By Aidan Quigley
BURLINGTON — Three survivors of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting brought their message of activism and optimism to Vermont Friday, Oct. 19.
David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and Alex Wind, the co-founders of the March for Our Lives movement calling for an end to gun violence in the United States, appeared at the First Unitarian Universalist Society Church to a full crowd as part of their Glimmer of Hope book tour.
To a crowd full of local students, the young activists stressed the need for young people to vote.
“This is especially important for younger people, people our age, to show that you are not too young to have a voice, that your voice matters,” Wind said. “And that’s what this book is all about.”
A gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, killing 17 students, teachers and staff members. The students organized the March for Our Lives on Washington attended by hundreds of thousands of people March 24.
The book was released Thursday and features primarily MSD students and alumni telling the story of their movement. All of the authors’ proceeds from book sales will be used by the March for Our Lives foundation to continue their work.
Since the march, the group has been touring the country discussing their experiences and raising awareness about the effects of gun violence.
“We gave ourselves a glimmer of hope,” Gonzalez said. “By getting the national spotlight and trying to give it to as many people as possible, we saw how quickly the country was turning in favor of something good, and is for saving people’s lives.”
The book lays out 10 policy changes the movement supports, including more funding for gun violence research, universal background checks, banning high-capacity magazines and disarming domestic abusers, among other policies.
The group is encouraging young people to register to vote in the midterm elections in November.
“Protest is important but the most important thing is to practice your protest with your vote,” Hogg said.
Hogg said the group’s message is a nonpartisan one — that people should not be dying from gun violence.
“If we’re successful in the next 20 years, guns will be viewed the same way cigarettes are currently — as something that doesn’t make you sexy and cool, but as something that is, quite frankly, dangerous and doesn’t make you safer,” Hogg said.
Politics at the state level are often overlooked in favor of politics at the national level, but Wind said they could be just as important.
“If you look at Vermont, what has been happening here in terms of gun safety, in terms of gun violence protection, it’s absolutely incredible,” he said. “And you can see this trend is increasing throughout the United States, we just need to see more of a federal push for it.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a trio of gun control bills into law in April which broadened background checks, increased the minimum age for gun purchases and banned high-capacity magazines. Scott changed his position on gun control after a teen was arrested for allegedly plotting to kill students at Fair Haven Union High School.
The event was organized by Phoenix Books. The bookstore’s general manager, Colleen Shipman, said the store is passionate about supporting free speech for all, including young people.
“Anytime that young people in the community are involved in something they’re passionate about, I think it’s important for us as a community to support that,” she said.
The event featured a structured Q&A moderated by former state Rep. Kesha Ram and then was opened to questions from the audience.
Most of the questions were asked by young people, specifically young women. Many asked how they could encourage apathetic peers to register to vote and how they can engage with those they disagree with.
Gonzalez said that it is important to speak respectfully to those you disagree with in a calm, collected manner while clearly expressing differing views.
“I’ve had many conversations with strangers over the summer where they didn’t yell at me,” Gonzalez said. “And I didn’t yell at them. We just talked… it ended up okay, and we were pretty much on the same page at the end of the conversation.”
Maddie Magnant, 14, of South Burlington organized a walkout at her middle school last year and attended the March for Our Lives event in Montpelier that coincided with the national march.
“I wanted to come to connect back to some of the efforts we had done at our school,” she said.
Lily Isham, 14, came to the event from Middlebury and said she wanted to show support to the Parkland students. She said she was inspired by their willingness to speak out following the shooting at their school.
“I think they’ve inspired kids across the nation to speak up in a time when our government doesn’t seem like it’s listening,” she said.