec­tion re­sults.

After the shoot­ing, the Venezue­lan-born artist trav­eled around the coun­try cre­at­ing ur­ban art in­stal­la­tions to protest gun vi­o­lence. On Nov. 5. Oliver placed a bul­let­proof vest on the bronze Fear­less Girl statue in New York City to protest mass shoot­ings.

Oliver and his wife, Pa­tri­cia, be­came U.S. cit­i­zens less than a month be­fore their son was killed. On Tues­day they voted for the first time in a gen­eral elec­tion.

“I was dis­ap­pointed with the re­sults in Florida last night,” Oliver said Wed­nes­day. “I feel like we still don’t get it. Politi­cians Rick Scott and Ron DeSan­tis are proNRA and they haven’t done much to solve the prob­lem of gun vi­o­lence.”

Oliver said he will keep fight­ing the NRA. “What the kids and peo­ple like me did with­out rest­ing one day, we reached some of the goals that we wanted,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Democrats tak­ing con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “The next step is to keep on do­ing what we are do­ing. I woke up this morn­ing as an ac­tivist and as some­one who will con­tinue to fight gun vi­o­lence in this na­tion. I won’t de­pend on politi­cians to help.”

Not ev­ery­one was dis­ap­pointed.

“I’m not an­gry,” tweeted Pa­trick Petty, 19, whose sis­ter Alaina died in the tragedy, in re­sponse to a tweet say­ing there was a lot of grief and anger in Park­land about the elec­tion. His fa­ther, Ryan, cam­paigned un­suc­cess­fully on a con­ser­va­tive plat­form for the Broward County School Board in Au­gust.

An­drew Pol­lack, whose only daugh­ter, Meadow, was mur­dered at the school on Feb. 14, cam­paigned for DeSan­tis for gover­nor and other Florida Repub­li­can can­di­dates.

“I just left the sen­a­tor­elect in Naples. I was there with the Pet­tys, the Mon­tal­tos and Tom and Gena Hoyer,” he said of other Park­land fam­i­lies whose chil­dren were killed. “We all were there sup­port­ing Rick Scott. He showed up for us when we needed him in Park­land. He helped with the school safety bill, he signed it.”

Pol­lack says Scott knows what went wrong in Broward County. “He knows about these di­ver­sion­ary pro­grams put in place by [Pres­i­dent Barack] Obama and Su­per­in­ten­dent [Robert] Run­cie. There has been no ac­count­abil­ity with these Democrats in Broward,” he said, re­fer­ring to the school board and Sher­iff Scott Is­rael. “They ac­cept no re­spon­si­bil­ity for what hap­pened at the high school on Feb. 14. They are win­ning awards and get­ting raises and we have 17 dead peo­ple. I de­spise Democrats and hold them re­spon­si­ble for the death of my daugh­ter.”

The stu­dent-led reg­is­tra­tion drives did get young vot­ers to the polls in record num­bers. The March for Our Lives or­ga­ni­za­tion touted the largest youth turnout in 25 years.

“We will per­pet­u­ate this life sav­ing con­ver­sa­tion un­til we erad­i­cate gun vi­o­lence and have morally just lead­ers in of­fice. Thanks to all the young peo­ple that have sup­ported us since the be­gin­ning. We will win!,” said a tweet posted Wed­nes­day.

It’s un­clear what ef­fect the youth vote had on Florida elec­tions. Break­downs of voter reg­is­tra­tion by age will not be avail­able un­til mid-De­cem­ber, when the Florida Divi­sion of Elec­tions re­leases voter rolls for Novem­ber.

Vot­ers age 18 to 29 are about 17 per­cent of to­tal reg­is­tered vot­ers in Florida, and more than 128,000 Florid­i­ans ages 17 to 21 reg­is­tered to vote in the first 10 months of the year. That was a 26 per­cent in­crease from the num­ber of young new reg­is­trants prior to the 2014 midterm elec­tion.

But while turnout in South Florida was higher than the last five midterm elec­tions, Broward, Mi­amiDade and Palm Beach lagged be­hind most coun­ties in the state on Elec­tion Day. That lower turnout may have been a de­cid­ing fac­tor in the gover­nor and se­nate races.

“The elec­tion was very dis­heart­en­ing,” said Kai Ko­er­ber, 17, a se­nior at Mar­jory Stone­man Douglas. He is a leader of Stu­dents Tact­fully Or­ga­niz­ing Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Move­ments (STORM), which gives voice to mi­nor­ity stu­dents at the high school and or­ga­nizes voter-reg­is­tra­tion drives. “If we’ve proven any­thing over the last 9 months, it’s that we are not afraid to keep pres­sure on leg­is­la­tors to pro­mote pos­i­tive change.”

He says his gen­er­a­tion needs to keep push­ing for change. “We have to make sure to dis­avow the back­ing and fi­nan­cial sup­port of the NRA and the leg­is­la­tors sup­ported by them. We will pre­vail.”

But as the stu­dents look ahead, they surely got more am­mu­ni­tion in their fight against gun vi­o­lence.

On Wed­nes­day, a gun­man slaugh­tered 12 in mass shoot­ing at a Thou­sand Oaks, Calif. bar packed with col­lege stu­dents.

“After tak­ing my first day off in 8 months this is not what I wanted to wake up to,” Hogg said on Twit­ter early Thurs­day. “These in­ci­dents must be stopped. The fed­eral govern­ment needs [to] fund gun vi­o­lence re­search at the CDC, NIJ, NIH and NSF.”

Said Oliver, “I’m go­ing to f------ de­stroy the NRA and the gun lobby. More die ev­ery day.”

Staff pho­tog­ra­pher Car­line Jean and staff writer John Maines con­trib­uted to this re­port.


“This isn’t the end of the race, this is per­mis­sion to start,” David Hogg said about Tues­day’s elec­tion re­sults.


Ac­tivist and Park­land shoot­ing sur­vivor, Emma González and Manuel Oliver, the fa­ther of slain Park­land school stu­dent Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, hug dur­ing an elec­tion watch party.

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