Dave Cullen has been covering mass shootings since Columbine. It is not the career he wanted and, although he has become an expert on the issue, it is not something he wants to do. His work has given him PTSD and each new event shakes him to the core.
I saw him on C-SPAN one day a few months ago, called in to ask him a question, and then got his book from the library. It was much more than I expected, a manual for how to build people power and change the public conversation. Having watched the March for Our Lives rally in Washington DC, again on C-SPAN, I was surprised at the criticism these young people got for demanding…. that people register and vote. According to CBS News the other day, they’ve registered at least 50,000 new voters with their campaign and are continuing the work.
Until I told him, Dave Cullen didn’t know that Greta Thunberg got the idea for her Friday school strikes for climate from the Parkland school strike after the shooting (and someone is missing a bet if Greta does not meet with the March for Our Lives people while she is visiting the USA). Patricia and Manuel Oliver, whose son advocated for immigrants and was murdered at Parkland, were in El Paso to paint a mural against gun violence, their work since their son’s death (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/05/parkland-shooting-el-paso-manuel-patricia-oliver).
The ripples keep on spreading across the surface of the water.
You can see and hear Dave Cullen on C-SPAN:
Parkland by Dave Cullen (NY: HarperCollins, 2019 ISBN 978-0-06-288294-3)
(11) They made two crucial decisions immediately: speak with one voice, and hammer one topic.
(15) They didn’t wait a moment. David Hogg was the first to reach the public.
(36) He [Cameron Klasky] added several more thoughts, and concluded: “Please don’t pray for me. Your prayers do nothing. Show me you care in the polls.”
(37) And then he [Cam] did something so simple, but so vital… the single most significant moment of the movement. He asked for help.
(43) No endorsing any candidate, just ideas.
(45) A detailed academic analysis of 653 reported sister marches [of first Women’s March] around the nation estimated a grand total of 3.3 to 5.2 million participants, with a “best guess” of 4.2 million. That translates to 1.3 percent of the population and would make it the largest single-day demonstration in recorded US history.
NB: Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan has defined so-called “3.5% rule,” that no government can stand a challenge from 3.5% of its population “without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating.”
(47) “Parkland was just the most stereotypical white suburban, rich, perfect place,” Alfonso said. Parkland’s median income topped $130,000, double the national average, with the median home price nearly triple, at around $600,000. It had tiny pockets of poverty, just 3.5 percent of its population below the poverty line, and 19 percent of its students eligible for free lunches.
(49) Ethnically, the Coral Springs kids brought MSD into almost perfect alignment with the country: 59 percent non-Hispanic white, 18 percent Latino, 12 percent black, and 7 percent Asian – within a point or two of every category. (Parkland was 13 percent Latino and 6.5 percent black.)
…US News and World Report recently ranked Douglas in the top 7 percent of high schools in Florida and the top 12 percent in the United States.
(52) Emma Gonzalez: “But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.” She raised her hands to mark air quotes around “thoughts and prayers.”
(53) They were sick of studying inaction – they’d been studying it their entire lives.
(56) … saturation media coverage of the worst tragedies lasted three to five days….
(89) “‘We can’t let that person take one more thing from us. They’ve already taken so much.’”
That is a pervasive feeling with school shootings. At Columbine, the one major issue that pitted students against families of the victims was the library, where most of the killing took place. The parents were adamant it be torn down – no one should ever set foot in there again. The students were overwhelmed with a sense of loss – their friends, their name, their identity – and did not want to surrender one more inch, literal or symbolic. Any fragment of their life they could salvage felt like a victory.
(92) Psychologists discount that sort of reckoning – especially since trauma is etched into the psyche at the moment of terror, by the perception of terror. The norepinephrine flooding the brain is just as toxic whether the killer is five feet away or five miles – so long as the victim believes he might arrive momentarily. Actual danger is irrelevant. Rationally, most survivors realize this, but try telling that to the guilt center of your brain.
NB: guilt, hierarchy of suffering.
(93) He [Brendan, Daniel’s brother] helped the kids understand early on that the message was the mission, and they would get one shot at a public persona.
(97) Two weeks into the struggle, Jackie had identified a new enemy: fear. Politicians were afraid of the NRA and its supposed political omnipotence, which would crush their careers if they dared step out of line. Reasonable gun owners were afraid of making modest concessions that they actually agreed with, because ceding the momentum would supporsedly ignite a wave of dizzying defeats ending in the abolishment of the Second Amendment and the end of deer hunting. The NRA preached “never give an inch.” Don’t support measures you agree with; support holding the line.
