I'm a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
During the last month, my classmates and I have been doubted; we've been trolled on Twitter; we've been called "crisis actors"; and we’ve been told by adults that we can't make a difference, to shut up and go back to class. All while we’re mourning the loss of 17 members of our Stoneman Douglas family.
But it's important to me that those who doubt understand what exactly happened to us: We went to school, like normal. It was February 14, Valentine’s Day. A day that’s supposed to be about admiration, affection, and adoration. I had plans to meet up with my best friends that night. I was in drama class rehearsing for an upcoming musical. The fire alarm went off, which was strange because we’d had a fire drill during second period already that day. Our drama class began to make our way outside, and not even halfway out the door, we heard what at first I thought were the sounds of a firecracker, or maybe even a bomb. These were actually shots firing from an AR-15 that was killing my friends and teachers.
I’m not even 18 yet, I thought. I haven’t even lived, and now my life could be over in a matter of minutes. All 65 of us in the class ran into the drama storage closet. While we didn’t know what would happen next, we spent two hours crying, shaking, and texting our parents goodbye. There was truly no way of knowing whether we were going to make it out alive. No kid, no person, should ever have to fear that at any second, a shooter could walk into their safe space and end their life. That day we lost 17 beautiful, innocent, smart, kind souls. Aaron, Chris, Scott, Jaime, Nick, Gina, Cara, Meadow, Carmen, Joaquin, Peter, Alyssa, Alaina, Alex, Luke, Helena, and Martin. We say their names, and now we fight for them.
The week before the shooting, we were worried about the SATs and buying a prom dress. Now we’re activists at the center of a roaring gun control debate, and it’s a lot of pressure.
Days after the shooting, those of us who were strong enough began to speak out for those who couldn’t. I’m sure people are wondering how we had—and still have—the strength to do this, but it’s been our way to mourn. We’ve had to use the media and political attention we are receiving while it’s still there. We’ve done every interview we can, and set up meetings in our state's and nation’s capitals, and planned a nationwide march, the March for Our Lives, all in less than a month. Remember: We, the teens, are doing this. Not adults.
There are so many students that are deeply affected and horribly traumatized by the event at my high school, and I’m still processing it all. The week before the shooting, we were worried about the SATs and buying a prom dress. Now we’re activists at the center of a roaring gun control debate, and it’s a lot of pressure.
Some adults are saying we’re over emotional and aren’t thinking logically because of our experience. That kind of doubt, especially coming from the older generations who we want to support us, is the last thing we need right now. Experiencing this kind of tragedy is exactly what makes us perfectly capable of fighting. We lived through one of the worst things a human can experience. Our motivation is rooted in never letting what happened to us happen to anyone ever again.
Still, a lot of adults are asking us: How can we help?
Here’s what I have to say to them: First, stand behind us. We need the world to know that you trust us to take the lead. You can do this by simply believing that we are real people who lived through a tragedy. You can do this by listening. You can do this by supporting the movement with your financial power, and donating to causes like Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence that support gun reform.
We are teenagers with the weight of the country on our shoulders. We absolutely need your support.
Second, be open-minded. This is not a partisan issue, but an issue of lives. Bullets don’t discriminate by party, religion, race, or class, and mass shootings happen anywhere and everywhere, even in Parkland (which, for the record, was voted the number one safest city in Florida last year).
Most of all, we need you vote in November. Vote for those of us that are still too young. Vote for politicians who support legitimate and substantial gun reform. Vote for politicians who understand that this is a multifaceted issue. Vote for politicians who do take into account the opinions of their constituents. Because your track record isn’t strong: It seems that a lot of you vote along party lines without doing much research and continue to reelect unworthy incumbents and elect candidates who are not invested in making our future safer.
Although to some we may seem fully capable of running this revolution on our own, we need you. My generation is an agent of change, and we’re proud of that. But adults shouldn’t feel excused from taking action—the pressure we’re under is real. We are teenagers with the weight of the country on our shoulders. We absolutely need your support.
Senseless tragedies occur every day because the wrong person was able to obtain a weapon, sometimes a weapon of war, that should not even be able to be purchased in the first place. People die daily because of gun violence in neighborhoods all over the country; people whose names we’ll never know. It’s not right. There is so much that can and will be done, and it starts with us. All of us.
We’re marching on Saturday and fighting because the friends and teachers we lost, and the many victims of gun violence, will never have the chance to. A deranged monster with a semi-automatic rifle took away my friends’ and teachers’ chance to change the world. We refuse to let this happen again.
Sofie Whitney, who turned 18 four days after the shooting, is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She is a founding member of Never Again, a group working on gun reform run by survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.