For more than 6 minutes and 30 seconds, high-school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez held the attention of around 800,000 people in Washington, DC – and millions around the world – at the ‘March For Our Lives’ rally on March 24, 2018. More than 4 minutes of her speech was actually pure silence, delivered with a stone-cold, determined look.
It was incredibly stirring.
Veteran network news anchors who were covering the event were speechless. For a few moments, the USA – the most gun-violent country in the world – took a deep breath and listened to the silence.
Less than 6 weeks earlier, the concept of a worldwide rally against gun violence was inconceivable. That all changed on February 14, when a lone gunman with a legally purchased AR-!5 assault rifle walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people.
It took 6 minutes and 20 seconds for him to complete the carnage.
That started a chain of events that would lead to the formation of a student-led gun control group that would come to be known by the hashtag #NeverAgain. Not content with the standard response of “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” offered by politicians and President Trump, the students began a movement against gun violence. When told “It’s too soon, it’s time to grieve”, they responded with “We call BS!”. A message that resonates with our core values at DOMINON.
The students of MSD High School have quickly emerged as a powerful voice in the heated debate over gun control legislation. Although efforts to implement gun control began after the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999 and recur after every high-school shooting, they continue to stall in Congress thanks to lobbying by the National Rifle Association.
Even though mass shootings are now a regular occurrence, the MSD High School students refuse to accept the status quo of members of Congress being bought and controlled by the NRA. They are not fooled by the platitudes of politicians who are ultimately out to protect their own self-interests and who hide behind the default “our thoughts and prayers are with you, and let’s not talk about gun control until you have grieved” arguments. These students have anger, purpose and authenticity that can only be born from being on the receiving end of an injustice – unlike the politicians who lecture them.
In the six short weeks following the shooting, the students under the banner of #NeverAgain lobbied the Florida legislature, appeared on numerous talk shows and the cover of Time magazine, and organized a worldwide rally. They may not be old enough to vote, but they are making their impact in other ways.
Emma’s speech was not burdened with the weight of wanting to manipulate people for some sort of personal gain. It was delivered from her heart and soul in a pure, unfiltered form that was unique – because this is rarely how people interact with each other anymore. Emma’s only purpose was to deliver the MSD students’ story and communicate why she was so outraged. Simple, focused, and determined, her message resonated with everyone who heard it.
In many ways, her speech was reminiscent of the message format that Dr. Martin Luther King used in his “I have a dream” speech more than 50 years ago.
Another poignant moment during the March for Our Lives rally was when Dr. King’s 9-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, took to the stage to reinforce the tenets of her grandfather’s dream: to live in a world free from judgements, hatred and violence.
All the articulate and intelligent young speakers at the March for Our Lives rally tapped into the most powerful messaging tool of all: communicate ‘why’ you are there and connect with the audience on an emotional level.
When an audience can connect with ‘why’ you are doing something, it resonates on a deeper level, motivates action, and becomes sustainable. This is one of the reasons why the MSD students have succeeded in capturing our attention and making meaningful change – and carrying millions of people along for the ride.
I’m in awe.