Dave Cullen is the author of ‘Columbine’ and ‘Parkland.’ Mr. Cullen has writen for Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He spent months with the Parkland students and years studying school shootings.
VS: What are some things you’ve learned from the Parkland kids after spending so much time with them?
DC: ‘The Parkland kids are really different, and I’ve learned a billion different things from survivors. I think one of the reasons that Parkland was so powerful and why their movement has been so powerful was because of Cameron [Kasky.] Many leaders have tried to make a difference, but something different that Cameron did was the night of the shooting, he mainly started posting to Facebook so he could get the word out. His last post before he went to bed said: ‘I need help with this, whoever wants to talk. We need a change, we need help with this, and I don’t know how to start.”
David picked up the ball that same night and was on the media calling adults out and making a call to action, which was fantastic. But what Cameron did was casting a wider net. He didn’t know what he was starting when he asked for help, but when he woke up, all sorts of people started showing up at his house and social media saying ‘we need to do something.’
Nobody knew that Emma would have such a crucial role in this thing. Nobody knew that Jackie would be the implementer that made so much action happen. Cameron gathered the team of 25 brilliant people and several stars. This movement had a David Hogg, an Emma, and a Cameron, and behind the scenes people, strategists. This was so much bigger than the sum of the parts. If any one of these people had done a movement, it would be powerful. But because they had all these different talents, they worked together and built off each other. The sum of the parts here is what made this movement astonishing and so much more powerful that any one of these people could have done individually.
It was really nothing we had seen before. I am always marvelling at their tenacity. They just freaking do it. They are relentless. In the tents, we were interviewing Emma, and she said something like: ‘We might die doing this, but we are going to keep going.”’I was taken aback. She said ‘Yeah, we’ve gotten death threats at school, of course. We are dealing with crazy people with guns.’ They’ve sort of internalized and accepted the fact that this movement was dangerous. And they decided that it was worth it. These are giant decisions to make, especially when you are still dealing with grief issues. I can’t say their names, but some of them are still dealing with severe PTSD. And in the midst of this, they are doing it anyways.”
VS: How do you feel about the change your books make?
DC: ‘I should maybe say, first of all, that I’m sort of aware that change is happening, and I like that. I just write to write the story. I don’t start writing with an agenda. Even a positive agenda like that, that’s not where I’m coming from. Also, most people don’t realize what the Parkland kids have really done and how relentless the process is. Even a lot of people in the news business don’t realize.
People have no idea that this movement has been this relentless marathon, just draining the kids. What they are doing is a full time job. Basically, most of the kids took most of their year off of high school, and several of them the first semester off of college. David and Delaney, Sophie, and a couple of other ones, all decided not to go to college in the fall so they could continue working on it full time. More than full time, actually 60 to 80 hours a week.
Nobody knows how the Parkland kids made this movement or what they really did. Not that I wrote my book as a how-to manual, but again, it kind of is for someone who wants to do something themselves. It is the whole backstory and behind the scenes and what it took. Between the pages of the book, I could only tell a fraction of what the Parkland kids did, but you can get a much better sense. Everyone knows the movement and these media sensations, but they don’t know what occurred behind that. So when writing this book, I tried to emulate that. I wanted to fill in most of the gaps, so that kids who want to make change can make use of that.”