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How March for Our Lives ignited a generation casting ballots for the first time

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Five years ago today, March 24, 2018, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them teenagers, filled the streets of Washington demanding an end to gun violence. That was the first March For Our Lives, a demonstration born of the tragedy on February 14 of that year in Parkland, Fla., when a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and shot 17 students and staff to death.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It was the survivors of that Parkland shooting - high schoolers enraged about what they and their classmates had just gone through - who organized that historic march and a movement to curb gun violence that continues today. One of those survivors was David Hogg. At 17, he became one of the faces and voices of the movement. He's 22 years old now, and he says he is still angry.

DAVID HOGG: I'm just so angry for my past self and the other young people that were with us and the young people who were marching with us around the country and around the world, because it really should not be on kids to tell the adults get their act together. It shouldn't be on kids to say we deserve the right to survive math class.

KELLY: Our colleague Adrian Florido spoke to David Hogg today and asked him if, in the five years since he helped start March For Our Lives, whether it's gotten harder or easier to get young people involved in the cause.

HOGG: I think it's probably gotten easier, unfortunately. And the reason why I say that that's unfortunate is because the reason it's gotten easier is because gun violence has gotten worse. More people are affected by it now than when we started in 2018. And I guess one of the non-unfortunate reasons why it's gotten easier to recruit young people is because I think March For Our Lives helped set a major cultural shift for our generation where, you know, it's kind of an expectation that you care about politics or that you care about the issues that are affecting us, that are literally killing us in our communities and in our schools every day. And as a result of that, there are more people that want to be involved.

We have young people running for state legislature, for example, like a young man named Jasper Martis in the Michigan state legislature who got involved with politics when he was just, I think, 17 years old with the first March For Our Lives. He went to MSU, graduated, and now, after the shooting at MSU, he ran for office after graduating and now is one of the youngest state representatives in Michigan. It's people like Maxwell Frost, who also are helping lead this change and inspiring our generation to step up and get involved on the inside, too, because he formerly worked with March For Our Lives as our first national organizing director. And now he is the youngest member of Congress. Both fortunately and unfortunately, things have gotten easier.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: You have had some successes at the local and even federal level with gun control but not anything close to the kind of substantive gun control that you would like to see. What's been the most frustrating part of this work for you?

HOGG: How much time do you have? We have been historically very reactive. When there's a shooting, the country is enraged, and people want to do something urgently and act now. We have to get out there before there is a shooting and show up regularly every single year. The gun lobby and gun rights activists show up every single year with a couple hundred people at state legislatures, and they flood their call lines. They show up in all of the hearings and everything like that. And unless there's been a major shooting in the past year, that doesn't happen a lot of the time with our movement, not nearly as much as it should.

And we need those parents who say to me, wow, my generation really messed up, but we're glad that you kids are here to save us, we need those parents to show up with us and not just say, OK, like, the kids have it. We don't. We are young. And we are feisty. And we want change badly. But we can't do this alone. We need people of all ages and all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and incomes to show up with us at state legislatures to help create that change proactively so that you don't become a gun violence prevention activist after you've lost your child or your brother or sister to gun violence.

FLORIDO: What's been the most gratifying part of this work for you?

HOGG: Last year, I was on kitchen cabinet calls in my dining hall every Thursday morning at 9 a.m. for Maxwell Frost. He was a long-shot candidate. And 48 hours ago, I was in his office for the first time in Washington, D.C., in Congress. And I was there with Patricia and Mandy Oliver, the parents of Joaquin Oliver, who died when he was 17 years old when he was murdered in my high school - after his family, mind you, came here fleeing violence in Venezuela to Parkland, only to have their son die.

And they talked about how hard it is, obviously, going through what they went through in losing a child to gun violence, but how much hope at the same time it's given them to see Joaquin's legacy as they talked about live on in the activists of March For Our Lives and the movement and people like Maxwell now going into Congress because their whole philosophy from the beginning has been that Joaquin is not a victim, he's an activist. And to see them tearing up at the fact that now we're sitting in the youngest member of Congress's office who is directly from March For Our Lives. Yes, this work is very hard. There are many setbacks that we have. And it's going to take a long time to get through it. But I know if people like the Olivers can keep doing this and thousands of other parents across the country and they're in a similar position to them can keep doing this, the rest of the movement can as well.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with David Hogg, one of the founding members and a board member of March For Our Lives. Thanks for joining us.

HOGG: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Elena Burnett
William Troop
William Troop is a supervising editor at All Things Considered. He works closely with everyone on the ATC team to plan, produce and edit shows 7 days a week. During his 30+ years in public radio, he has worked at NPR, at member station WAMU in Washington, and at The World, the international news program produced at station GBH in Boston. Troop was born in Mexico, to Mexican and Nicaraguan parents. He spent most of his childhood in Italy, where he picked up a passion for soccer that he still nurtures today. He speaks Spanish and Italian fluently, and is always curious to learn just how interconnected we all are.