In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland mass shooting, a new element was incorporated into our collective response. The survivors, and families of those killed, began demanding change.
Student leaders from Parkland emerged, and these young people channeled their emotions into activism. They insisted that the Parkland school shooting be the last, and directly engaged politicians responsible for ensuring schools be safe.
There were visits to legislators and the governor, along with a rally at the State Capitol. There was a town hall hosted by CNN. Students walked out of schools in other cities in solidarity. The president even hosted a White House listening session and a bipartisan roundtable discussion.
More marches are being organized, and new media stars were born.
These young people are declaring “Never Again,” “Enough is Enough,” and threatening to vote out any politician not on board with a broad list of demands. Talking heads and politicians of every stripe have been falling all over themselves making assurances this time will be different.
These young people are being praised (and rightfully so) for having sparked a new movement with the hope that politicians will not be able to sidestep the issue until the dead are buried and the media moves on.
Now that the students have returned to school, they must regain some sense of normalcy. They will be juggling studies and other school activities while trying to maintain their focus on this issue.
Gregory Wilson, a political consultant, recently asked a group of Blake High School students in Tampa, “How strong do you believe your resolve will be?"
That’s an important question because in our current political climate, partisanship trumps all other concerns. We see this across the board, and persistence is required due to the utter break down of our political and elections process.
It is reported that 50% of millennials are not aligned with a major political party. New voter registrations with no party affiliation outpace those of Democrats and Republicans, and the trend is expected to continue.
As such, many of these young people will soon come to recognize that they have no meaningful vote. Those who do not align with a party are not allowed to participate in primaries, where 84% of Florida races are decided.
When one has no voice at the polls, it’s not possible to vote anyone out.
Republicans will do their best to blunt the movement’s momentum. They will embrace the bare minimum while focusing on “hardening” schools in an attempt to appease their base and placate those demanding broader changes.
Democrats will blast the majority for blocking more robust gun control with the hope of winning over these new voters.
Unfortunately, the dominant two-party political template, plagued by gerrymandering, closed primaries, unlimited campaign financing, and a disillusioned or apathetic electorate, is unable to craft and pass bills that overwhelmingly reflect the will of the people.
As various bills make their way through Congress and the Florida legislature has passed their own bill, we need to support the students’ independence.
As they say, "It’s not a red or blue thing," but how will they react to the partisan "plays" made? Will they settle for the compromise bill passed in Florida, or will they seek broader reforms? Will they persist?
It's moving to see them already broadening their focus to include less affluent communities plagued by gun violence. Will this tragedy, and the lawmakers' ultimate response, galvanize and expand their commitment?
Or, will partisanship prevail and cause them to become cogs in a dysfunctional political wheel that turns, but doesn’t move forward? Will they move on with their lives and lose interest in politics?
We all need to support them in their independence, encourage them to maintain their dedication to grassroots activism, and teach them about the pitfalls of being sucked into the partisan abyss.