Read: How Parkland students changed the gun debate
His previous book, Columbine, a deep and impressive work of investigative journalism, was published 10 years after that school shooting. Parkland arrived just 363 days after the Stoneman Douglas murders. As such, the narrative often feels hurried, and Cullen occasionally succumbs to the first-they-did-this-and-then-they-did-that method of storytelling. His prose can seem unbridled. (“The kids were on a wild ride and their parents were buckled in with them.”) And one passage appears twice in the book: “Young voters have long been a sleeping giant of American politics, because most of them stay home. If they ever turned out in percentages to match their older counterparts, they could swing most elections.” Cullen swapped “most elections” for “many elections” in the repeated section, but every other word is the same.
Still, the author makes a strong case that America, after hitting “rock bottom” following the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, shootings in 2017, was ready for a movement on the scale of March for Our Lives. At the end of the book, he enumerates MFOL’s pre- and post-midterm wins, including the formation of nearly 100 chapters around the country, the “highest recorded turnout” (31 percent) of voters younger than 30 since 1994, and exit polls that “showed gun control as voters’ fourth-most-important issue, surpassing any previous result.” Progress continues beyond the book’s pages: Last week, Congress held its first hearing on gun violence in eight years, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence issued Florida its first passing grade (C-minus) on the organization’s annual gun-law scorecard, a feat that the center credits to “high school activists [who] stepped up and spoke out.”
With the election behind them, and with some having graduated from high school or about to, March for Our Lives’ core members have been reevaluating their long-term plans. The kids know that to keep saving lives, they must lead lives of their own. They were burned out, and some of them, such as Kasky, needed to deal with the depression and anxiety they had tried to suppress during the campaign season. “I have to apply for college; I have to get a job,” the shooting survivor and activist Alfonso Calderon tells Cullen. Jaclyn Corin, the group’s chief organizer, hopes to see gun violence eradicated by her 30th birthday: “We want [March for Our Lives] to demolish itself so it doesn’t have to exist. It shouldn’t have had to exist ever.”
In the epilogue of Parkland, Cullen recalls seeing Springsteen on Broadway on the June night when the Boss broke from his script to praise March for Our Lives. Evidently still floating on the moment, Cullen closes the book with some hopeful, if romanticized, Bruce-like lyricism, an imagining of the kids waking up “weary, bleary” one morning on their cross-country Road to Change tour: “Time to stuff their suitcases, board the Bus to Somewhere, recharge each other with road giggles, and exhale that hope and wonder into another American town.”