You and other Parkland students played a major role in changing the conversation around gun violence in this country. So many people have been trying to do that for years — why do you think that you all have been effective?
Because we’re not vulnerable. Like, f---, we’re kids. [Laughs.] What are you going to come after? We lost our friends in school that day. We lost our teachers in school that day . We don’t have jobs. You can’t come after our jobs that don’t exist. And we aren’t afraid to call out the bulls--- and the real thing that’s causing this. It’s the fact that we live in a country that is told, again and again, and to a large part believes, that dead children are the cost of our Second Amendment. It’s not.
Dead children will result in the death of this country if we continue down this path. People say guns are related to freedom and patriotism — but living through instances of gun violence on a daily basis and children having to go through active shooter drills is not what freedom looks like to me. It’s what f---ing corruption looks like to me. A corrupt system that doesn’t care about our children.
Do you think that is something that is changing?
I think it’s something that we have to change. We’ve let it get to a point where now, polls show that over 50 percent of kids believe that they will be affected by gun violence, either in the form of an everyday act of gun violence or a school shooting. I was talking to one of the people in charge of public opinion polling about youth political issues at Harvard, and he tweeted something the other day that was really interesting: that licensing and registration [of guns] is going to be what in 2016 free college tuition and universal health care was. Something that everyone has to have an opinion on and will be talked about and will happen. That’s what I hope. And if it’s not in 2020, it will be in 2022. But we have the constituency of young people and everyone going out and voting and calling their congressmen and state legislators and saying, “I am a gun violence prevention voter. I am voting to protect our children in schools. If you don’t f---ing care about our children, you shouldn’t be in office.”
You’ve been the lightning rod of the group — and have gotten a lot of hate, and death threats.
In the past year, there have been seven assassination attempts.
Oh, God. So how do you process something like that? And how do you see other people as a result?
Well, I see people as misguided and misinformed of what we’re actually here to talk about. But I also realize, if they kill me, that’s probably the stupidest thing they could do to try to end the movement. Because that would make it even more successful in the end. Because it would invigorate us and create f---ing change.
Honestly, I realize that it’s horrible that I have to live through this, and it is traumatizing. But you eventually become desensitized to it. Like, oh, your house got SWAT-ted. You got a call from the police saying someone said that everyone in your family had been killed and that you are being held hostage for $100,000. Right? That becomes part of daily life. It’s just something that you have to get through. But I mean, what am I going to do? Stop?
Some people do.
Well, I'm not going to stop. I want to go to school and, for lack of a better word, weaponize my knowledge and learn as much as possible to end violence.
You traveled the entire country by bus, meeting with people in very different communities. How did that affect you?
Sometimes I feel like Marlin from “Finding Nemo,” coming back and telling the entire story of what he saw. Because it’s just so much. Going to, like, 40 states and meeting people from every community, just to listen. I knew that I came from privilege before everything happened, but I never really, truly recognized what that meant. Sometimes that privilege is the greatest barrier for us seeing what other people go through in this country. But I think what it took for me was going to those people and talking to them. And when I look at gun violence, I see it through a lens of injustice now. Political injustice, economic injustice, racial injustice, colonial injustice.
I was asked the other day, when I went on this radio show on a gospel station in North Miami — there's a group of moms that are from North Miami who have had children murdered and taken from them as a result of gun violence or other forms of violence. The show is called "Florida Mothers of Murdered Children." And I went on there, and they asked me and two other people that were from the Parkland and Fort Lauderdale community why, if we saw the shootings every day on our TVs, why didn't we care?
The only thing I can think is it's because it doesn't feel close enough. Because our communities are so separated, you know, by economics and the fact that, you know, affluent white people don't see what poor people go through. And it's not just one group of people that's poor. It's a massive group that makes up every demographic that are poor in this country. It comes down to a lack of proximity that people have to each other.
We went to Ferguson, Missouri. And we went, on Father’s Day, with Michael Brown’s dad to where his son was murdered. And there’s a homeless man that came up to Emma [González] as we were walking over there, and [he] is just talking to us about everything that’s happened and breaks down and cries and falls into Emma’s arms. And he didn’t even know who we were. He just saw us there. And it was so hot there that one of our teammates almost passed out from heat stroke. And we were only outside for, like, 30 minutes. And we were reminded how Michael Brown was left on the ground for four hours. And everything that his father went through. And his family went through. And the constant political terrorization that that community went through from the National Guard and the military, who was later called in. And how that was framed and filmed from a helicopter. Right? Filmed mostly at night to make it look like a violent protest where the entire city of St. Louis was on fire. And then we get there, and it’s about three blocks long. Like, it’s literally a McDonald’s and two gas stations, and that’s the entirety of Ferguson. And one thing I saw there that was eerie was the fact that they had recently put down new grass after the protests around where Michael Brown had died. It reminded me of the shooting at my school. And how all the grass in front of it was dead now because of the memorials that were there. And how almost every community that we’d gone to where something horrible had happened, they all had dead grass around them because of the thousands of people that come in and stand on it and ask for justice, ask for peace, and might get some temporary answer. But then eventually, that grass comes back just to die again.
Your generation, and you in particular, have sort of taken to task older generations for not keeping you safe — which is a fair critique.
That gets misconstrued a lot of the time. One question I always ask groups of people when I'm speaking somewhere to people older than me is, "Raise your hand if you think this generation is going to save the country." And they all raise their hand. And I look around, and they all feel good about themselves. Like, yeah, we did a good job raising this generation. And then I say, "You're wrong." It's not going to be this generation that saves America. It has to be all of our generations working together in combination with the fury and energy and vigor of the youth and the wisdom of older generations. The trail has been blazed before, but it's very overgrown. We have to come back and figure out where that path is, and not make that same mistake again so other generations don't make it when they come back down this path.
I asked one of my mentors, "Do you think we're failing?" And he's, like, "No. Success doesn't always look like crossing the finish line. It looks like giving somebody else the chance to cross the finish line." And that's what we're doing. We are pushing as hard as we can right now so that, when people that are really young, like 5- and 10-year-olds in America right now, when they have kids, those kids can stand up and address the violence.
This interview has been edited and condensed.