[Editor’s Note]: Before speaking to UC Santa Barbara in Campbell Hall on Tuesday night, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and March for Our Lives Co-founder David Hogg sat down with Daily Nexus Asst. News Editor Katherine Swartz to discuss his work this past year, his thoughts on how young people should get involved in their communities and what comes next for him.
Read the Q&A below:
Why did you decide to come to speak at UCSB?
When I look at California…. there’s a lot of love from March for Our Lives in California, for many students especially. We go to UC Irvine all the time, or we did over the election, because that’s where a lot of young people can have the largest impact. I wanted to come and speak at UCSB because you know, it’s a cool school. There’s a lot of youth here that can have a big impact on elections, [who can] vote for morally just leaders that care about us.
When did you first hear about the Isla Vista tragedy?
I first heard about [the Isla Vista 2014 shooting]… I think I was relatively young. There’s been so many shootings in California [and] as I’m sure many people realize, they kind of all end up coming together in our minds, which is horrible because they shouldn’t in the first place.
What I can say is that [the Isla Vista 2014 shooting] proves that we don’t just need states like California with stronger gun laws. We need states all over, all around the county, with stronger gun laws. We need support for victims in the first place, and for people to remember the fact that oftentimes, people don’t [support victims]… If we say Santa Fe, Texas, where there was a shooting right after Park[land] and then a couple months after, and no one remembers it. There’s a problem there.
Have you spoken at any other schools that have experienced shootings in the past? What’s that like, that they’ve gone through what you previously went through?
I don’t know if I’ve spoken at any schools that have gone through shootings in the past, I can’t remember. I’m sure there’s been individual shootings that have happened on various campuses that I’ve been at, [and there are] individuals that have been affected by gun violence in the crowd.
One thing I always ask, is I ask everybody to raise their hand that’s in the crowd that’s been affected by gun violence. There’s an unbelievable number of hands that go up. It’s always really hard because you realize, what I’ve realized in doing this work, is that it’s not just one community that’s traumatized by gun violence, that goes through mass shootings. It’s literally everywhere in the United States that go through everyday shootings where kids are lost on a daily basis. People are lost in mass shootings, suicides, every day, as a result of easy access to firearms.
Can you walk me through some of the work you’ve been doing in the past, just an overview of that?
So the past year, a week after the shooting at my school, we went out with one message and that was: vote. Vote not for Democrats or Republicans, but morally just leaders that care about kids and young people dying.
That’s what we focused on. We went out and… we registered thousands of young people to vote. And then after that we did a bus tour around the country, some letter writing, but more nationally… [We] went to congressional districts where young people could have the largest impact on elections, then went to those congressional districts, registered voters, had town halls, formed a chapter there and got people active and involved in their community. We were able to vote out more NRA-backed politicians than ever before in American history.
On top of that, the NRA is kind of falling apart at the seams right now. That’s in part because of some of the work that we’ve been doing as well… the one question I always have is how the hell is the NRA a nonprofit, when they take millions of dollars in contributions from gun manufacturers on an annual basis. The way I think about it is, imagine if big tobacco companies that benefit from selling as many cigarettes as possible and then end up causing cancer, was a nonprofit. And that’s what the NRA is basically – [it is] violence in this county and around the world at this point. They’re expanding a lot.
With the recent kind of falling apart, more and more, of the NRA, what will you and the others keep doing moving forward?
We’re focusing a lot more on what we’re fighting for. We’re focusing on how we’re fighting for peace in our communities. The fact that we live in one of the most violent countries in the world, being a more developed country, but still being extremely violent, [seeing] everyday acts of gun violence and shootings on a daily basis is a problem.
Also in the fact that we’re complicit in gun violence around the world. When I’m in California and places that are further south along the Mexico border, [what] I think about a lot of the time is – in Florida we don’t have this, because we don’t border Mexico – but in a lot of southern states like Texas, Arizona, and so on and so forth, do, and I think about the fears like the Trump Administration tries spreading about asylum seekers coming to the border from Guatemala and Honduras. The fact that they don’t talk about how literally we give a lot of guns — most of the guns that are used to kill civilians in Guatemala and Honduras or families that are caught in the crossfire as a result of the war on cocaine that the United States is trying to fight there — are American-made guns that we’re complicit in. And then when these people, essentially refugees, start coming to our border, fleeing violence that we’re complicit in, and we tell them to go back, we’re committing an act of genocide.
