Parkland: Birth of a Movementby Dave Cullen Published 12 Feb 2019
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The New York Times bestselling author of Columbine offers a deeply moving account of the extraordinary teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting who pushed back against the NRA and Congressional leaders and launched the singular grassroots March for Our Lives movement.
Emma Gonzalez called BS. David Hogg called out Adult America. The uprising had begun. Cameron Kasky immediately recruited a colorful band of theatre kids and rising activists and brought them together in his living room to map out a movement. Four days after escaping Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, two dozen extraordinary kids announced the audacious March for Our Lives. A month later, it was the fourth largest protest in American history.
Dave Cullen, who has been reporting on the epidemic of school shootings for two decades, takes us along on the students’ nine-month odyssey to the midterms and beyond. With unrivaled access to their friends and families, meetings and homes, he pulls back the curtain to reveal intimate portraits of the quirky, playful organizers that have taken the nation by storm.
Cullen brings us onto the bus for the Road to Change tour showing us how these kids seized an opportunity. They hit the highway to organize the young activist groups mushrooming across America in their image. Rattled but undeterred, they pressed on in gun country even as adversaries armed with assault weapons tailed them across Texas and Utah trying to scare them off.
The Parkland students are genuinely candid about their experiences. We see them cope with shattered friendships and PTSD, along with the normal day-to-day struggles of school, including AP exams and college acceptances. Yet, with the idealism of youth they are mostly bubbling with fresh ideas. As victims refusing victimhood, they continue to devise clever new tactics to stir their generation to action while building a powerhouse network to match the NRA’s.
This spell-binding book is a testament to change and a perceptive examination of a pivotal moment in American culture. After two decades of adult hand-wringing, the MFOL kids are mapping a way out. They see a long road ahead, a generational struggle to save every kid of every color from the ravages of gun violence in America. Parkland is a story of staggering empowerment and hope, told through the wildly creative and wickedly funny voices of a group of remarkable kids.
"Parkland: Birth of a Movement" Reviews
There are strains of sadness woven into this story, but this is not an account of grief. These kids chose a story of hope.
This is such a beautiful piece of journalism. I love how Cullen puts so much of himself into his work and treats the subjects he tackles, as well as the people he meets and talks with along the way, with such sensitivity and empathy.
Some people obviously rated this book one star without reading it because they think it is about taking away their guns. Actually, it's not really about that at all. While issues of gun control are natural discussions to rise out of this book and the events it documents, it is really about an incredibly inspirational group of young people who finally said enough is enough. This book is about them.
Cullen wasn't sure if he wanted to get involved in the subject of school shootings again. After he published Columbine, he was left with secondary PTSD and had to distance himself from victims' stories for his own mental health. But Parkland was not just another school shooting; it was the start of something much bigger. Out of it grew the March For Our Lives demonstration, led by the kids most affected by the lack of change. After shootings, adults typically freaked out and talked about gun control for a while before it quieted down again. This time was different. This time the kids were standing up and saying "Please stop killing us."
Cullen got to know these kids really well. They welcomed him into their lives and here he recreates them on the page as fleshed-out, quirky, flawed, young humans. Their drive to make a better world weathers disdain and false rumours. All to get a few basic laws passed that seem like common sense to me. Well, they actually seem conservative to me.
I won't pretend to understand the gun debate in America. I don't mean that in a judgmental way-- I mean I literally don't understand it because I have grown up with a completely different mindset. I come from a country that has had one school shooting - the Dunblane massacre of 1996 - which preceded a swift ban on all handguns. 17 people died, they changed the law, and civilians gave up their guns. We now have one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world. I am not old enough to remember a time when people owned guns and I must admit it shocked me when I learned that in the U.S. civilians have access to devices that can kill someone with the flick of a trigger. Guns were always scary things that existed in movies; they were never a part of my "real life".
So I am definitely an outsider on this issue, but even I felt completely drawn into the March For Our Lives movement. Cullen really is a wonderful writer and he brings a lot of kindness to his work. Despite what some will assume, he doesn't push his own opinions on gun laws. Instead, he narrates a story and lets the conclusions reveal themselves. A great book.
