Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died in a mass shooting last month, have been successful in resurfacing the debate on gun policy, with two national protests this month, one which took place on March 14 and one planned for March 24, dubbed “March For Our Lives.” Unlike other mass shootings, where the initial anger and outcry did nothing to change existing gun regulations, there is something different at play: social media activism.
Feb. 17, just three days after the shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student and survivor Emma González, gave an 11-minute speech that went viral, racking up more than 2.8 million views in less than a month.
Almost 3,000 miles away in San Luis Obispo, liberal studies senior Mary Roy watched Gonzalez’s impassioned speech when one of her Facebook friends shared the video.
“After watching Emma’s speech, I felt empowered to take a stance against gun violence and move in the direction towards tighter policies and protocols on the distribution of guns. It made me proud to be part of this generation because we aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right,” Roy said. “Emma did an amazing job of pulling on the heart strings of all her viewers to make people realize that humanity is more important than a piece of machinery.”
Since her speech, González, who did not have a Twitter account before the shooting, has joined under the handle @Emma4change. She now has more followers than the NRA, which has had an account since 2009.
Happy Sunday! This isn’t about Republicans v. Democrats 🙂 Plenty of Republicans are openly with us and plenty of Democrats are openly against us. Any politicians being funded by the NRA and/or those voting against us every chance they get – on these people, we call BS.
— Emma González (@Emma4Change) March 5, 2018
González and her peers have created the trending hashtag, “#NeverAgain,” that has now prompted some major American companies to take action in support of their movement.
Walmart has raised the age limit of gun purchases in their stores from 18 to 21, Dicks Sporting Goods completely banned sales of assault weapon-style semi-automatic rifles in their stores and at least a dozen companies have severed their ties with the NRA, including Delta Air Lines, Hertz and Symantec.
Celebrities and public figures, such as George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and former U.S. President Barack Obama also showed their support for the movement via social media platforms.
Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 22, 2018
Business administration senior Ramin Nazeri said the #NeverAgain movement is so strong because social media activism has given people the opportunity to come together in support of a cause without having to physically gather.
“This movement has allowed for the two-thirds of Americans who use social media to push for change together and share their opinions and ideas across the whole country. It even allows people to create events like the March For Our Lives in different cities, which will hopefully spur the change we need to end gun violence in our country,” Nazeri said.
Nazeri plans to attend the local March For Our Lives event at Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo March 24.
“I will be attending the event on behalf of my cousin who is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and because I believe the only way to end gun violence is to have a systematic change in the way we view, distribute and treat guns,” Nazeri said.
The event in San Luis Obispo is only one of the 824 March For Our Lives events happening worldwide, as of March 20.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continue to advocate for the event and encourage others to join them in their efforts to end gun violence.
On March 6, Sarah Chadwick, a Parkland student, created a parody video of a threatening NRA advertisement that was posted to NRATV two days prior. Chadwick used the video as a way to promote the March For Our Lives event by wearing a shirt with the name of the protest and displaying the date of the march at the end of the video.
In the original ad, Dana Loesch, NRA spokeswoman, listed off all the individuals whom she believed have wronged the country by undermining the meaning of the American flag, such as “every Hollywood phony” and “every lying member of the media.”
Chadwick mocked Loesch and the NRA in her parody by listing off people whom she believes have prevented gun control reform, including “every government official unwilling to take action and make change” and “everyone with an A+ plus rating from the National Rifle Association.”
Ryan Alaniz, associate professor of sociology at Cal Poly, said these students are using social media in a way that has never really been done before. Alaniz said this movement has been so effective because of the young students behind it and the upper hand they have when it comes to social media.
“I think there’s evidence to show that social media can influence legislators, but it’s not the social media as much as it is the pressure from young people taking on the mantle and trying to address this issue,” Alaniz said.
Alaniz emphasized the idea that young people have the power to make change. He said it is important for younger generations to voice their opinions to those in power.
“If high school and college students have an opinion on this issue, they should let everybody in power know. I think even speaking to the dean or to the president of the university and saying, ‘No matter what happens at the federal level, we should do our very best to protect Cal Poly and say it is a gun-free university.’ I think we should be putting pressure on our elected officials to say, ‘We won’t stand for it,’” Alaniz said.
Recreation, parks and tourism administration senior Amanda Bean was at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas Oct. 1, 2017 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd, leaving 58 dead and 851 people injured. As a survivor of a mass shooting herself, Bean said she feels connected to the students in Parkland and feels empowered that this group of students have finally initiated the change she has been hoping for. Bean said she feels proud to be part of the #NeverAgain movement.
“It’s different this time because with social media there’s this sense of community, and the fact that kids are doing this without being prompted and have been from the very start, is what is making people take notice,” Bean said. “It’s making them think what they were doing when they were 15 and then realizing that they probably weren’t living through a school shooting and then speaking out against it. It’s making people see that there needs to be a change.”