When youth-led movements are willing to work with politicians on both sides, life-saving change is possible, says activist and Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg
In the aftermath of the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, in which 17 people were killed and 17 others injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, David Hogg and a group of fellow survivors were, in his words, “mad as hell.”
“We were like, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore. We’re going to do this.’ So against what pretty much all of our parents wanted, we went out and mobilized.”
The result was March for Our Lives, one of the largest youth-led movements in the country. Hogg, now a 22-year-old Harvard student, spoke at Tufts University at part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life Solomont Speaker Series, where he stressed the importance of voting in primary elections, self-care as an activist, and the value of stepwise change.
Here are four takeaways from the event, held at the Cabot Center on September 19.
Changing laws requires changing the government.
“It’s kind of hard to change gun laws if you aren’t willing to work with, or pressure, the government in some way, shape, or form,” Hogg said. He urged young people to begin voting in state primary elections, to learn about the candidates, and to go one step further by creating primers to share on social media.
“You can put something up on Instagram within your own community that’s like, ‘Here’s where all these politicians stand and who I think you should vote for.’ You may not get a billion people to vote, but if you can start changing 20 people’s minds, you can create something that can scale infinitely.”
For activists, finding a community is key.
In the face of perpetually closed doors and potential burnout, a community you can rely on and genuinely enjoy is crucial, said Hogg, especially for young activists. “It’s best done through making a lot of food together and partying… and building a movement that people want to be a part of because it’s fun, not because it’s traumatic and you need to virtue signal.”
“Go out there and make friends and have fun, while acknowledging that as dark as these things are, ultimately you have to be strong enough to persist, to get through all the screwed-up things on top of the stuff you’ve already been through, to eventually succeed.”
Caring for the cause means caring for yourself.
“Setting boundaries is critical,” Hogg insisted. “The hardest thing for me to learn about activism and organizing has been how to be a normal 22-year-old and a student and not feel guilty about it. I'm not hurting the movement, because I realized that I'm just one part of it.”
“Movements are collective actions of people. You are the movement, and in that way, not taking care of yourself, not setting those boundaries is not looking after the movement. It’s the most selfish and harmful thing you can do.”
Compromise is not a four-letter word.
Referring to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed into law by President Biden in June, Hogg acknowledged that it was not as sweeping as he would have liked but that it was important for what it could do to stop killings today. “We have to ask ourselves, do we want to put off saving lives in order to pursue what could be a bigger goal in the future, or do we want to save lives right now?”
“If there are a couple of people that don’t have to know the pain and suffering that myself and many of my classmates have known, that’s still success, even if it doesn’t immediately end gun violence.”
Real change happens, Hogg added, when movements result in actual, iron-clad policies, in collaboration with both Democrats and Republicans. “When you have 100 percent of the power, you can get 100 percent of what you want. When you have 50 percent of the power, you get 50 percent of what you want.”
And getting to 100 percent takes steady work. “It’s like compounding interest,” he said. “You have to make that change continuously over time. And that’s the one asset that most of us in this room have on our side. That’s the most powerful asset to have in politics—besides several billion dollars and the Koch brothers behind you—is time.”