TAMPA, FL – The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have ignited a passion for activism that hasn’t been seen since the Vietnam era.
But instead of college students protesting the draft, this time it’s high school students fighting to save their lives.
Sarasota mother and activist Dawn Grimes Honeycutt said activities in support of gay rights, equality for women and other civil rights issues has influenced her daughter, Julianne, a senior at Sarasota High School.
However, she believes the recent school shootings have raised an awareness in her daughter and fellow classmates that had nothing to do with Honeycutt’s influence.
"These students are realizing they have a voice and, together, they can make changes," Honeycutt said.
Maddie Culbertson, a junior at Newsome High School in Lithia, said there was a time when many of her classmates couldn’t even name the vice president of the United States. The school shootings have awoken them from their apathy, she said.
"I remember seeing stories about the Sandy Hook shootings (in 2012) and not really understanding what I was seeing," said Culbertson.
Now, she said, she’s devouring news coverage of gun and school safety debates in the state Legislature and Congress. She knows the names of her lawmakers and how they stand on the issue.
"I’ve been watching the (Florida) House debates," Culbertson said. "It made me angry to hear (State Rep.) Elizabeth Porter say we are just children and shouldn’t have a say in making laws. We’re talking about saving our lives, and our thoughts on that should matter."
Hillsborough County schools were on spring break when the nationwide school walkout took place on March 14 so Culbertson wasn’t able to participate.
However, she plans to make up for it by joining the estimated 2,000 high school students and parents who will attend the March for Our Lives Saturday, March 24, starting at 10 a.m. at Kiley Garden, the elevated section of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 400 N. Ashley St. in downtown Tampa.
The march will kick off with a rally before marchers head down Ashley Street to the University of Tampa and then circle back across the Hillsborough River to the Straz Center.
Another march is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Poynter Park, 1000 3rd St S, St. Petersburg. Following speakers, the march will get underway around 1 p.m., taking marchers north on 3rd Street South, east on 1st Avenue South, west on 6th Avenue South then back to Poynter Park. Organizers also will pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds to vote when they turn 18.
The marches, organized by student activists, are taking place throughout the country. The Tampa March for Our Lives was organized by former Plant High School student Brooke Shapiro and three friends who say they "will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar."
Honeycutt said she was pregnant with Julianne when the mass shooting took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. She’s frustrated that nothing has been done to prevent school shootings during her daughter’s lifetime.
Abigail Douglas, a senior at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, agrees. The first thing she did after she learning of the Parkland shootings was to pre-register to vote so she could go to the polls when she turns 18.
"We’re beginning to understand that we have a voice," said Douglas, who plans to attend Saturday’s march. "It’s about solidarity and feeling a part of a community of peers who can make a difference."
"This should have stopped with Columbine," Culbertson said. "The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas awakened us. We’re becoming more politically active and aware. I’m hoping that our legislators will see that we are marching for our lives. We intend to be the generation that changes things."
Shapiro said the marches will serve two purposes. They want to send a message of support to the survivors of the Parkland shootings. At the same time, they are "demanding that comprehensive and effective laws be immediately brought before Congress to address gun violence."
"No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country," Shapiro said in her Facebook invitation for students to join her.
Culbertson said the march will undoubtedly draw criticism from people who think their time would be better spent studying. That’s OK with her.
"We won’t be able to change minds but hopefully we can change some hearts," she said.
Images via Julianne Honeycutt
Students join the nationwide school walkout at Sarasota High School.