How the Parkland Shooting Led to a Generation’s Political Awakening | Modern Society of USA

How the Parkland Shooting Led to a Generation’s Political Awakening

How the Parkland Shooting Led to a Generation’s Political Awakening

Birth of a Movement
By Dave Cullen

I was in the audience at the March for Our Lives last year when Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland, Fla., high school students, suddenly fell silent. As the minutes passed, and she stared us down, her big brown eyes filling with tears, I had the same thoughts as probably every other protective adult in the crowd: Did she freeze? Forget her lines? Is she just overcome? Is this poor, brave kid having a public nervous breakdown?

What never occurred to me is what Dave Cullen was at that moment chronicling backstage for his book “Parkland”: Everything about the moment of silence was choreographed, the culmination of weeks of planning by the most intrepid group of teenage survivors ever. These were not a bunch of kids fumbling onstage. Starting within hours after the Valentine’s Day shooting, they had begun to assemble into a semiprofessional roving advocacy troupe, focused on moving the needle on gun control. As one survivor, David Hogg, vowed on TV only hours after 17 of his fellow students were killed: “I don’t want this to be another mass shooting. I don’t want this just to be something that people forget.”

[ Read our review of Dave Cullen’s “Columbine.” ]

With “Parkland,” Cullen aims for a straightforward inspirational story of a group of kids “healing each other as they fought.” They knew one another from drama club, and instinctively understood how to position themselves on a national stage. At a candlelight vigil, one of them introduced herself to the Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who connected her to a state senator, who helped the kids figure out how to get floor time at the statehouse. Another came up with #NeverAgain while he was on the toilet in his pajamas. The hashtag went viral and landed him on “Anderson Cooper 360” and NPR. Basically every time Emma Gonzalez opened her mouth, she went viral. And within a couple of weeks they had ambitions of planning a rally as big as the Women’s March.

How or why these particular kids came to be so rapidly effective is not exactly clear from the book. Cullen partly chalks it up to generational wisdom. They understood news cycles and Twitter, viral videos and memes, and they set out to make themselves as relevant as possible. They understood they would be perceived as privileged white kids who live in gated communities, so they made alliances with groups that focus on urban school violence and shared the stage with them. They understood that no politician wants to be seen dismissing a kid who just saw his or her friends shot, so they staged as many showdowns as possible. In retrospect it seems extraordinary that all the pieces came together so effortlessly, yet even after reading the book I’m not exactly sure why this group of kids, at this particular moment.

In “Columbine,” Cullen punctured the lazy media narrative that the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were goth vigilantes, crusaders against bullies and mean girls. They were, he concluded, a psychopath and a depressive, and should be viewed through the lens of mental illness, and not school cliques and revenge — a point he’s repeated about many school shooters since. And partly thanks to Cullen, the rules of covering shootings have shifted. It’s become something of a taboo to spend too much energy on the psyche of the shooters, and definitely a taboo to glamorize their motives in any way.

[ Read Dave Cullen’s 2012 essay, “Don’t Jump to Conclusions About the Killer,” which he wrote after the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. ]

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