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One year ago on Sunday, at the center of a massive Washington rally and at the forefront of the nation’s mind, Emma Gonzalez rattled off the names of her dead classmates and teachers, standing in pained silence for several minutes as tears rolled down her cheek.
The crowd was confused. A chant broke out. Her timer buzzed.
“Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest,” she said.
“Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
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In the weeks after the shooter killed 17 and injured another 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day last year, Gonzalez and her band of outspoken, civic-minded classmates organized an anti-gun violence movement that dominated news headlines, casual conversation and political campaigns in the year to follow.
A gun-control and school safety law passed the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. A federal background check law passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmakers in 27 states passed 67 new laws aimed at restricting gun access this year, according to the Giffords Law Center.
The Never Again movement, spearheaded by the telegenic Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky and David Hogg, raised several millions of dollars and convinced hundreds of thousands of angry, inspired young people to march on Washington. Hundreds of sister marches in New York City, Boston, Chicago — across the nation and even in other countries — joined the wave of momentum a group of teenage troublemakers started in their friend’s living room in Broward County. More than 20,000 marched in Parkland.
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of one of the largest youth demonstrations in U.S. history, local chapters of March for Our Lives scattered across the country are organizing events Sunday to keep the issue of gun control at the forefront of discussion.
Events have been planned in Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles and Austin. The national organization is planning to create a pop-up art installation outside the U.S. Capitol, while the Washington chapter will write letters to Congress on Monday.
“Last year, we marched. Last November, we voted. Now, we fight. The mission of MFOL is not another march, but to create a force of change across the nation and the world. Visit our website to find a chapter near you! Together we will continue to mobilize, organize, and win,” the organization wrote on Twitter.
Jeff Foster, an Advanced Placement government teacher at Stoneman Douglas, said the march on Washington was “magical” — even if the activists failed to push a federal or state ban on assault rifles through Congress or the Florida Legislature. The students embarked on a voter-registration tour last summer, visiting 24 states in 60 days and sparking a 15-percentage point increase in youth voter turnout in Florida during the 2018 midterm elections.
“It felt like everything was just meant to be,” said Foster, who groomed students like Gonzalez and Hogg for their eventual role as activists during spirited classroom discussions. “Until the people in power change, unfortunately it’s not gonna change.”
“I think cynicism unfortunately reigns because these [members of Congress] are still pushed by corporate dollars in the long run,” he said. “Until corporate money is removed from politics … I think it’s gonna be the same unless we have this massive shift from caring about the Kardashians to caring about politics.”
But, he said, “As long as people are participating, that’s at least pushing us toward the republic we’re supposed to be.”