“I think people are scared to make such a big change,” Jackie said. “Even though maybe their moral compass is saying it’s right. Just like the civil rights movement…”
(102) Don’t frame the problem as school shootings. They were fighting gun violence, for all kids, not just them.
(106) The Peace Warriors [of North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago] call themselves interrupters. “Interrupters of nonsense,” D’Angelo said. “We associate nonsense with violence, whether verbal or physical. If two students are engaging in horseplay and then begin showing verbal aggression, our Peace Warriors immediately step in. Mediating that situation to make sure that conflict does not rise to a pervasive or worse problem.”
NB: A documentary film on one group of “violence interrupters” in Chicago: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/interrupters/
(111) [Chicago’s Father Pfleger] But the real goal was a unified coalition across the country, especially one uniting cities and suburbs.
NB: urban/rural divide
(113) They quickly developed five demands – and they called them that – (1) universal, comprehensive background checks; (2) a digitized, searchable database for the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives); (3) funding for the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence; (4) a ban on high-capacity magazines; (5) a ban on semiautomatic assault rifles. Not one of them was specific to mass shooters or schools.
(115) They doubted the five million figure [for NRA memberships], but if accurate, it represents just 1.5 percent of the population.
NB: Note that the women’s march saw 1.3% of the USA population come out
(120) And a huge momentum boost would come from the two National School Walkouts.
… Before Valentine’s Day had ended, Lane Murdock had decided to convert her horror into action. She would stage a walkout. Murdock was a high school sophomore in Ridgefiled, Connecticut, just twenty miles from Sandy Hook.
(121) But Murdock’s idea took a little while to gain national attention, and by then a different walkout had built a huge head of steam. The youth branch of the Women’s March, EMPOWER, announced their own plan two days after Valentine’s Day. It set its sights on March 14, the one-month anniversary of Parkland.
So there were the National School Walkouts in the works, organized independently, and benefiting from shared publicity.
(137) All the parents worried about what their kids had taken on. A twenty-year national crisis loaded onto the shoulders of traumatized kids? It seemed to be helping them – but it seemed like a lot.
(141) The National School Walkout was set of March 14, the one-month anniversary.
(148) Westglades Middle School abuts the Douglas campus just beyond its football field.
… It started with Christopher Krok, who led the rebellion in full military uniform – US Army dress greens. Christopher was the young commander of Westglades’ Junior ROTC program.
(149) They said there were about fifty-five students in their unit [Junior ROTC], and they believed virtually all of them walked out.
(159) Drastic change was one of the most common coping mechanisms – to correct a problem, or for the sake of change. It was generally temporary. Most survivors settle back into old habits eventually, but for weeks or months or years, chaos can reign.
(174) Their short-term strategy for earning that thanks was fueling this movement with some victories in the midterms. The long-term strategy was taking this issue out of the red-blue brawl.
Matt also understood already that the main impact his small band could have on the midterms was leveraging the thousands of young activists in the hundreds of new groups mushrooming across the country.
(175) Two big movements had been percolating for years: the struggle to address urban gun violence, and the struggle to address mass shooters. MFOL’s vision was to merge them. Matt thought that seemed obvious, but the media seemed oblivious to it. The whole team was talking about it relentlessly, in posts and in person – Berkeley, Baltimore, Chicago, Liberty City – but the media was obsessed with suburban white kids.
(176) “What a lot of my generation does is basically come home from school, eat a snack, and watch whatever’s in their subscription box from YouTube,” David said. “That’s how they get a lot of their information and build this into their daily routine.”
(179) Matt said The Cold Beak [MSD satire magazine] really taught a lot of them how to reach an audience. And how to collaborate. “A lot of what people liked about us was we never spoke down to our audience,” he said. “We never made fun of their intelligence. And that’s the same with what we’re doing now.” They were gobsmacked by much of the NRA’s message machine, and satire was still their instinctive response.
(180-181) “Everything we do, everything we put out there, is vetted through all of us,” he [Dylan] said “Somebody has an idea for a tweet, they type it out, they send it to everybody else and we say, ‘That’s good!’ or ‘Change this thing.’”
(181) Their basic rules were simple: no profanity, no violence – actual, symbolic, or implied – and no ad hominem attacks. MLK’s six principles had been helpful.
… They were battling adversaries, not enemies.
(186) John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard’s Kennedy School Institute of Politics: “Young American vote when they believe their efforts have tangible results.”
