Each week, the “Can He Do That?” podcast explores critical questions about what today’s news means for our nation and its highest office. Listen here.
When Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox heard the news of last week's deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., his stomach filled with the same dread experienced by countless other Americans — people who, in recent years, have watched mass shootings unfold on their television screens again and again.
“I got pretty nauseated when I saw the footage on CNN. I looked up and saw the kids being carted out,” Cox recalled this week. “And you know, for me, it just took me back to one story after another that I had immersed myself in over the past year. And there is a little bit of a feeling of helplessness, because you know this has been going on since Columbine.”
Cox has spent the past year interviewing and profiling children who have been the victims of gun violence, or who have witnessed or experienced a shooting in their neighborhoods and schools. And when it comes to the number of children with this experience, statistics are shocking: According to an ongoing Washington Post analysis, at least 150,000 young people in America have experienced a school shooting — attended a school where a mass atrocity occurred, and dealt with the trauma of having survived.
But, Cox agreed, this shooting has felt different. The teenage survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been vociferous in their outcry, using protests, national news interviews and social media to aim their anger at politicians and the nation's gun laws.
“What's going on in South Florida, a lot of the discussion right now is very different than I've ever seen post-shooting. And I think it's specifically because these kids have decided to make their voices heard, and they're not mincing words,” Cox said. “I think that's cracking through a little bit in a way that it hasn't before.”
And when you look at these teenagers showing up on CNN and speaking in front of large crowds, you have to ask the question: Can they do that? Can these teenagers take the momentum of this moment and use it to force the government and the president to make significant changes to the country's laws on guns?
This is the question we explore in this week's episode of “Can He Do That?” We talk to Cox about his experiences writing about children traumatized by gun violence, and how and why families and teenage victims choose to become activists.
And we talk to national reporter Wesley Lowery, who recounts his recent interviews with Douglas student activists and explains why their campaign may yet gain traction with lawmakers. He also talks about the similarities, and the differences, between the reaction to “Never Again Marjory Stoneman Douglas” protesters, and similar teenage activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It's always fascinating to watch groups of people . . . who have gone through trauma and see how they respond to that trauma,” Lowery said. “I hear in the earnestness of many of these students from Florida the same earnestness and resolve that I heard from many of the young activists . . . whether that be in Ferguson or Baltimore, Charleston or Cleveland. This idea that this thing happened yesterday and 'I cannot sleep until we fix this.' "