What made you decide to take a gap year to keep continuing this activist work for the past year?
I wanted more time to heal. I wanted more time to speak to as many students across the country as possible. I also know that I would be extremely bothered by being in school. If I was in school during the election, I [would have] felt like I failed and I wasn’t doing as much as I could. So I took that gap year to work as much on the election as possible.
So now that you’re starting school in the fall and you’ll be a full time student again, what are your plans moving forward with your work?
Just to continue pushing. Not so much fight against something per se anymore, like we fought a lot against the NRA, which is a major part of this problem, but shifting our focus on what we’re actually fighting for in the future, which is a peaceful, nonviolent or significantly less violent America, where people don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to go through a shooting at their school. People won’t have to worry where an exit is in their classroom or a movie theater or anywhere else where shootings have happened, and nobody has to worry about living through a drive-by shooting or active everyday gun violence as millions of kids across the United States do on a daily basis.
Hopefully what I hope we can do is start [to] fund programs that use community based violence intervention, that hire former convicts. I’ve [looked at] the criminal justice system and [seen how] oftentimes [people] have caused violent acts or even killed someone, and reform themselves after going through the criminal justice system for 30 odd years or some odd years and come back and stop kids from going down the same path they’re going down, without incarcerating more youth.
We realized that if putting more people in prison actually reduced gun violence in America, we wouldn’t be having his problem right now, with the highest prisoner population in the world.
What shape will this work take now into the future?
I think what it has to take is young people running for office and young people voting and not thinking of themselves as Democrats or Republicans, but thinking about what’s moral and right in the first place. Thinking about an America where we don’t have to constantly be so divided along party lines, but [where] we’re united against all forms of injustice and we’re all fighting against those forms of injustice, whether it be economic oppression, racial oppression, or any other form of injustice, because what gun violence is is a measure of injustice a community faces. The more gun violence a community has, the more injustice it actually faces.
For example, like in Isla Vista or Parkland, both of those shootings are a result of political injustice… They should’ve been stopped way before Columbine, right? We should have put laws in place. When there [were] the first mass shootings in American history, we could have stopped these things in the first place, but they didn’t because we have politicians on both sides of the political aisle that are complicit in gun violence. We have to unite and rally for morally just leaders that care about gun violence and care about people dying, which is sad. It really is. But that’s what we have to do. We need young people to realize there’s extreme, large amounts of power that is not utilized at a local level, especially in local politics where much of it is essentially an elected cocktail party.
From what I’ve seen, people don’t run because they want to actually help their community; they run because they liked the title and the status that it brings them. We need to change that. We need kids to go out there and represent their community and realize that, even on our school boards — there’s many places across the United States where you don’t even have to be 18 to run for school board, there is no age limit — and you can do that. There’s inherently a problem if we say we live in a representative democracy and we aren’t accurately represented by age, like how old congress is… There’s so many young people that are not represented in this county that only will be represented when they run for office themselves.
What would you say to students who feel passionately about this issue and want to get involved but don’t know how and can’t necessarily run for office?
There’s a chapter on the UCSB campus here, the March for Our Lives chapter, that does voter registration. We work on candidate town halls. We work on a multitude of subjects along with also just learning about gun violence and talking about gun violence, where students can come together and work around an issue. You can get politically involved without having to run for office, but also make a change in [your] community.
As Isla Vista remembers five years since our tragedy, where do you hope the national conversation on gun violence will be five years from now?
I hope [gun violence] doesn’t have to exist anymore because we [will] create actions that are in place and stop something like Isla Vista or Parkland, or any active everyday gun violence from occurring every again… I think in the future people are going to have this — for lack of a better word — ‘come to Jesus’ moment where they’re like, ‘How the hell did it takes us this long to actually respond to this issue, and how many people do we let die when we realized this was an issue but chose to do nothing about it?’ Because the thing that’s stopping us from ending gun violence and stopping all forms of shootings isn’t whether or not we care. It’s not whether or not young people in Isla Vista or Parkland, or Jamaica, Queens — where my friend Erica Ford works — or anywhere else, care. It’s not about Americans caring. It’s about a few United States senators that don’t and have their pocket books lined by millions of dollars from gun manufacturers that fund the NRA.
Katherine Swartz is an asst. news editor at the Daily Nexus. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.