The astonishing power of Stoneman Douglas students, in their own words

Their youth is inseparable from their activism.
Their youth is inseparable from their activism.
Image: Reuters/Colin Hackley
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In the seven short days since a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teenagers who survived the violence have emerged as America’s most powerful advocates for reforming gun-control laws.

They have been speaking at ralliesconfronting state legislators in Florida’s capital, and spurring students at high schools across the country to walk out in a show of solidarity. A nationwide march on Washington, DC, is scheduled for March 24, along with National School Walkout Day, a coordinated protest on March 14.

It’s easy to think of the Stoneman Douglas survivors—strikingly eloquent and fiercely committed to bringing a permanent end to gun violence in US schools—as older than their years. Listen, however, to what the students have to say, and they make this same point time and again: Their youth is inseparable from their activism.

Here are four quotes from the students that show just how important it is that we start taking their perspectives seriously:

Delaney Tarr, a senior

Tarr highlighted the power of adolescent emotion in a speech today (Feb. 21):

“This movement, created by students, led by students, is based on emotion. It is based on passion and it is based on pain. Our biggest flaws—our tendency to be a bit too aggressive, our tendency to lash out, things that you expect from a normal teenager—these are our strengths. The only reason that we’ve gotten so far is that we are not afraid of losing money, we’re not afraid of getting reelected or not getting reelected, we have nothing to lose. The only thing we have to gain at this point is our safety.”

Tanzil Philip, a sophomore

Philip spoke about the contrast between his old and new life in a speech today:

“To think, last week at this exact time, I was complaining about not wanting to go to rehearsal after school and trying to think of an excuse to get out of it…To [NRA Florida lobbyist] Marion Hammer and to everyone at the NRA and everyone affiliated at the NRA: We are not afraid of you, we will not be silenced by anything you have to say. We are here, our voices are loud, and we’re not stopping until change happens.”

Emma Gonzalez, a senior

Gonzalez described how classmates’ gun-control debates had become deeply personal in a speech Feb. 17:

“Instead of worrying about our AP Gov chapter 16 test, we have to be studying our notes to make sure that our arguments based on politics and political history are watertight. The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in the closets.”

Alfonso Calderon, a junior

Calderon said today that he was willing to drop out of school if it meant furthering the cause of gun reform:

“Everybody needs to remember, we are just children. A lot of people think that disqualifies us from even having an opinion on this sort of matter…This matters to me more than anything else in my entire life. And I want everybody to know, personally, I’m prepared to drop out of school. I’m prepared to not worry about anything besides this…I know everyone else here will fight for the rest of their lives to see sensible gun laws in this country, so that kids don’t have to fear going back to school.”