GD: We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the March for Our Lives, and a lot has happened since then. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments over the last year?
DH: Raising youth voter turnout significantly was a major accomplishment. In Florida, in 2014 youth voter turnout for 18-29 year olds was 22 percent. Following our activism and our road for change, where we went to every congressional district in Florida on a bus tour over the summer to register voters, there was an increase of youth voter turnout that was nearly double compared to 2014, which was 37 percent in 2018. And the other thing that I’m very proud of is the fact that we made Congress take any action at all on gun violence prevention legislation. For the first time in my lifetime, we had a vote in the House of Representatives and a bill pass the House of Representatives around gun violence prevention. Those are the things that I’m really proud of.
GD: It took you around a month to plan March for our Lives. What was it like to plan a nationwide rally on such short notice, while still trying to process a shooting at your high school?
DH: It was absolute chaos, and just constantly pushing and doing as much as possible. I didn’t really get a chance during that time period to think about what I had lived through. I since have, but I just kind of just put it out in my mind and focused on what was ahead, to make sure those that we lost weren’t forgotten.
GD: Obviously Connecticut has a history of gun violence, and of school shootings in particular. Have you/has March for Our Lives had any dialogue with either Newtown families or organizations like Sandy Hook Promise?
DH: We ended our bus tour in Newtown, Connecticut, after visiting over 30 states over 62 days, where we registered voters and went to districts where youth could have the largest impact and take down the NRA, and they did that. Additionally, I’ve worked with Sandy Hook Promise previously and have talked to Nicole Hockley multiple times.
GD: Throughout the movement you emphasized the importance of intersectionality, in pointing out that there’s a lot of daily gun violence that goes unreported. Can you speak to why it was a priority to make sure the movement was as intersectional as possible?
DH: It wouldn’t be successful without intersectionality. Stopping every mass shooting is not ending gun violence - stopping every shooting is ending gun violence, in every zip code. We realized, especially in communities of color and poor communities as well, where gun violence is often prevalent, it disproportionately affects people like men of color. Those incidents don’t get attention, they don’t get covered by the media, they don’t get several thousand articles written about their shooting. So we wanted to make sure that we give those individuals a platform where they could speak for themselves and we weren’t speaking for them.
GD: What was it like going from being just an average high schooler to one of the faces of what became a nationwide movement over just a couple of weeks?
DH: Getting used to death threats was a bit of an adjustment, and I didn’t really pay attention, and then all of a sudden people just started recognizing me in airports and stuff, and that was kind of weird.
GD: Going off that, how do you deal with attacks from Twitter trolls and conspiracy theorists, as well as from people like Laura Ingraham?
DH: By acknowledging that they help grow my platform. I live rent-free in their heads every day.
GD: People often times will hold up signs or otherwise protest your appearances. Do you try to respond, do you try to engage with those people?
DH: What I encourage those people to do is to come in to the events that I’m having to talk to me and actually listen to what I advocate for, because I don’t advocate for taking everyone’s guns away. I advocate for things like funding gun violence research, putting guns under the Consumer Protection Act and providing protections for gun owners so that they aren’t able to be sold a firearm that can just inadvertently go off at any time, because that’s the way it is right now because of the laws that the NRA has pushed for. I’m not into debating people about these issues, because I’m not going to debate you on whether or not children should die in their schools, because they shouldn’t, period, that is not a debatable topic. What I will discuss with you is solutions, because we all have to be involved in this movement, not as Democrats and Republicans, but as human beings that shouldn’t be letting our children die in any community or in any place, whether it be in schools or on our streets, and be working together to not attack each other, but to attack the sources of evil, not the people that are perpetrating it. And what I ask people that don’t agree with me to do is, it’s fine if you don’t agree with me, I’m not going to stop, but what I ask you to do is don’t just simply debate your friends about this topic, and then do nothing about it. Don’t just say we need to fund mental health care, leave the table, and then not make a call to your congressmen and say ‘Where’s federal funding for mental health care within our schools and in our communities?’ What’s not okay is to say, for example, Democrats say we need to make more gun laws after every mass shooting, and then they don’t go out and do that, and that gets people killed. Republicans saying we need to go out and fund mental health care and then not actually funding it also gets people killed, because a majority of gun deaths are suicide.
GD: What’s next for you, other than starting college in the fall?
DH: A lot of legislative work, and working on 2020 elections. I hope that people for sure turn out to vote, regardless of how they vote, so that no matter who’s president, they have to care about our generation, and the fact that gun violence is the second leading cause of death for people under the age of 18, be it a Democrat or a Republican.
Gabriella DeBenedictis is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.