On Feb. 14, 2018, a mass shooting was committed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Seventeen people were killed and 17 more were wounded. The perpetrator was identified by witnesses and arrested shortly afterward. He confessed, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, and was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 attempted murders.

The activist movement that has emerged in the wake of this school shooting is notable in at least two respects: First, the speed with which it was organized (within four days, it had a name – Never Again – and a Facebook page; and a date had been announced -- March 24 -- for a nationwide “March For Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C.); and second – it has been spearheaded by teenagers, survivors of the shooting at their school, talking with one another over social media and in their parents’ living rooms.

Conspiracy theories about these students being “pawns of a leftist effort to repeal the second amendment” have been floated on social media and in some parts of the right-leaning press; but any serious effort to listen to these students speak, reveals what is really happening here: Young people are saying, in no uncertain terms, “Enough is enough.”

Among the many lessons this country learned about itself during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and especially from the movement to end the war in Vietnam, is that young people are – indeed, must be -- an important part of any concerted effort to effect social change.

Decorah march
Around 200 people walked from Mary Christopher Park up Water Street Saturday, March 24, and gathered for a rally at the Winneshiek County courthouse steps. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people were marching across the country, with an estimated 800 marches taking place throughout the world.

Their aim: To voice a demand for reasonable gun reform legislation in the United States.

In Decorah, as elsewhere, high school students were at the front of the line. Decorah Newspapers asked six Decorah High School (DHS) students who participated in the march and rally to tell us why they marched, what they think about the Never Again Movement and about their own parts in it, and what they hope for the future

Why they marched
Sarah Mumford, a junior, who organized and led the school walk-out/step-up at DHS earlier this month, says she marched because “if the adults aren’t going to step up and do something, then the kids need to. I figure that if the kids in our nation and world can start to lead things and make a public statement, maybe something in the world can change. I’m 16, and I don’t want to be scared that tomorrow will be my last day on this planet when I walk into school … I don’t want to be next.”

Storme Barr, a freshman, carried a sign asking “Am I Next?” when she marched Saturday.

“I don’t want any more people becoming desensitized to gun violence in any way – not school shootings or the police or suicides or anything,” Barr says. “Something needs to change; and if adults aren’t going to listen to our screams anymore, I’m not scared to join those Parkland students.”

Keely Hermanson, a freshman, also says she marched in the face of fear – and with a similar determination to see adults do something to address that fear.

“No one should have to go to school and wonder if they will die that day because politicians can’t seem to figure out that allowing guns in or around schools, or to be given to people who are not qualified to have them, is a bad idea and that it is killing us,” she says.

For Owen Burgdorf-Hibbs, a junior, there was no question about participating.

“I hardly feel it was a decision I made as much as a necessary action,” he says. “I feel so strongly about being involved that not going … didn’t cross my mind.”

Lillian Grouws, a sophomore, shares her friends’ commitment.

“I firmly believe it is my civic duty to be active in my community, whether that be in the form of volunteering, keeping up-to-date on news, or even having a conversation with someone of a different background or with a different set of views and beliefs,” she says. “Personally, this sense of duty drove me to be politically active as well. I want to rest easy knowing I made a difference.”

The Parkland survivors

Like people all over the world, these DHS students have seen, heard and learned much about, the Parkland students who are at the vanguard of the Never Again Movement – and have taken inspiration from their efforts.

Erick Fadness, a senior, says “the Parkland students and survivors have been doing an amazing job in bringing this issue into the national forefront. The actions they are taking are necessary steps to create and promote change; and others need to do the same.”

For Mumford and Barr, the students are heroes.

“I am so proud of those Parkland students,” Barr says. “They’re tough as hell and are trying to change something that needed to be changed a long time ago.”

“Emma Gonzales is my new hero,” Mumford says. “I am so incredibly proud of all the Parkland students who are standing up and saying something.”

Burgdorf-Hibbs also admires their commitment to effecting change.

“I think the Parkland students are very brave, but above all else, extraordinarily motivated, dedicated and compassionate,” he says. “Not only are they speaking up, they are actually organizing events and calling for change instead of simply denouncing school shootings.”

And, as Grouws notes, they are not going to go away.

