This week, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High returned to school — to the hallways and classrooms where they had watched people die, where many of them thought they, too, would probably die. It's impossible to imagine what that place must feel like to them now, once an average part of everyday life, now something wholly different.
Yet even in the face of that, the teens are undaunted and unwilling to shy away from the movement they've set in motion. Young activists are rising up around the state. They are marching out of schools and marching on the steps of the Florida Capitol. Soon they will march in Washington, D.C., to protest the gun lobby and the flimsy laws that have repeatedly placed them, along with the thousands of Americans who die every year as a result of gun violence, in the line of fire.
Driving this momentum is group of students from Parkland, Florida. You've probably seen them on CNN giving rousing speeches. Maybe you began following them on Twitter. They are intelligent, articulate, angry, and determined to bring about the changes that the generations that came before them have failed to bring about. In many ways, they are not so different from the woman whose name their school bears.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was one of Florida's great activist heroes. During her lifetime, she championed the causes of feminism and women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, and, the preservation of the Everglades. Her work was instrumental not only in the establishment of Everglades National Park but also to its protection over the course of the 20th Century.
News outlets such as the Chicago Tribune and USA Today have rightly pointed out that the students at the heart of the Never Again movement are a perfect extension of Marjory Stoneman Douglas' legacy of activism. But the connections between the students of today and their school's namesake are more profound than their intention to effect change. The reality is, these students share more common ground with the late 108-year-old activist than you might think.
"Marjory was never afraid to speak her mind," says Paul George, HistoryMiami's resident historian. "She would get in the face of everybody."
That little lady with the big hat, as George refers to her admiringly, was known as someone who would say whatever she wanted to whomever she wanted. From the Miami Herald, where she worked as a writer for years, to the national spotlight she earned as one of the nation's eminent environmentalists, Douglas was never one to shy away from a fight she believed was worth fighting, even when that meant going toe-to-toe with U.S. presidents.
That steadfast certainty and total willingness to speak brutal truth to power are key traits she shares with the survivors of the Parkland shooting. Last month, Emma González confronted Dana Loesch, a representative for the National Rifle Association, on CNN. She began by saying, "I wanted you to know that we will support your two children in a way that you will not," before pressing her for a straight answer on banning assault weapons.
There are many ways to describe what González exhibited in that glorious moment, as in so many others since the shooting. Courage, chutzpa, honest-to-goodness exceptionalism — these are a few of the words that come to mind. To Marjory Stoneman Douglas, though, González probably would have been simply right.
And for both Douglas and the Parkland students, there was and is a need to be a fighter, to be unflinching in the face of resistance from the powers that be, but also to be incredibly smart — far smarter than the opposition, because that opposition was never fair to Douglas, and it certainly has never been fair to youths.
Imagine trying to be heard, trying to be taken seriously about changing the nation as a woman in the first half of the 20th Century in America, where women were expected to do little more than wear nice hats, make dinner, and carry babies. The degree of intelligence and fortitude needed to overcome that idiotic stereotype was part of what made Marjory Stoneman Douglas such an incredible figure.
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It's exactly that same combination that makes these students so remarkable. For years, adults who seemed to neither understand nor respect teenagers have been talking about what these young people do and don't understand, what they do and don't care about, what they do and don't take seriously. Despite all the bullshit that has been spewed about them, the students of Parkland have stood tall. Everyone who has thought they could dismiss these young people as politically illiterate, as unengaged and entitled, as just teenagers has been wrong.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a force to be reckoned with, not only because of the ferocity of her beliefs, but also because she had to be. As an unmarried woman in her day and age, Douglas was in many ways alone in her causes. Nobody was going to care about what she cared about for her, and nobody was going to get it done; she was going to have to get it done herself. And she did.
Students such as Emma González and David Hogg and Cameron Kasky and every other survivor who is calling for change and every other student they have inspired to sound the call alongside them have been abandoned too. They've been abandoned by elders who have been unable or unwilling to stem this nation's insatiable thirst for more guns, and by the politicians who have turned a blind eye and taken millions of dollars from the National Rifle Association.
Just like Marjory Stoneman Douglas before them, they have decided that if this is going to get done, they are going to have to do it on their own. And just like she did, they have gone out and begun changing the world themselves.