FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — They shouted into a microphone until their voices became hoarse. They waved handmade signs. They chanted.
And sometimes, in the middle of it all, they choked up.
At the federal courthouse here Saturday, students — including many of the very people who had to endure the trauma of a shooting on campus — continued to speak out about guns. Since Wednesday, when a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, their youthful voices have resonated where those of longtime politicians have largely fallen flat.
And on Saturday, another young woman’s words captivated the nation.
Speaking publicly at the rally, Emma González, a senior, pledged that her school would be the site of the nation’s last mass shooting. How could she know? Because, she said, she and her peers would take it upon themselves to “change the law.”
“The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us,” she said. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS.”
“They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence — we call BS!” she continued as a chorus of supporters echoed her. “They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun — we call BS! They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars — we call BS! They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred — we call BS! That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works — we call BS!”
"We call B-S-!"— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 17, 2018
Emma Gonzalez, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, leads a chant on lawmakers' responses to gun violence after the Florida school shooting. pic.twitter.com/eyfdKza3Q5
She wiped her eyes aggressively. Then, she urged the people in the crowd to register to vote — and to give their elected officials “a piece of your mind.”
Just hours later, one video of the speech had been viewed more than 100,000 times.
In a telephone interview early Sunday, González, 18, said she was surprised by the enthusiastic reaction to her speech.
“I just got off the phone with Demi Lovato,” she said. “That’s not normally something that ever should have happened.”
González said she was encouraged to speak out, in part, by other supportive people in her community, especially those who she said do not yet feel comfortable talking publicly.
“This is my whole world now,” she said. “I cannot allow myself to stop talking about this.”
A person González met at a party was killed in the shooting, she said; another person she has known for “an incredibly long time” is still in the hospital.
“Everybody needs to understand how we feel and what we went through, because if they don’t, they’re not going to be able to understand why we’re fighting for what we’re fighting for,” González said.
She noted that some have criticized students for raising their voices, suggesting that they take the time to grieve instead.
“This is the way I have to grieve,” González said. “I have to make sure that everybody knows that this isn’t something that is allowed to happen.”
Here are the voices of some other students who, like González, have spoken out in recent days.
— David Hogg, 17: ‘We’re children. You guys are the adults’
While David Hogg, 17, and dozens of his Stoneman Douglas classmates were hiding in the dark in the school chef’s office, he interviewed them on camera about their views on gun policy. Hogg, a senior and the student news director, later told The New York Times that lawmakers must make schools safer.
“We need to do something,” he said. “We need to get out there and be politically active. Congress needs to get over their political bias with each other and work toward saving children’s lives.”
Referring to politicians, Hogg told CNN: “We’re children. You guys are the adults.”
— Carly Novell, 17: ‘This IS about guns’
Hours after the mass shooting, surviving students turned to social media to discuss gun control. They addressed the prevalence of such attacks and why someone with a mental illness can buy a gun.
“Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings,” Carly Novell, a 17-year-old senior who is an editor for the school’s quarterly magazine, wrote on Twitter. “This IS about guns.”
In a video interview with The Times, Novell said she was trying to use her anger fruitfully.
“People always talk about gun control and how things need to change, but nothing ever does,” she said. “And that is so frustrating.”
— Tyra Hemans, 19: ‘I want to talk with’ Trump
The public outcry from some Stoneman Douglas students was vastly different from the response of survivors of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Those students two decades ago did not turn to activism as they grieved.
In contrast, Tyra Hemans, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, brought a poster featuring the word “ENOUGH” to a funeral for one of her classmates Friday. She said she also wanted to deliver a message to President Donald Trump.
“I want our politicians to stop thinking about money and start thinking about all these lives we had lost,” she said. “I want to talk with him about changing these laws.”
— Daniela Palacios, 16: ‘Change is going to come of this’
Among those who attended Saturday’s rally was Daniela Palacios, 16, a sophomore at another Broward County high school, Cypress Bay.
This was her first protest, she said, and she stood with her mother, a tiny gold cross on a chain around her neck.
Returning to school after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas had been difficult, she explained, and she said she was there to call for a ban on firearms like the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle used by the gunman.
“Wherever you bump into someone, there is the fear that they’re the next shooter,” she said, “and every bell is a gunshot.”
“I feel like some change is going to come of this,” she went on, her voice barely audible amid the roar of the crowd. “I feel hopeful.”
— Ellie Branson, 16: ‘Can you include the names of the victims?’
When the protest ended, a group of teenagers stayed behind, chanting and hugging — and chanting again.
“It could have been us,” one sign read. “My friend died for what?” said another.
“No more guns! No more guns! No more guns!” they yelled.
Among those leading the group was Ellie Branson, 16, a junior from South Broward High School. She wore a yellow and white T-shirt, her cheeks wet with tears.
When the protest finally ended, she texted a reporter.
“Can you include the names of the victims?” she asked. “Their names are more important than mine.”