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It became clear quickly that suburban kids feared violence inside their school—once in a lifetime, but horrific—and the Chicago kids feared violence getting there. At the bus stop on their porch, walking out of church. It could happen anywhere, and it did… Martin Luther King had preached six principles of nonviolence…The Parkland kids were embarking on #4: “Suffering can educate and transform.”After the seminal Columbine shootings in 1999, Dave Cullen undertook to research the event deeply, to find out what the truth was of the shooters, their motivations, planning, and outcomes, and to dispel the many false notions that had made their way through the media like a Russian virus after the event. In a way it was a whodunit, and a whydunit. His book, Columbine, was an in-depth historical look, examining what had happened, after the fact. This included following up with many of those who survived the attack, for years after.
Dave Cullen - image from GR
Columbine and Parkland may have been similar events, but they are very different books. This time, with his reputation as the go-to reporter on stories having to do with mass-shootings, particularly mass school-shootings, Cullen had the credentials to ask the Parkland survivors for access as they worked through it all. Four days after the shooting he called, and spoke with the entire early MFOL (March For Our Lives) group on speakerphone. The next day he was there. Cullen proceeded to cover the emerging stories in person, when possible, and by phone, on-line, and via diverse media, when not, continuing through 2018. What he has produced is a you-are-there account of the birth of a movement.
Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu described March for Our Lives as one of the most significant youth movements in living memory. “The peaceful campaign to demand safe schools and communities and the eradication of gun violence is reminiscent of other great peace movements in history,” he said. “I am in awe of these children, whose powerful message is amplified by their youthful energy and an unshakable belief that children can—no, must—improve their own futures.One could do worse, if looking at how to begin a movement, than to pore through Cullen’s reporting, as the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pivot from the physical and emotional carnage of a brutal armed attack on their school to organizing a regional, then national call for gun sanity.
Parkland tells two stories, the personal actions of the teenagers involved and the broader view of the movement that they helped solidify. Cullen offers not only a look at some of the central people who built this movement, Emma Gonzalez, Jackie Corin, Alex Wind, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Dylan Baierlein, and others, but shows how their sudden rise to fame impacted both their movement and them, personally.
There are just so many hours in a day. In very concrete ways, committing large swaths of one’s time to political action meant that there was less time for other parts of what had been their lives. Extracurriculars was the obvious first hit. Theater, music, sports all suffered. But academic ambitions were close behind. Tough to keep up with multiple AP classes, for example, if you are stretched thin organizing a national political bus tour. And tough to maintain perfect grades when you keep getting home on the red-eye after an interview in LA or New York. Friendships suffered, or at the very least shifted. If you were one of the cool kids, but were now hanging out with the nerds, odds are you would get ditched. Of course, the upside is that you replace as friends a bunch of people of low value with people who are actually worth something. And you might imagine that, this being an adolescent-rich environment, jealousy might rear its ugly head. For example, Emma Gonzalez was transformed from just one of the kids at school to a national icon, as Emma and the other MFOL leaders were regularly having meetings with national figures and celebrities to discuss gun control. Might just make the other kids think you have gotten too big for your britches. Some of the organizers even dropped out of school to complete their studies on line. And that does not even begin to touch on PTSD, or death threats.
Hogg, in fact, was frequently not on the bus but traveling separately in a black SUV accompanied by bodyguards. If he were a politician, one of the staffers told me, the intensity of interest in him would merit 24-hour Secret Service surveillance. “We get people armed to the teeth showing up and saying, ‘Where’s David Hogg?’ ” Deitsch told me. An outfit called the Utah Gun Exchange had been following the kids on tour all summer — on what it called a pro–Second Amendment “freedom tour” — sometimes in an armored vehicle that looks like a tank with a machine-gun turret.What does it take to build a movement? Why did this movement catch on, and grow? Was it a propitious confluence of events, right time, right place? If Parkland had happened a year or two years earlier, would it have had the same impact? Would the MFOL movement have gained the traction it has garnered?
