The Disillusionment of a Parkland Activist

The Disillusionment of a Parkland Activist

Four years and four months ago, a high-school student delivered a speech at a rally outside the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Three days earlier, a gunman had killed 17 of X González’s classmates and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with an AR-15-style rifle. “We are going to be the last mass shooting,” González told the assembled crowd and cable-news cameras.

It wasn’t, of course. In 2018 alone, there were 336 mass shootings in America, according to the Gun Violence Archive; since then, there have been at least 1,719 more. The righteous anger of millions of teenagers, parents, and teachers didn’t stop those shootings from happening. Neither did the historic March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C., the month after the Parkland shooting, or the massive student-led gun-control movement that followed.

After so quickly emerging as a new face of that movement, González, who uses they/them pronouns, took a step back from public life. They were overwhelmed, and tired. They were eager to go to college and learn something—to reclaim some slice of normal life. But upon graduating this spring from New College of Florida—and amid a new spate of shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa—González is returning, at least tentatively, to the world of gun-violence prevention, preparing to give a speech today at a second March for Our Lives rally in D.C.

This time, instead of hopeful words or assurances that things will certainly get better, González has mostly raw, hard-to-contain rage. “I’m, like, this close to snapping at any given moment, because I’m so mad about all this,” González told me in an interview on Thursday. We also talked about what these past four years have felt like, what González plans to say in their speech, and whether it is still possible to hope that gun violence in America will recede.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Elaine Godfrey: It’s been four years since the shooting at your high school. How are you?

X González: I mean, who’s to say? I’m doing good. I’ve grown a lot. But, I mean, in today’s day and age, can anybody really be good? I have a cat now.

Godfrey: In 2018, you were a kid. You’re still super young—you’re 22! How has all of the attention from the world, all the political attention, affected you over the last four years?

González: It’s really similar to how a lot of child stars will say, “Well, I had no privacy, and it really impacted me growing up.” Except it was one of those situations where we were looking to bring attention to the issue, but then everybody started paying attention to us personally. There are people all over the country that see the Parkland survivors and are like, “That’s my child!” And then there’s other people that are like, “I will kill them if I see them.” So it’s really weird to deal with that. On a given day, you’re like: I just want to be home and hang out. I don’t want anybody to hate me. I don’t even care if anybody likes me at this point. I just want to hang out by myself.

Godfrey: Has that gotten better?

González: I think it’s gotten better because I’ve done a lot of stepping back during college. I’ve just tried to really focus on learning everything, instead of trying to talk too much to the world. Because I knew that I didn’t know all the answers, and I didn’t want to come off as though I did know the answers.

Godfrey: The answers to gun violence?

González: Well, yeah, but gun violence is connected to a lot of things, and I wanted to make sure that if I ended up coming back into the gun-violence-prevention scene, that I would have the information and I wouldn’t come into it ignorantly or hoping for something that would never happen.

I took a lot of anthropology classes in college, political classes, sociology classes, humanities. I learned a lot about colonization, genocide, and critical race theory, which ironically [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis just made illegal. I’ve really been able to understand how the world has gotten to the point that it has, and where we could go to create positive change.

Godfrey: You said “come back to the gun-violence-prevention scene.” How has your involvement changed?

González: After the Road to Change bus tour and then, you know, college starting, I was like, I am going to take a real break from March for Our Lives. Now, as I’ve just graduated, as March is doing a lot of things right now, I figured I would jump in, and everybody’s happy to have me. I’m excited to see all these people again this weekend.

Godfrey: I’m sure that hearing about more school shootings happening is just endlessly frustrating for you. How did it feel when you heard about Uvalde?

González: Honestly, I think something that people typically forget about is that gun violence happens every day, all the time. At least 100 people die from gun violence every day. Obviously, instances of terrorism like Uvalde are news-catching and horrible and similar to what I experienced, but they’re part of that larger whole. People keep thinking, Oh, it’s a schools issue. It’s really not just a schools issue. It’s a gun issue. And it’s frustrating to see people only reach out and care about things when it happens in school and to children. They’re like, “This is especially heinous!” Well, it’s equally heinous when it happens in a synagogue. It’s equally heinous when it happens in a Walmart. It’s equally heinous when it happens to one person on the street. And it’s all the fault of Congress.

