Parkland activists heal over years while pushing gun reform

The recent guilty plea by the shooter in the 2018 Parkland school slayings drew some renewed attention to the anti-gun March for Our Lives student movement

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — When the shooter in the 2018 Parkland school massacre finally pleaded guilty last month, it briefly revived attention and donations for the anti-gun violence March For Our Lives student movement birthed by the tragedy.

It also dredged up personal trauma for many of young activists, though most are now hundreds of miles away at college.

Jaclyn Corin, 21, one of the group’s original organizers and now a Harvard junior, stayed off social media the week of the shooter’s court proceedings to avoid painful memories. But well-intentioned loved ones texted constantly to provide support, unwittingly making it impossible for her to ignore.

“I try my best not to think about him and the violence that he inflicted, but it’s incredibly hard to do that when someone who ruined your life and the lives of literally everyone in your community is trending on social media.”

In the initial months after the shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the teenagers amassed one of the largest youth protests in history in Washington and rallied more than a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. They made the cover of Time magazine and raised millions to fund March For Our Lives. They testified before Congress, met with the president, won the International Children’s Peace Prize and launched a 60-plus city bus tour to register tens of thousands of young voters.

March For Our Lives has evolved into a 300-chapter organization that has had a hand in helping pass many of the 130 gun violence prevention bills approved across the country since 2018 and regularly files amicus briefs in gun-related lawsuits.

Yet some of the original founders, including Emma Gonzalez, have left or taken a step back — or moved on to other issues. One of them is running for Congress in Florida.

Corin was so burned out from activism when she started college that she said she needed a year for herself.

“A lot of our trauma from the shooting is inherently linked to the organization,” she said.

Nearly four years after the shootings, the twenty-somethings have managed to keep the organization going and youth-led. Still, they’ve struggled to achieve sustainable financing. The organization has raised over $31 million to date, but its operating costs were slightly higher than funds in 2020.

David Hogg, one of the most recognizable faces from the group and still one of its most active members, said the organization is much more stable now than in the early days

“When you get a bunch of traumatized teenagers together and say, ‘It’s up to you to fix this,’ ... the weight that puts on a 17-year-old mind or a 14-year-old mind like my sister’s after she lost four friends that day is enormous.”

Hogg, also a student at Harvard, delayed college for a year to help grow the organization. He was in Washington last week for a Supreme Court case about the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense where the organization filed an amicus brief supporting a restrictive New York state law.

“There are days when I want to stop. There are days when I am exhausted. But there are days when I realize I am not alone in this work,” Hogg said in a recent interview.

Hogg, who has drawn persistent scorn from conservatives including Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Fox News personality Laura Ingraham, said March For Our Lives is focused on the long game. It hopes to spur youth nationally to run for office, become judges and draft policies.

Volunteers in the organization made over 1 million texts and phone calls leading up to the 2020 election.

Maxwell Frost, one of the group’s founders and its former organizing director, is running for an open congressional seat from Orlando. Another founding member, Charlie Mirsky, took a year off to work full time as the organization’s policy director before before enrolling at Lafayette College. Last summer, he helped the organization form a judicial advocacy branch to write amicus briefs.

While gun control remains the group’s chief mission, the students said they consider issues like racism, poverty and voter disenfranchisement to be intertwined and have focused extra efforts on communities of color affected by gun violence.

Many of the students rallied for Black Lives Matters last summer in the wake of the George Floyd protests, including Aalayah Eastmond.

Eastmond, now a junior at Trinity Washington University, was in her Holocaust history class when the gunman killed several students inside. The now 20-year-old took part in March For Our Lives’ bus tour, though she is not a formal member of the group.

“I wanted to make sure we were addressing inner city gun violence that disproportionately impacts Black and brown youth," Eastmond said. “I felt like that was a huge part of the conversation that is overlooked."

And now, as a jury will decide in January whether the Parkland school shooter will spend life in prison or receive the death penalty, the student activists find themselves grappling yet again with the human toll of gun violence. The organization does not have a formal position, but the students said they support whatever the victims’ families want.

“I think it’s a really difficult scenario,” Corin said. “I struggle with the morality of the death penalty often, but I do know that it could give victims’ families peace, specifically in this case where we know the person is guilty.”