(187) For two decades, the Harvard institute had been polling young voters (under thirty) on the key question: Does political involvement have any tangible results? The results were generally miserable – with two exceptions: immediately after 9/11, and immediately after the inauguration of President Trump. The Trump administration woke the Parkland generation up.
(213) “Adults will always think of ten thousand reasons why you can’t do something,” Dr Ley said. “Kids won’t do that. That’s what’s glorious about young people: the still-developing impulse control. They see something, they see a cause, and they say, ‘I’m going to do what’s right. You’re not going to stop me.’”
(214) “At that moment you’re being terrorized, there is chaos,” Dr Ley said. “You feel like you have no control of your body, your destiny, your future. And that fear of the unknown, of whether you’re going to live or die, sticks with you. So one of the main things in treatment is allowing a person to reassume the control of their own life, their body, their destiny.”
(215) “That’s why what these Parkland kids are doing is so powerful,” Dr Ley said. “They’re saying, ‘Hang on. Stop. I’m going to regain control. We’re going to do something about these weapons that we had no control over.’” To hell with simulations – they made it real.
…They didn’t start this as a form of therapy, but Dr Ley said they could hardly have designed a better treatment plan.
(229-230) Paula Reed, a teacher at Columbine: “I think it’s important to understand that when we talk about arming teachers you’re not just asking me to protect the Rachels of the world. You’re asking me to kill the Dylans. maybe that sounds easy to you, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t have protected Rachel if I could have, but I really can’t imagine shooting Dylan either. Not the Dylan I knew, anyway. I suppose I would have if I could have, and if I had to, but do you understand what you’re asking of me? You’re asking me to kill one of my students. It’s too much to ask. And so instead, I’m asking my elected leaders to make sure that no teacher ever has to lose a student to a school shooting again.”
(240) But that was the old system. In the red/blue world, representatives no longer responded to their constituents, they responded to their team…
…What did surprise them somewhat was that the red team wouldn’t even talk to them. They were toxic just by association – at least that was still the calculation in Washington.
(256) Love and compassion and patience is the stamina you need to make long, substantial change.
(267) “Most of the tour stops are the places where it’s most likely people disagree with us,” Jackie said.
(270) Local media has an inordinately large influence on voters, so that’s where legislators and candidates direct their attention.
(272) There was a press avail afterward, with a stipulation: Parkland kids would speak only when paired with a local kid – and the interview had better focus on the locals, or they would walk away. That infuriated some of the reporters, but it was an astute tactic. The kids tended to be one step ahead of us. They couldn’t force us to write Chicago stories, but they could force us to hear a few. And they got how we operated. We tend to move in packs, and come in with our stories mentally prewritten. The only way to alter that is to give us a better story. And the Chicago kids had amazing stories.
(274) “I want to see happiness in my community,” Alex King said. “I want to see the next generation, I want to see them being able to play outside. Being able to sit on the porch and nothing happen to them. Being able to go to their neighborhood park, being able to go to a friend’s house. Being able to go to church. Being able to go to school and be safe. I want to see that joy. I want to see the sense of people wanting to be alive, and not fearing for their lives.”
NB: Climate too
(275) “It’s [the cross-country bus trip] quite literally like the Freedom Riders, where people hop on and hop off,” Jackie said.
(278) A Pew Research Center survey that summer  found 51 percent of voters – and 55 percent of voters supporting Democrats – enthusiastic about the midterms.
(300) Voter turnout among the under-thirty voters was 31 percent, dwarfing the 21 percent from the previous midterms.
(307) At the ceremony, Archbishop 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. They are true change makers who have demonstrated most powerfully that children can move the world.”
(329) If you’re interested in this topic [mental health and mass shootings], my piece “What Does a Killer Think?” (Newsweek) (https://www.newsweek.com/aurora-shooting-what-does-killer-think-65627) summarizes the three major motivations of mass murderers other than terrorism: depression, psychosis, and, rarely, psychopathy. (The last two sound similar and are often confused by laypeople, but are in fact completely different.)
(343) Martin Luther King Junior’s six principles of nonviolence are:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
(346) Communicating with Congress reports, “Nearly all staff surveyed (96%) reported that if their Member of Congress had not arrived at a firm decision, individualized postal letters would have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on the Member’s decision.”
(359) This stance of kids organizing themselves on their own terms, was central to the MFOL narrative, and it was interesting to see how profoundly that template had permeated distant communities, with whom the Parkland kids had no direct contact.