A Student Take: Emma Gonzalez
In the week leading up to the March For Our Lives, we teamed up with student journalists Pedro Damasceno and David Morales from Pine Crest Upper School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to share the stories they recorded from the students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. In a society that often ignores its youth, we are here to amplify the students’ point of view. First up is Emma Gonzalez, a self-proclaimed “raging Democrat” who is leading the charge for #MarchForOurLives and the #NeverAgain movement.
Pedro Damasceno: It’s February 17th, 2018 we’re here in at the Fort Lauderdale courthouse. We are attending a gun control rally, three days after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. Emma, tell me who you are. Before this, before everything happened. Tell me what you stand for, what you do.
EG: I’m a raging Democrat, but this this is an unpolitical conversation, for the record. I’m on project Aquila. Which is a project that I’m doing with David (Hogg). It’s a project where we send a Styrofoam box full of cameras and recording equipment up to the edge of space and when the balloon pops we retrieve the box. It’s incredibly awesome. David actually directed a documentary on it. I was into creative writing for a long time that’s why I was, in my opinion, able to write such a good speech today. And I’m confident. I know. I don’t need anybody to tell me that that was a good speech, because I know it was a good speech. I am glad that I had the ability to say it to such giant audience.
PD: At such an important time, it was so well timed. I’m pretty impressed that you were able to include what happened this morning in your speech.
EG: Yeah, yeah, I started writing it at eight o’clock last night and I didn’t stop writing until I got out of the car this morning. I just got my license, I just got into college.
PD: Where did you get into college?
EG: I’m like 2 seconds away from accepting. I got into New College of Florida.
PD: How old are you?
EG: Im 18 years old, I’m a senior at [Marjory Stoneman] Douglas. I like to crochet. I just got into college and I really want to go.The school immediately reached out after the shooting asking if I was OK. All I have to do is pay the security deposit for housing, and I’m going. It’s kind of a shame that I can’t hear the speeches because I’m doing so many interviews behind the scenes but I’ve been to rallies like this before and I’ve heard great speeches and I used the inspiration from those speeches to write mine today.
PD: Tell me about your experience on Wednesday. What was it like in the morning before? What led up to the event?
EG: I’m the president of the Gay Straight Alliance at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. We had a table set up during lunch where we gave these little pieces of paper that had “Proclamation of Love” written on them. We wanted to do that to encourage sharing love because it was Valentine’s Day. You could write your name and the person you love next to each other; it was basically go like, “On this day on Valentine’s Day 2018 I proclaim my love to you.” I didn’t realize until I was going home that I gave everybody an opportunity to manifest their love.
PD: What about classes that day?
EG: I was actually out of school for almost the whole day. I had a substitute teacher during my last class. Usually I leave early, but the substitute didn’t let us go. I was actually planning on going to see my favorite teacher in the freshman building, where the shooting happened. I would’ve been there.
PD: I’ve heard different sources about what happened first. What ran through your head in the second that you knew that it wasn’t a drill?
EG: I had no clue what was going on. It wasn’t until five minutes into it. My ex-boyfriend from another school texted me, “Are you okay?” At that second I knew what just happened already hit the news. I texted my mom that I was OK and she hadn’t even heard about it before I told her. I really didn’t dramatize it. I always see the heartbreaking screenshots. My mom couldn’t handle that, so I just told her to not worry and that I loved her.
PD: There was a fire drill?
EG: Yeah, during a fire drill, you’re supposed to go outside. The alarm went off because the smoke from the gun hit the smoke sensors. Originally we thought that [the shooter] pulled the alarm to flush people out. It turns out it was easier for him to pick people off once they left their classes.
PD: Where were you?
EG: My friends and I were outside (we left class because of the drill). I was in between the auditorium and the freshman building. I saw the band students running back into the band room. The directors were waving their arms and yelling at the kids to go back inside. I saw my friend, looking bewildered, but I just thought that band director was strict and wanted to proceed with rehearsal. I ran into the auditorium. Students were behind the rows of chairs, hiding. I was trying to calm down the kids in my row and I whispered to them that it was only a drill and that everything would be ok. If they thought it was real, they would freak out.
PD: How did you know it was real? I heard rumors of Douglas saying they would fire blanks during their drills.
EG: I didn’t know about any gunshots. I didn’t hear any of them. My teacher said that during the active shooter/ code red drills the security team would come around trying all the door handles. It’s scary. My teacher would always say “my heart always drops.”
I knew I had to look on social media. The worst ones were the ones that asked if anybody had seen their missing friends.
PD: What did you do when you got home?
EG: I knew I had to look on social media. I was taking a break, but got back on it to find out what was happening. I saw everybody posting about it, freaking out, and that’s when I first heard about the hashtags: #MSDStrong and #Never Again—make sure you tweet that out right now. The worst ones were the ones that asked if anybody had seen their missing friends.
PD: Did you know anybody?
EG: Yes. I went on the bus with one of the victims. I went on the bus with the shooter, actually.
PD: Have you ever spoken to him?
EG: Yes. I bought candy from him at the dollar store. My friend who was there with me was happy that the shooter had finally gotten a job. He was a sociopath in middle school. I thought for a second that maybe he turned his life around. Looks are deceiving.
PD: There are lots of students here speaking. How do you feel about this movement and everybody that came out?
EG: Everybody that just spoke here, I know personally. I’ve had classes with them. All my friends are behind me. So many voices haven’t been heard because they’re entirely grief-stricken, and that’s totally OK! The people that have to be speaking here are the lawmakers, but we kids have to be the adults for ourselves. I want to be at home comforting those who were most hurt, but I have to be here speaking. I can’t let this happen again.
I want to be at home comforting those who were most hurt, but I have to be here speaking. I can’t let this happen again.
PD: I’m a student at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, and I’ve seen an outpour of love from all sides. Students from all over the country want to do all that they can to help. How do we move forward as students, as a community, as a nation?
EG: First of all, listen to school administration when they tell you about drills. Always take it seriously. Don’t laugh at school shooter jokes. Listen to what’s going on around you.
PD: Everybody is so desensitized.
EG: Yeah, as we were leaving with the S.W.A.T. team, somebody joked that they deleted all the school shooter jokes off their twitter because it wasn’t funny anymore. It was NEVER funny.
We can’t be scared to share our opinions. The government has to be held accountable.
PD: Everybody is so desensitized. What can people do now?
EG: Sign the petitions for gun safety. Speak to their representatives. The public should research the candidates and vote for the people that can make a change. We can’t be scared to share our opinions. You can’t be scared to be fired or penalized for sharing how you feel. The government has to be held accountable. The founding fathers wrote that in our constitution so many times.
PD: This isn’t a political problem.
EG: This is a human problem. This is a social problem. It’s a PROBLEM. And that needs to be addressed.The poisoned Tylenol— people were dying because it was easy to get into pharmacy pill supplies. So they made protective seals. It’s incredibly simple. Incredibly simple solutions.
Images courtesy of Pedro Damasceno
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