These past few weeks since the horrific February 14 shooting at Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it’s nearly impossible to turn on a news outlet and not see the gripping image of Emma Gonzalez and her classmates speaking their truth fiercely and ardently to Florida lawmakers, Senator Marco Rubio, President Trump and, of course, the broader public.
Whether I was watching them live or reading about their latest act of public advocacy, I’ve been struck not just by the courage it takes to be in the national spotlight at the young age of 17, but how fearless and unapologetic they are in their demands for change. For a lot of us, by the time we become seasoned professionals we lose our fearlessness and our voice.
There is so much to be learned from these kids. Here are just three things, among many, that these kids have unequivocally schooled us in this week about what it takes to be a fierce warrior while advocating for your cause :
1. Seize the Moment – Within 48 hours of the tragedy, the students had taken to the airwaves. Within a few more days they had made plans for a national march and walkout day and were putting politicians on the spot for their support of the National Rifle Association. It would have been perfectly understandable for them to retreat for several days or even weeks and then reappear. What’s remarkable is the swiftness with which they responded. They knew what all great Advocates and Warriors intuitively understand: there is a window of opportunity to act and have the greatest impact and chance to sway the most hearts and minds before they are lost to our now endless news cycle.
How long does it take your organization to react or respond to a proposed policy change whether at the local, state or national level? For many of us, we don’t even have the guidelines or processes in place, let alone shared understanding around our common goals, to enable this swiftness, and that’s a huge oversight.
It’s imperative for us to be empowered and have the policies and processes in place so that when issues do shift and change as they inevitably will, we are equipped to respond rather than having to sit out and lose the moment for advancing our issues while raising our profile and visibility as a leader.
2. Be Unapologetic While Engaging Hearts & Minds – Emma Gonzalez is one of the fiercest advocates I’ve seen on the airwaves in a long time. She is angry, she is passionate, and she makes no apologies.
As she spoke at the rally a day after the shooting, she was understandably emotional while also armed with facts, figures, and statistics. While there’s no denying the fact that kids are usually the most compelling spokespeople for a cause, and especially kids who have survived tragedies, Emma didn’t rely on empathy alone. She is an effective advocate because she is persuasive. Having evidence AND the moral high ground allowed her to be strident and unapologetic while still being heard.
How often do we make a misstep because we either rely solely on moral authority OR we don’t rely on our passion enough and present only disembodied statistics? That leads to the third lesson.
3. Tell Stories, Your Own and Others, While Leveraging Your Truth- I’m still in awe over how quickly Emma assembled her talking points for the day-after press conference. We know that stories are compelling and yet we often leave them out in the name of expediency or time. She had multiple examples of stories, including her own, but also those of others along with historical examples that served as a backdrop against her consistent and compelling narrative that it’s time for our government to act decisively, once and for all. Cameron Kasky, her classmate and a student journalist, provided another compelling example of using others’ stories by reference when he asked Senator Marco Rubio, “In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?”
In the days and weeks to come, we will be seeing more of the gun debate played out and certainly more of these fierce advocates. I look forward to being schooled some more.