Parkland activists vow to keep pushing for change
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.