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FILE - Jaclyn Corin, a student activist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. holds hands with Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., at the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018. Corin, a 21-year-old Harvard junior as the Parkland shooter appeared in court in Oct. 2021, purposely stayed off social media the week of the court proceedings, knowing it would be too troubling, saying "the shooting continues to effect my day to day life in ways I never could have imagined." (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Credit: Andrew Harnik

FILE - Jaclyn Corin, a student activist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. holds hands with Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., at the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018. Corin, a 21-year-old Harvard junior as the Parkland shooter appeared in court in Oct. 2021, purposely stayed off social media the week of the court proceedings, knowing it would be too troubling, saying "the shooting continues to effect my day to day life in ways I never could have imagined." (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Caption
FILE - Jaclyn Corin, a student activist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. holds hands with Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., at the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018. Corin, a 21-year-old Harvard junior as the Parkland shooter appeared in court in Oct. 2021, purposely stayed off social media the week of the court proceedings, knowing it would be too troubling, saying "the shooting continues to effect my day to day life in ways I never could have imagined." (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

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FILE- In this March 24, 2018 file photo, David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., raises his fist after speaking during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington. With every mass shooting, the survivors of Parkland, Florida's high school massacre are transported back to their own nightmare. Even though most are hundreds of miles away, having started new lives in college nearly four years later, the painful memories are always close.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Credit: Andrew Harnik

FILE- In this March 24, 2018 file photo, David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., raises his fist after speaking during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington. With every mass shooting, the survivors of Parkland, Florida's high school massacre are transported back to their own nightmare. Even though most are hundreds of miles away, having started new lives in college nearly four years later, the painful memories are always close.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Caption
FILE- In this March 24, 2018 file photo, David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., raises his fist after speaking during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington. With every mass shooting, the survivors of Parkland, Florida's high school massacre are transported back to their own nightmare. Even though most are hundreds of miles away, having started new lives in college nearly four years later, the painful memories are always close.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Caption
FILE - Looking west, people fill Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Credit: Alex Brandon

FILE - Looking west, people fill Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Caption
FILE - Looking west, people fill Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

Caption
FILE - Aalayah Eastmond, a Parkland, Fla. activist, poses for a portrait after leading the crowd in chants at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, during protests over the death of George Floyd. Eastmond, now 20, who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by hiding under the body of one of her murdered classmates, later testified before Congress after the shooting and took part in March For Our Lives' bus tour, though she is not a formal member of the group. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

Credit: Maya Alleruzzo

FILE - Aalayah Eastmond, a Parkland, Fla. activist, poses for a portrait after leading the crowd in chants at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, during protests over the death of George Floyd. Eastmond, now 20, who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by hiding under the body of one of her murdered classmates, later testified before Congress after the shooting and took part in March For Our Lives' bus tour, though she is not a formal member of the group. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)
Caption
FILE - Aalayah Eastmond, a Parkland, Fla. activist, poses for a portrait after leading the crowd in chants at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, during protests over the death of George Floyd. Eastmond, now 20, who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by hiding under the body of one of her murdered classmates, later testified before Congress after the shooting and took part in March For Our Lives' bus tour, though she is not a formal member of the group. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

Credit: Maya Alleruzzo

Credit: Maya Alleruzzo

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FILE - Demonstrators hold signs during a "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Chicago. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

FILE - Demonstrators hold signs during a "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Chicago. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Caption
FILE - Demonstrators hold signs during a "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Chicago. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

Caption
FILE - Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg poses for a photo after a rally against gun violence outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. "There are days when I want to stop. There are days when I am exhausted. But there are days when I realize I am not alone in this work," said Hogg, who has taken months long breaks periodically to heal.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

FILE - Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg poses for a photo after a rally against gun violence outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. "There are days when I want to stop. There are days when I am exhausted. But there are days when I realize I am not alone in this work," said Hogg, who has taken months long breaks periodically to heal.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Caption
FILE - Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg poses for a photo after a rally against gun violence outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. "There are days when I want to stop. There are days when I am exhausted. But there are days when I realize I am not alone in this work," said Hogg, who has taken months long breaks periodically to heal.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

Caption
FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018 file photo, David Hogg, center, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., addresses a rally in front of the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Mass. The recent guilty plea by the shooter in the Parkland school slayings, more than three years after the attacks, drew some new attention to the anti-gun March for Our Lives student movement. But it also also underscored the group’s daunting mission to tighten gun laws while bringing up personal trauma for many of young activists, though many are now hundreds of miles away at college. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Credit: Steven Senne

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018 file photo, David Hogg, center, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., addresses a rally in front of the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Mass.  The recent guilty plea by the shooter in the Parkland school slayings, more than three years after the attacks, drew some new attention to the anti-gun March for Our Lives student movement. But it also also underscored the group’s daunting mission to tighten gun laws while bringing up personal trauma for many of young activists, though many are now hundreds of miles away at college. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Caption
FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018 file photo, David Hogg, center, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., addresses a rally in front of the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Mass. The recent guilty plea by the shooter in the Parkland school slayings, more than three years after the attacks, drew some new attention to the anti-gun March for Our Lives student movement. But it also also underscored the group’s daunting mission to tighten gun laws while bringing up personal trauma for many of young activists, though many are now hundreds of miles away at college. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Credit: Steven Senne

Credit: Steven Senne

Caption
FILE - The crowd fills Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Credit: Alex Brandon

FILE - The crowd fills Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Caption
FILE - The crowd fills Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenaged survivors organized one of the largest youth protests in history in D.C., rallying over a million activists in sister marches from California to Japan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon