Student activism promises future change


Senior Kris Cho makes a speech during the student-led walkout March 14. Photo by Maya Bell.

Maya Bell

Moments after the fatal shooting of 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla. Feb. 14, Kevin Hogg rushed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School fearing the worst news a parent could ever receive. His son and daughter, David and Lauren Hogg, were on campus when an active shooter opened fire into multiple classrooms in the freshman building of the local high school.
Halfway across the country, a close friend of the Hogg family, Melanie Knocke, the Rock Bridge Planetarium Director, recalled the family’s reaction to the traumatic events of the day.
The father, a former FBI agent, began to direct traffic as chaos erupted around the school. Kevin Hogg spotted his son and told him to drive to safety while he searched for his sister. After finding her, the family reunited and returned home, Knocke said. Meanwhile, the nation exploded with the news of yet another school shooting.
David was very upset and wouldn’t sit down, and [he was] throwing things and banging things and just had to do something, and he wanted to go back to the school, and his dad wouldn’t let him take the car.” Knocke said. “[David’s father] was like, ‘You’re going to hit somebody. You do not go back.’ So David went out to the garage, got his bike, came back in, got his camera and backpack and went out the door, and his dad asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m going to get my story.’”
Fueled by an urge to understand what had just happened to his community, David Hogg, a senior at the high school, spent the day seeking the stories of his fellow students after one of the most deadly mass shootings in American history. His background in journalism, television production and debate programs in school prepared him to be a voice for his peers and a national movement, Knocke said. Since then, David Hogg joined the ranks of the Parkland students fighting for gun control legislature in local and national government. He appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, ABC News’ This Week and Fox News.
“He felt driven, like he had to be there because he had to do something, and so that’s what he did,” Knocke said. “That’s one of the reasons he’s been upfront in the news media because he felt driven. He had to do something, and he was in a position that he could because he had all the training.”
A student-led organization of Parkland, Fla. called Never Again Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) shocked the nation with a unyielding drive to make a change to gun laws in America. Despite their ages, David Hogg and other victims of the shooting have been able to stand up to national gun lobbies, major corporations and government officials to express a message of bipartisan concern: gun violence will never again devastate another school or community.
In a matter of weeks, the Never Again MSD movement gained momentum as it spread through the news cycle and into schools nationally. Marjory Stoneman Douglas students turned their parents’ living rooms into the source of modern-day youth activism, according to an article by Time. Students are planning meetings with Fla. state representatives, organizing The March for Our Lives on March 24 and starting the rallying hashtags #NeverAgain, #MarchforOurLives and #Enough on social media. Sophomore Grace Cunningham sees social media as a powerful tool for modern-day activism.
“I think that social media platforms help bring change and attention to the issues in reaching out to a wide range of people,” Grace Cunningham said. “We are able to organize a nationwide march through social media.”
We are able to organize a nationwide march through social media.” – Grace Cunningham, sophomore
The initiative of these teen activists to make change in their community has not only inspired students across the country to turn to their own school districts and governments and take to the streets in protest, but it also pushed Fla. representatives to make legislature to ensure increased safety against gun violence. On Friday, March 9, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that raised the legal buying age of a firearm from 18 to 21 years old.
While David Hogg and the students of Parkland, Fla. brought the voice of youth to the forefront of the American gun control debate, the Missouri government is taking legislative measures that will allow concealed weapons to be carried into places like schools and churches. The Missouri House committee passed House Bill 1936 Feb. 27. If the bill signs into law, many current Gun-Free Zones, including private property, public college campuses and sports stadiums, would no longer prohibit concealed weapons. In the days before the House committee passed Bill 1936, members faced hours of oppositional testimony from students, teachers and gun-control advocate groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Sophomore Grace Cunningham joined Moms Demand Action in Jefferson City Feb. 20. With the support of her mother, Beth Cunningham, Grace Cunningham travelled to the Missouri capitol and spoke with various government representatives about her convictions on gun violence in American schools.
“They were looking for as many people to come to the capitol, and so discussing this with Grace, she said, ‘Mom, I’d really like to go, too,’” Beth Cunningham said. “I said, ‘Well, it’s during [a] school day. As long as you’re not going to miss out on a test, I’ll excuse you for that day.’ And so it was her idea to come.”
Before arriving at the capitol, Grace Cunningham composed a letter to her representatives that convinced leaders of Moms Demand Action that she could be a young voice to argue for increased gun control.
“I wrote this letter to give to all of the representatives I talked to,” Cunningham said. “I was the only kid there, so they had me introduce [Moms Demand Action]. They wanted to hear from me because I was obviously a kid. They wanted to see my opinions on [gun violence in American schools].”
In the letter, Grace Cunningham lists the names of victims from all mass shootings in American schools since the Columbine Massacre of 1999.

A student holds a sign listing the names of cities that experienced a school shooting in the first part of 2018. There have already been 18 gun-related incidents in American schools. Photo by Maya Bell.
“I did my own research and put together a list of victims of mass shootings at 22 schools in the United States…,” the letter reads. “I’m saddened to see that the deaths of these victims could possibly have been prevented with gun safety laws that were enforced.”
During her time at the capitol, Grace Cunningham spoke to Missouri government representatives from both parties. Grace Cunningham explained that she participates in turkey hunting and has a hunting license. She clarified to the representatives that she was not against the rights of the Second Amendment; rather she wanted tighter gun control laws. Grace Cunningham presented herself professionally, said Beth Cunningham. Her message, like the students of Parkland, Fla., was clear: No student should have to attend school with the possibility of another mass shooting.
Grace Cunningham’s experience with Moms Demand Action provided her with the inspiration to continue to stand up as the voice of her community’s youth. On March 14, Grace Cunningham joined fellow students in a walkout to demand increased gun control legislature.
“After [writing a letter and speaking to representatives], I wanna go out and do more,” Grace Cunningham said. “I think we actually have a lot more [power] than I thought we did.”
While Grace Cunningham continues to test her hand at youth-driven activism, some students fear that the adults of their communities will not hear their voices. Senior Ramon Tovar-Yampara doubts the effectiveness of student-led protests and organizations such as the Never Again MSD movement.
“Adults won’t take us seriously,” Tovar-Yampara said. “If they do, it’ll be for a short while and then afterwards it will be like nothing ever happened, and it’ll just continue to cycle with more school shootings.”
Adults won’t take us seriously,” – Ramon Tovar-Yampara, senior
Tovar-Yampara believes connections could make all of the difference. If students were to communicate with the adults in their life and gain support, Tovar-Yampara sees the young voice of activism gaining power in real-world politics.
“I think it’s more of having the right connection, knowing the right people to go to,” Tovar-Yampara said. “For example, if a student’s dad was part of the council for the city, I think that would be huge because he would also be asking other adults to join in [on the cause of gun control], and someone who’s that big of a figure has some respect.”
In a recent post on her personal Facebook page, Rev. Molly Housh Gordon of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia offered to be the adult link for aspiring youth activists in the community.
“Base your [activism] work in relationships with those who are impacted by the same things you care about,” Housh Gordon said. “Relationships are where our true power is unleashed because they tap into a network that extends far beyond us.”
For Grace Cunningham, she has found power to make change in her community from her relationship with parents and her association with Moms Demand Action.
“My parents obviously support me a lot,” Grace Cunningham said. “I went [to speak with my representatives] with my mom. She helps me and encourages me to get myself out there.”
From the captivating power of the Parkland student activists of the Never Again MSD movement to Grace Cunningham’s moving plea to Missouri representatives, the voice of America’s youth continues to grow more powerful and influential on politics and society.
Any person’s power to make change is rooted in their own story and experience,” Housh Gordon said. “This is true for teens and people of all ages—part of the power emerging from Parkland is the teens there transforming their story and experience into demands and political power for change. Their story is connected to so many teens and people of all ages across the country, and by sharing it so publicly they are building a massive movement that lawmakers cannot afford to ignore.”