The NRA seems to take Hogg’s existence as an affront, having tweeted out his name and whereabouts and inciting its approximately 5 million members by perpetuating the falsehood that the Parkland kids want to roll back the Second Amendment. Hogg’s mother, Rebecca Boldrick, says that in June she received a letter in the mail that read, “Fuck with the NRA, and you’ll be DOA.” - from Lisa Miller’s New York Magazine article, David Hogg, After Parkland
The March for Our Lives rally in DC drew 800,000, the largest rally crowd in DC history – image from USA Today
The core group was blessed with a considerable concentration of talent. One element was media savvy. Just three days after the shooting, Emma’s ”We call B.S.”speech was a call to…well…arms, a call for those being victimized by our national gun fetish to stand up and demand that the adults in the nation start behaving like they are actually grown-ups, a call to legislators to act. It resonated, and went viral. Cameron came up with the #NeverAgain hashtag (although it had been notably used before) as an appropriate motif for the movement. He was also a natural performer, who had been comfortable in stage settings in front of adults since he was seven. David Hogg’s realtime video of the shooting from inside the school during the attack gained the shooting even more national coverage than it might otherwise have gotten. Jackie Corin was preternaturally adept at organizing the details of the movement, coping with scheduling, getting permissions, learning who needed to be contacted, all the office-manager-plus-organization-leader skills that are totally required but rarely available.
Less than a week after creating her Twitter account, Emma would surpass a million followers—about double that of the NRA. By the summer, Cameron would amass 400,000 followers, David twice that, and Emma at 1.6 million towered over them all.Another element was the availability of supportive adults. This began, of course, with the parents of the organizers, but also some parents of the shooting victims. And beyond the immediate there was input from interested adults from outside the area, people able to offer not only money but media access. George Clooney got in touch, offering not only a sizeable contribution, but a connection to a high-end PR agency. State and national political people got involved as well. One particularly meaningful connection was made with the Peace Warriors in Chicago, local activists whose work in trying to fend off violence dovetailed particularly well with the Parklanders. The relatively wealthy suburban kids were worried about violence in their schools. The Peace Warriors lived in a world in which getting to and from school unharmed was the challenge. The joining of the school safety movement with an urban gun safety movement, was seminal, changing the focus of the Parklanders from school safety to gun safety. Bet you did not hear much about that in the papers.
The Peace Warriors arrived at just the right moment. They helped shape the MFOL policy agenda and the tenor of their approach. They all kept talking: by email, phone, and text. The Parkland kids peppered the Peace Warriors with questions about the six principles, and then burrowed deeper on their own. The more they learned, the more they found it was like listening to themselves—a better, wiser version of the selves they were fumbling toward. How liberating to discover Martin Luther King Jr. had already done all that work. Brilliantly. He had drawn from Gandhi, and it was amazing how well the principles stood up across time, space, and cultures.The stages involved in the group’s growth and how the movement shifted focus makes for fascinating reading. Beginning with the initial rally, growing to larger memorials, then a rally at the state capital, then the nation’s capital, then a cross country bus tour in Summer 2018, from coverage in local news media to national, even global news coverage. Cullen gives us enough without overwhelming with too much detail on the challenges involved in the logistics of making rallies, tours, and marches happen, and the upsides and downsides of ongoing national exposure. Some of MFOLs core leaders even decided to keep away from any coverage that might focus on personal portrayals, as media stardom was seen as distracting from the group’s message.
Emma Gonzalez is distraught while giving her “We Call B.S” speech in Fort Lauderdale days after the shooting – image from the NY Times
I do not really have any gripes about the book. It was well written, engaging, informative and moving. It also offers up the odd surprise here and there, like the source of national disunity over using April 20th, the date of the Columbine attack, as the day for a national student walkout.