Godfrey: Say more about that.

González: I definitely lay the blame on the naysayers within Congress who are against passing gun laws for any reason. They legitimately somehow believe that having guns will make people safer, which has statistically proven over years and years and years to have especially negatively impacted children. Or they just don’t seem to care. They either live in their own world where this really doesn’t affect them somehow, or they really think that a guy with a gun will stop a bad guy, which is never the case.

Godfrey: What do you make of the potential gun-control proposal being debated between this bipartisan group of senators right now? Does that give you hope?

González: It’s definitely a start. We’ve got to begin somewhere. But every time something like this happens, politicians are like, “We need real change!” And it’s like, you should do that instead of saying it. So once I see it happen, then I’ll believe that it’s happening. Once people who have been voting no vote yes, then I will have hope. Until then, I feel like I can’t have hope. Hope kind of implies that you don’t have any agency.

Godfrey: David Hogg, your high-school classmate who’s become a very public gun-control advocate, tweeted recently that this time—the energy after the Uvalde shooting—feels different. I’m curious if it feels different to you.

González: I’m glad to hear that David thinks that things have shifted. But I think it feels exactly the same. When [members of the media reach out] after a school shooting and they’re like, “We wanna talk to you!,” I’m like, you know this has been happening the whole time, right? This isn’t even the first school shooting; this isn’t the first mass shooting; this isn’t the first shooting since Parkland.

Godfrey: I had been scrolling through your tweets to see what you’d said recently, and there’s a contrast between the way that you talk about this issue and the way that other activists do. You seem really frustrated. Can you describe that frustration to me?

González: A year or two after the Parkland shooting, I got an evaluation from my psychiatrist, and they were like, “Okay, so it looks like you have extreme PTSD.” And I was like, “Well, that explains why I’m so fucking mad all the time.” That’s one reason I don’t tweet all that much. You know the saying that if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it? I don’t want to put too much negativity out there in the world. You don’t need to hear me screaming into the void every day.

I’m, like, this close to snapping at any given moment, because I’m so mad about all this. And I say that with a little bit of a laugh in my voice because I like to have a positive attitude about things. If I focus on the negative things, I’d only be hurting myself. So I want to combat that.

Godfrey: I’m sure it’s frustrating to feel so hopeless about this. I’ve written so many stories in the aftermath of every kind of shooting, and eventually it’s like, I have nothing new to say.

González: Literally! I’ve said it all before. I don’t know what anybody wants me to tell them at this point.

Godfrey: So what is your message at the march going to be?

González: I put it in my agenda: Today is the day that I’m writing the speech. I don’t want to spoil anything. Last time my message was geared more toward the people who don’t understand why we should care about gun violence. But this time it’s going to be very much more like—I’ve talked to people around the world, and it turns out it’s not a people problem; it’s a Congress problem.

Godfrey: Do you have hope for America’s future, as far as mitigating gun violence?

González: It would be incredibly easy to make this change, and if we did make a change, it would be incredibly easy to see the results very quickly. The only people holding us back are those members of Congress who either do not believe this is a problem or are taking money from people who should be labeled a terrorist organization.

I know that March for Our Lives has a bunch of things in the works. But literally anything is better than nothing. Anything that gun-violence-prevention activists have been asking for for literally years—anything that any of those organizations have been calling for—would be better than nothing.

It’s really not that confusing or difficult of an issue to solve. The answers are all right there, and they’ve been right there for so long. And the members of Congress who have ignored them for this long, in good conscience, they’re truly, truly fucked-up for having done that.

The post The Disillusionment of a Parkland Activist appeared first on The Atlantic.

Last Update: Sat, 11 Jun 22 09:10:08