BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. On Thursday, National Rifle Association boss Wayne LaPierre looked back at the past week and a half of activism following yet another devastating school shooting and defaulted to accusation mode.
WAYNE LaPIERRE: As usual, the opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain. Saul Alinsky would have been proud -- the breakback speed of calls for more gun control laws and the breathless national media eager to smear the NRA.
BOB GARFIELD: Meanwhile, outside the Florida capitol building in Tallahassee and even in the offices of some state legislators, the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School carried on what they describe as a nonpartisan long-due movement called hashtag #NeverAgain. The students, some of whom traveled to Tallahassee just hours after burying their friends, had an audacious idea, to make the Parkland School shooting the last school shooting.
According to Emily Witt, writer and reporter for the New Yorker, the conviction to achieve that took hold within hours of the massacre.
EMILY WITT: The initial conversations were on social media. Students in group chats shared their feelings and then the night after the shooting some students gathered together at the house of one of their friends, started a Facebook page that they called Never Again. And the media was everywhere. They were talking to tons of students. And they all decided to gather together under the name of this movement, Never Again.
BOB GARFIELD: They’ve chosen their battles. They’ve avoided an assault on the Second Amendment or even just on Republicans, in general, who are the most local guardians of the Second Amendment. How Hoquickly did their tactics, their strategy and their agenda coalesce?
EMILY WITT: I would say really within 48 hours. They had decided that they wanted to send a nonpartisan message. Some of them are advocating for a ban for the AR-15 but certainly not all of them, and the first step that they would like to make is simply more stringent background checks and what they call “common sense gun law reform.” Their sense of urgency really comes from wanting to stop this and not from taking a side. A lot of them are not even old enough to vote. And at the meetings in Tallahassee there were kids that identified as Republicans, kids that identified as Democrats and kids that said they had no party affiliation; they were just there because they want to stop gun violence.
BOB GARFIELD: You know, I don’t want to necessarily identify him as the leader of the student movement in Parkland but patient zero sort of is a kid named Cameron Kasky. Was he the first to seek fellow travelers for an organized movement?
EMILY WITT: He has a lot of energy. [LAUGHS] When he was littler he probably got everybody organized on the playground. And he’d written a post on Facebook that had gotten the attention of the media, so he had started giving interviews at the national news media pretty quickly, so he was already out there. And his living room, I think, is where they've been having their planning sessions so far.
BOB GARFIELD: And he is the author of the slogan hashtag #NeverAgain.
EMILY WITT: That’s right. He said he came up with it while sitting on the toilet in his Ghostbuster pajamas.
And he made it very clear that we could all quote him on that.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] That’s pretty charming but does that little anecdote undercut their seriousness or actually support the notion that it's the real organic deal?
EMILY WITT: They’re really upfront that they’re still just kids and that that’s part of the reason this shouldn't have happened to them. They shouldn't have had to cower in closets while their friends were getting shot. They’re kids. They’re really open about that.
BOB GARFIELD: Cameron Kasky, in his Ghostbuster pajamas, [LAUGHS] was also the one who changed the tune originally from a broadside against Republicans in their support for the NRA and against gun control to opening the discussion beyond standard political boundaries. How does a 17-year-old have the wherewithal to be so politically thoughtful?
EMILY WITT: These students are from one of the best public high schools in Florida, and in the midst of this tragedy I think it's important to remember what a great American public high school can look like, how multicultural it is, how politically aware the students are. These are students that have grown up thinking about this issue. One other student leader, Jacqueline Coren who’s the junior class president, she wrote a 50-page paper on gun control for her AP Composition and Rhetoric class just a couple of months ago. This is not an exceptional event out in the world to them. This is something they've grown up hearing about and thinking about and knowing that it could possibly happen to them.
BOB GARFIELD: You know, when I watch adult reporters at press conferences with the president and his spokespeople, I am sometimes disgusted when respect crosses the line into deference into undue deference based on the circumstances. This did not seem [LAUGHS] to be the case with these kids facing Marco Rubio and other politicians. They said what they meant and they meant what they said.
MARCO RUBIO: …is to move forward…
CAMERON KASKY: Wait, so, hold on.
RUBIO: …and prevent this from ever happening again.
KASKY: So right now in the name, in the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?
RUBIO: I think in the name of 17 people, I can pledge to you that I will support any law that will prevent a killer like this from getting a gun.
KASKY: No, but I'm talking about NRA money.
RUBIO: No, no. Because I -- a matter of fact, I bet we can get people in here to give you exactly as much money as the NRA would have.
RUBIO: But it’s not -- I understand. And you’re right.
EMILY WITT: A group of 100 students came to Tallahassee to speak with state legislators, and I sat in on some of those meetings and the students were very respectful. They chose their battles. They weren't going to sit there and wave their cell phones and record video and yell at anybody. They had very measured and thoughtful conversations with the very few lawmakers in Florida who were willing to meet with them.
BOB GARFIELD: All this in the midst of burying friends, trying to take care of their own mental health, preparing for the resumption of the school year. Being a junior in high school is not a cakewalk, under the best of circumstances. There is a lot of pressure. How in the world do you suppose they are coping with this extraordinary ordeal?
EMILY WITT: Well, the students I spoke with said, especially the more activist students, said this is their way of grieving. A lot of these kids are extroverts. A few of them are in drama club, politics clubs, student government. They’re the kind of kids that like to be out there and doing things. And for them, the grieving process has been about speaking their mind and trying to change something. They, they need to act because they feel a sense of urgency that sitting at home and crying would not make better.
What these students believe that I think the rest of us have become too complacent or too cynical to believe is that this really could be the last mass shooting in a school in America. And their idealism is reminding a lot of us what we've lost in settling for the reality that we have, and that's been moving people all over the country.
BOB GARFIELD: Emily, thank you so much.
EMILY WITT: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Emily Witt is a writer and reporter. Her article in the New Yorker is titled, “How the Survivors of Parkland began the Never Again Movement.”