If only suffering didn’t have to be their catalyst.
( Alex Radelich / Unsplash )
[ TW: The following article contains details of gun violence.]
In 2018, Alyson Moriarty said she couldn’t tell the difference between Democrat and Republican ideologies. She said if negative political knowledge is possible, that’s what she had.
Meanwhile, Evan Conds was nestled in conservative Indiana, where assault rifles rested as casually as on his friend’s couch.
But everything changed on Feb. 14, 2018. From politically unaware to active, both Moriarity and Conds couldn’t disregard the violence that occured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Though they grew up amongst different backgrounds and political atmospheres, they still ended up advocating against gun violence in Gainesville’s March For Our Lives chapter.
For many members of Gen Z, this event was the one that launched them into activism.
Moriarty was walking to UF’s Beaty Towers dorm when she found out about what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the high school school 10 minutes from her home in Coconut Creek. Moriarty’s friend from high school texted her about it. She speculated it was just another kid with a gun, but Moriarty knew differently when she opened a news channel’s livestream. She saw students exit the school with their hands raised. She searched for familiar faces, but the helicopter’s camera was blurry. Next thing she knew, her eyes were, too.
Throughout high school, Moriarty trailed across Douglas’s stage, singing solos and performing at the school for her district’s thespians festival. It’s also where she remembers watching the musical Annie. Where her coworkers from Italian Ice attended.
So Moriarty had to watch carefully. For hours, she watched the news with her college roommate, also from Coconut Creek. Her phone buzzed with texts from friends in and out of the classrooms.
“I heard this person was shot.” “I haven’t heard from this person.”
It wasn’t until a boy knocked on Mariarty’s dorm door, 300 miles away from Parkland, that Moriarty snuck back into reality. He gave her chocolates. It was Valentine’s Day.
Across the US, in the middle of gun-country Indiana, Conds heard about the shooting as a highschool senior. After it happened, his dad, who is also his high school’s principal, said he would take a bullet for students if a shooting happened.
“It's just that realization this could happen here,” he said. “And it would happen not only to members of my community, but also my family.”
In his town, foreign discussions arose.
People, especially in Gen Z, began considering a need for change. His school was one of the numerous schools in America that did a walkout to protest gun violence.
March For Our Lives Gainesville (then UF Stands with MSD), raised $18,000 to send two charter buses to Washington D.C. for one of the largest student-led protests in US history on March 24, 2018. It was Moriarty’s first political event.
In blue March For Our Lives shirts, Moriarty and two others carried signs at the March 2018 protest against violence. Moriarty (far right) held a sign with a straight-A report card, stained with bloody handprints and an A+ blood type.
“There’s more than grades to consider,” she said. “There’s life and death.” ( Courtesy of Alyson Moriarty )
With hundreds of thousands of people around her, she said the moments were surreal. Elementary school kids were there, too.
“It's sad that kids so young have to be fighting for their lives on an issue that bills being passed could potentially fix,” she said.
Since 2018, bills have been passed. March For Our Lives has extended beyond school walls. The National Rifle Association (NRA), who opposed March For Our Lives, fell from their government throne. Bump stocks were banned and the ages to buy guns increased from 18 to 21 in Florida.
“We put a lot of our focus into all types of shootings that exist because we can't end gun all violence by just ending one form of gun violence,” Moriarty said.
Gen Z still isn’t done.
“Obviously, young people in communities of color in urban cities, shootings like this have been on their mind forever,” she said. “But when it happens in a community where you would least expect it, I think that's what lifts people up in wanting to get involved, they realize, ‘wow, this can happen to me.’”
Moriarty said she is privileged to not have considered gun violence before when people of color are disproportionately targeted. But for many of Gen Z, what happened three years ago was the incident that propelled them into activism. Since then,