As for why this movement caught fire when it did, the jury is out. It may have to do with the national backlash against the excesses of the Trump-led right, disgust, finally, with expressions of “thoughts and prayers” absent any attempt to address the underlying problem. But yeah, it definitely helps that the victims were mostly white kids in a well-to-do suburb. Of course, this is hardly the first time mostly white suburban children have been so murdered. But maybe it was a final straw. In a way this strikes me as an echo of larger social trends. As the middle class becomes more and more squeezed by flat wages, declining benefits, increasing taxes (it is not our taxes that get cut), and a threatened safety net, the miseries that have long troubled working-class people, particularly urban people of color, have been, more and more, visited on middle class white people. (See Automating Inequality) Just as the opioid epidemic was once a feeder of three-strikes legislation, and widespread carnage, the current opioid crisis, the one visited on more and more white people, portrays addiction as less a failure of personal morality and more a manifestation of biological addiction, or at the very least, predisposition. When black people are getting shot in ghettoes, it’s business as normal, but when white kids are getting mowed down in their schools, it is a national crisis.
It will be interesting to see how the MFOL movement sustains going forward. While there is no certainty of success, in the long or short terms, there is cause for hope. Even though changes in gun regulations MFOL wrested from Florida lawmakers were modest, getting any change at all was a huge success. Wins, of any sort, have been as rare as brave legislators, and this definitely counted as a win. The road ahead, though, remains long, hard, and fraught with impediments and peril. And people keep dying early, wasteful deaths. In his Broadway show one night in Summer 2018, Bruce Springsteen
reached back fifty years, and drew a straight line to Martin Luther King Jr., assuring us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but tends toward justice”—but adding a stern corollary” “That arc doesn’t bend on its own.” Bending it takes a whole lot of us, bending in with every ounce of strength we’ve got.
Review posted – February 22, 2019
Publication date – February 12, 2019
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram, and FB pages and on Youtube
Items of Interest - Reporting
-----3/14/19 - NY Times - Sandy Hook Massacre: Remington and Other Gun Companies Lose Major Ruling Over Liability - by Rick Rojas and Kristin Hussey
-----8/20/18 - New York Magazine – David Hogg, After Parkland - by Lisa Miller
-----2/17/18 - The NewYorker - Calling B.S. in Parkland, Florida - by Emily Witt
-----2/19/18 - The NewYorker - How the Survivors of Parkland Began the Never Again Movement - by Emily Witt
----- 3/8/18 - “We’re Not Your Pawns”: Parkland’s Never Again Movement Meets the Lawmakers - by Emily Witt
[Joe] Kennedy recalled other instances of youth activism in American history: the mill girls of Lowell in the mid-nineteenth century; the Little Rock nine, in 1957; the children who marched for civil rights in the “children’s crusade” and were arrested in Birmingham, in 1963; the four students killed by the National Guard at Kent State, in 1970. “From Stonewall to Selma to Seneca Falls, America’s youth forces us to confront where we have fallen short,” he said.-----5/25/18 – The NewYorker - The March for Our Lives Presents a Radical New Model for Youth Protest - by Emily Witt
-----2/13/19 – NY Times - Parkland: A Year After the School Shooting That Was Supposed to Change Everything - by Patricia Mazzei
-----2/13/19 – NY Times - Parkland Shooting: Where Gun Control and School Safety Stand Today - By Margaret Kramer and Jennifer Harlan
-----1/16/13 – Business Insider - How the Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions of Dollars to the NRA - by Walt Hickey
"Today's NRA is a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry," said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center. "While the NRA portrays itself as protecting the 'freedom' of individual gun owners, it's actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory."-----3/22/19 - Daily Beast - Parkland Shooting Survivor Sydney Aiello Takes Her Own Life - by Pilar Melendez
There are two reasons for the industry support for the NRA. The first is that the organization develops and maintains a market for their products. The second, less direct function, is to absorb criticism in the event of PR crises for the gun industry.
Items of Interest - Other
-----NeverAgainMSD on Facebook
-----Change the Ref - a non-profit set up by parents of one of the victims, to fight the NRA
----- 2/13/19 – NY Times - Would Congress Care More if Parkland Had Been a Plane Crash?
