The activism ignited by the South Florida school shooting just over one month ago has by no means abated. There will be follow-up marches across the nation, including Tallahassee, this coming weekend in support of gun law changes.
Matt Harris and his family’s hometown is Parkland, Florida, which as the world now knows, is the home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“So my sister’s a sophomore at Douglas. I graduated from Douglas eight, nine months ago,” he recalled during a phone call from his home near the Broward County school over spring break.
Harris is now a student at Florida State University. So he was in Tallahassee when the text messages started coming from his younger sister on Valentine’s Day.
“She actually texted us first in a group chat with my mom and my dad and she said she was in a closet with a few teachers and a bunch of kids and we hear there’s an active shooter, there are helicopters and it’s real. And she’s texting, ‘I love you’ in all caps and she didn’t know what was going on and was terrified.”
Harris said his sister and those she was with were not in the building with the shooter, but an acquaintance’s sister and others weren’t so lucky.
“His sister was killed and then one of my best friends, her sister was shot in the arm and the foot.”
On Saturday, March 24th, several of Harris’s former Douglas classmates and many others will be heading for the national March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. Companion marches to demand changes in the nation’s and states’ gun laws will be happening as well. That’s where Harris saw his chance.
“I really wanted to do the most I could wherever I was. And I saw there hadn’t been a Tallahassee march put together yet, so I decided to take the initiative and get that started.”
What Harris started has now attracted an army of community helpers. Some, like Jean Ainsworth, also have a personal stake in the issue.
“Enough is enough and never again!” she exclaimed emphatically. “I have two small grandchildren right near Sandy Hook and I have older grandchildren who graduated from Leon High School. It came too close!”
Ainsworth was hoping multiple marches across the country will move the needle in Congress.
“We need changes in the gun laws that we have in this country and the Parkland students are very grateful for the amount of legislation passed by the Florida Legislature. We need some more things done on the national level.”
Ainsworth’s fellow Tallahasseean Beth DuMond thought the local march might also impress upon both national and state lawmakers that this is an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.
“The youth are speaking up and we need to be listening to them and we need to be supporting them and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here is help the students here in Tallahassee make this even a success. They are demanding some common-sense changes to help reduce gun violence and we are demanding those things, too and we just think that legislators need to be listening to them.”
As for Douglas High alum, now university student activist Matt Harris, he was taking the long view.
“It’s my hope that in10 or 15 years, we might even be able to get an assault weapon ban passed,” he speculated.
Tallahassee’s March for Our Lives begins at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, March 24th in front of Westcott Hall, FSU’s administration building. It will then proceed on College Avenue to the steps of the historic Old Capitol where thousands of students gathered a week after the Parkland shooting.