"All too often, youth are shut down and not listened to because of our age,” she says. “But we are the future. This is our country, too.”

Part of a movement

“I feel like I am connected to everyone who has marched, or (is) in this Movement,” Fadness says. “To me, this isn’t about changing the second amendment. To me, this is about keeping students and kids across the nation safe, and ensuring that my kids and friends have a safe environment (in which) to learn and grow.”

Mumford and Burgdorf-Hibbs think of their involvement in the Never Again Movement as being a part of something bigger than themselves – and say they find strength in that idea.

“To be a part of this national movement means that I actually have a voice,” Mumford says. “The fact that it’s all kids leading this movement makes it 10 times more powerful. I know I’m only one kid in a little, rural town … but the things I have said and done in these past few weeks have definitely made a change in my community … If I do my part in Decorah, I know that more people will be inspired and do their part in other parts of Iowa, which will inspire more and more people to keep doing their parts. It’s a domino effect.”

Burgdorf-Hibbs agrees.

“To stand together is powerful, and it really does push me forward with compassion. Right now we are witnessing a mass(ive) amount of people taking a stance,” he says. “Momentum is building and people are really paying attention and being called to action. I think every person involved is as important as the next.”

Grouws says “being a part of something so much greater than myself is a little overwhelming to think about, honestly. However, as a great teacher of mine likes to remind, ‘How does a blizzard start? With a single snowflake.’ Just one person can spark change in the world, and I believe that I am part of it.”

National debate
All of these students are well aware that a national debate has been going on for some time, where the issue of gun reform legislation is concerned.

“I definitely do think it is important to understand the other side of this,” Hermanson says. “I think the best way is a calm approach, and to be informed on what you are saying. Don’t give a fact or statistic without being able to back it up -- because they will hold you accountable to that.”

Mumford says “it’s very important to hear both sides of this issue. I know I don’t want such loose gun laws, but other people say they’re too strict as it is. The best way to confront people who I don’t agree with, is to just listen. Listen to what they have to say, and then hopefully they’ll listen to what I have to say.”

Barr also emphasizes the need to be calm in the face of disagreement on an issue that tends to arouse emotional responses on either side.

“I think the most important thing for both sides, is you can’t get all up in each others’ faces right away,” Barr says. “You need a common level of respect to talk to each other calmly and you have to remember -- no matter what side, you cannot force your opinions on others. No matter what, the most important thing is to gain an understanding and find the truthful facts. (We need) to get to a common ground to make a change … I think we can all agree something needs to change.”

Grouws notes, too, that change takes time – and that, in order to be part of making that change, “it is important to remember not to only preach to the choir. The best thing we can do at this point (besides voting) is having conversations with those with opposing views,” she says. “They shouldn’t be accusatory or negative. Understanding the views of others and accepting the differences between those views is the key to thawing out the intense polarization we see in America today.”

What’s next?
“I believe that things cannot stop after the march,” Fadness says. “What we have started is only the beginning.”

Hermanson says she wants to see the momentum continue, as well.

“… (W)e have said we want stricter gun laws and regulations … and that people should have to register these weapons just like they would register a car or any other thing that may endanger the life of yourself or others,” she says. “I also want to see the government taking notice of us and representing what we want.”

“I think that policies must be implemented,” Burgdorf-Hibbs says. “I don’t pretend to know all of the answers but I know some, as Jerry Johnson spoke of so well (at the March 24 event in Decorah), including firearms registration and mandatory safety classes. Equally important is not allowing ourselves to sit back down. We must keep moving forward.”

Final thoughts

“In the wake of such school shootings the most important thing is love and compassion,” Burgdorf-Hibbs says. “With these extended to the victims and their communities, the next step is action towards prevention. Public support for more gun regulation is needed, and it also needs to be clear the intent is not to ‘abolish the second amendment’ as many say to discredit the whole movement.

“The other clear step is communication and conversation. The roots of the debate need to be examined -- not just the effects -- those roots being legitimate concerns of protection, safety and individual rights. These things must be addressed and solved through more than weaponization, and I believe the low regulation of firearms has harmed those ideals in our communities.

“It is not yet time to rest or enjoy what we have accomplished since the job is not done. Now people must vote, people must be active in their communities, and people must think with love and compassion.”