-----March For Our Lives
-----National School Walkout
-----Video for the song Burn the House Down, by AJR. This was MFOL’s anthem on their summer bus tour. AJR did an unscheduled show for them in NYC
-----7/1/18 - Dylan Klebold's mother in a TED talk about how it is possible to miss the signs of disturbance in those close to you - Sue Klebold: My Son Was a Columbine Shooter. This is My Story
----- Bryan Reardon's novel, Finding Jake, offers a fictional look at a Columbine-type scenario from a parental perspective
Over the summer, more than 200 teen reporters from across the country began working together to document the children, ages zero to 18, killed in shootings during one year in America. The stories they collected go back to last February 14, the day of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, when at least three other kids were fatally shot in incidents that largely escaped notice. As the weeks went on, the stories came to include children lost to school shootings, as well as to armed domestic violence, drug homicides, unintentional discharges, and stray bullets. The stories do not include victims killed while fatally injuring someone else or in police-involved shootings, nor children who died in gun suicides, for reasons explained here.
EXTRA STUFF continues below in Comment #1
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.
Expansive and hopeful, Parkland sketches a moving portrait of the teenaged founders of the March for Our Lives movement. Across twenty-one fast-paced chapters journalist Dave Cullen thoughtfully examines the student-led protest against gun violence that erupted in the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The author profiles the media stars of MfOL—Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg—as well as the group’s less visible members, as he recounts the students’ major protests and considers their impact on the national debate surrounding gun control. The book lacks anything approaching a thesis, but it regularly returns to a set of eclectic themes. The privileged students’ fraught efforts to connect with Black youth activists and amplify their voices; the unbearable emotional toll of the shooting; the group’s struggle to balance attending school with developing a comprehensive, bipartisan gun control agenda. The book’s long-form journalism at its best, and well worth checking out.
This book is not about the tragedy on February 14th 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Instead, it is about all that the student activists accomplished in the following year and how they did it. I felt like I’d followed this story pretty closely, but I was stunned by some of the things I learned. And those things are the reasons I want people to read this book.
I think most folks will be as shocked as I was to find out how ATF background checks are conducted, and why it is that way.
I was floored by all that these students accomplished over one summer and I was delighted to see their efforts to include other young activist groups that were not receiving the same media attention, such as Black Lives Matter, BRAVE & The Peace Warriors.
As expected, being familiar with Mr. Cullen's work, Parkland is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Honest, yet hopeful and inspiring.
I simply had to share this with "my" students. I took it in this week, and donated my copy to their classroom library. There was so much interest, I'm going to add a couple more copies soon. Everyone that wishes to read Parkland should have that opportunity.
Audiobook ....Read by the author, Dave Cullen
“PRAY FOR MY SCHOOL”
“MAKE IT STOP”
“DO NOTHING - and - NOTHING WILL CHANGE”
“THIS NEEDS TO BE THE END”
February 14, 2018....a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School..... ( often called MSD), killing 17 students and staff members - injuring 17 others. THE DEADLIEST SHOOTING at a High School in United States history - surpassing the Columbine High School massacre.
This book is a great tribute to the students who died at MSD a year ago, to the student & staff survivors - family - friends - community - the global world at large - and an acknowledgement to the young activists who soared like a rocket demanding AMERICA DO SOMETHING!!!
And these kids DID DO SOMETHING...
Five weeks after the shooting these kids created a MASSIVE protest in Washington standing for GUN CONTOL ...
which they called “March for our Lives”.
Dave Cullen suffered two bouts of secondary PTSD while writing about the tragedy of Columbine. He shares about it in this book. I was deeply moved at his vulnerability.
He was never going to involve himself again. I suddenly felt sad thinking of the dichotomy about Dave Cullen’s work in the world.
While trying to help the world understand why a couple of punk- student shooters killed 12 students and one teacher - ( the best well-researched book on ‘Columbine’), I hadn’t even thought about the devastating toll it took on Dave’s mental health. We also learn why Dave Cullen jumped into action again. His inspiration became mine too.
Dave Cullen shares how he knew something very different was going on in Parkland, Florida. STUDENTS TOOK CHARGE...instantly - the SAME NIGHT as the shootings.
The students outrage - anger - tears - lack of ability to sleep - sent them in action - starting with spilling their guts on social media....asking for help.
Parents of victims and the survivors have been a major part of the gun violence conversation since the day of the shooting.
