To the students, parents, administrators, and supporters of the #NeverAgain movement. I invite you to consider a few things as you decide how to move forward. The marches you’ve participated in, Listening Session with the President, protests at the Florida Capitol and the White House and the CNN Town Hall have all been very powerful. Yet already, people are looking to dictate to you your message, usurp it, or destroy the messengers to maintain the status quo. With that in mind, I offer a few suggestions that I hope will make your movement different than those who have come before you and quickly faded.
- Define yourselves: The media on all sides will attempt to define you for their own purposes and it’s important that you don’t become their labels. The sooner you can define yourselves in writing, stating your goals and establishing a structure. You will be better able to keep the focus on what you truly want to accomplish rather than having to pay attention to all the distractions caused by people saying who you are. The first claims that many of you were “actors” or “paid sympathizers” were laughable and immediately brushed away. Your detractors will be back and keep attempting to define you as something they can dismiss. Define yourselves and stay on message. A million-people speaking with a million voices is just noise. A million-people speaking with one voice is the beginning of a movement to be reckoned with.
- Learn your issues: The legislators and the gun lobby have been debating gun issues for years and have well-honed answers to the questions they are accustomed to being asked. They depend on you not recognizing when they change the subject when they deflect and fail to provide a straight answer. One of the questions to the NRA Spokesperson at the Town Hall related to the ability of an 18-year-old to possess an AR-15 or any type of assault weapon. The answer provided had to do with the right of someone old enough to vote or go to war to own a rifle. The need for an 18-year-old or anyone to own an assault rifle was never responded to. You must take control of the conversation and stay on point but you have to know all the issues to do so. What is unique about your movement is that politicians and industry groups find it hard to look you in the eye and explain why their profits are more important than your lives.
- Register voters: The only thing most of the politicians will respond to is whether or not you impact their ability to stay in office. They know the NRA can withhold funding or back another candidate and, in many cases, ensure their defeat. Until you possess that same type of power, you are not a threat, merely a nuisance. Start registering voters right now. Make it your first priority as some among you are already eligible to vote for the first time and others become eligible daily. Look at the restrictions in your state making it harder not only for minorities to vote but students and youth as well. The larger voting bloc you represent, the more power you’ll wield and the more you’ll be able to accomplish.
- Smiling faces: Everyone that reaches out their hand will not be your friend. Some will want to control you, some weaken you, others destroy you. You will be offered support, money, and advice. While you may well need all of the above, what will be the cost? Pick your friends wisely, they are there for a reason, possibly a mutually advantageously one, but a reason all the same.
- Keep your eye on the prize: Once you’ve defined your goals, never forget what they are. There will be opportunities to get caught up in organizational and power struggles, the lure of new goals, and the pull in different directions. Remember your goals and the reasons you chose them. Stay true to your mission and continually remind your members of what that message is.
- Plan for the next time: While #NeverAgain is a wonderful goal, until laws and behavior change, there will be an again, and again, and again. It will not mean you have failed, but that your job is not yet done. Be prepared to assist new communities. Show them how you made it through and how they can too. Point out the laws that need changing. Make yourselves heard. Require politicians to face you in public settings, and continue to register new voters, ultimately voting out those who choose to support the NRA and their own needs over the lives of youth.
You will constantly be offered “thoughts and prayers,” which have never proved enough in the past and mean nothing now. Demand action, register voters, then take action. Until #NeverAgain is more than just a hashtag but a reality.