I knew about ‘some’ actions students took at Parkland a year ago - I remembered the student speeches - rallies - plans for a student strike walk out....
but what I didn’t know were the intimate - specific - stories we learn from specific students.
I didn’t know how the day - days - months - played out: from logistics and funding. I certainly didn’t know the personal stories of the student activists. In some cases their fighting for justice and human rights was incredibly healing with their own past tragedies.
Student *David Hogg* became a prominent spokesman for “March for Our Lives”....a group that pushed for stronger gun laws. He and his younger sister, Lauren wrote a book “NeverAgain”...A New Generation Draws the line.
Student *Emma Gonzalez* became known for her “We Call B.S. speech criticizing politician who accept money from the national rifle Association, which she gave days after the shooting during a Fort Lauderdale rally.
She and David were featured on Time magazine. They spent the summer as part of “The Road To Change” tour, which registered young voters around the country.
Several other amazing student leaders we get to know in this book.
Parents whose children died in the shootings ....became advocates for gun control and other liberal causes as well.
I felt everything about the day of the shootings with so much grief - ....the screaming- fears - terrifying anxiety - bleeding bodies - dead bodies - running - hiding - fearful for special needs kids - the lockdown - the separation between parents and their kids ( one mom was going crazy getting the news while on a cruise vacation and couldn’t get back to her child for a couple more days)....
Dave Cullen is an absolute mensch of a human being. We are blessed to have him doing all that he does. It’s amazing he got this book out in a year. He’s a skillful compassionate humanitarian....doing some of the hardest work in the world.
I’m glad Dave doesn’t mention the killer in this book. I get it - it’s not the right flavor this time around. I won’t mention the killers name either.
This book solidifies for me the possibilities of MOVING FORWARD - THE POWER of TAKING ACTION -
We hear these kids messages - ( parents, educators, political leaders, and other followers around the ‘world’)......
Dave showed us their anger, sadness, hope, fight for change.
“Birth of a Movement”.... are perfect words for what’s going on!
May this birth flourish with integrity - with non violence communications that continue to MAKE a DIFFERENCE!
A very powerful book....gets your blood moving!!
A compelling blend of documentation and inspiration, and a must read for anyone concerned about gun safety.
The story of PARKLAND is told through the voices of the key participants whose personalities, and outlooks are diverse: David Hogg, 17; Emma González, 18; Cameron Kasky, 17; and Jackie Corin, 17. The book takes us into the hearts and minds of these and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students as they created a national movement while at the same time coping with the horrific event that has altered them forever.
DAVE CULLEN, who has felt the effects of reporting on school shootings for the past twenty years, watched as the students immediately pushed back on the NRA, and the elected officials that take their money. And he knew this time was different, he knew he had to be there and he had to write this book. Cullen, author of Columbine, takes us on a nine-month journey of a potential pivotal moment in American culture. He gives us insight into the behind the scenes activities of the memorials, the Tallahassee rally, the Town Hall meeting, the March for our Lives, the creation of their gun safety platform, and the Road to Change tour.
PARKLAND is an evocative and enlightening narrative of the events following the shooting of 17 students and staff in Florida. Cullen has masterfully captured the thoughts, feelings and mood of the students and their activities as they unfolded. Living in Florida, having attended the Tallahassee rally and having read much of the Parkland press, I was pleasantly surprised by the details and perspective of the book. One of the things I didn’t know about was that the students adversaries had armed themselves with assault weapons and tailed them throughout Texas and Utah on their Road to Change bus tour, in an attempt at intimidation.
DAVE CULLEN was in Parkland twenty four hours after the shooting happened and he had tremendous access to the students, their family and friends, their living rooms, and their meetings. He followed these newly formed activists for nine months, and found them to be a major force to be reckoned with. Through this book we can feel their fear, their anger, their sadness and most importantly, their indomitable drive to make a difference. Cullen has given us a remarkable view into their call to action. His writing is a compelling blend of documentation and inspiration and it is a must read for everyone concerned about gun safety. These kids rock!
Publisher Harper Audio
Published February 12, 2019
Narrated Dave Cullen, Robert Fass