Emma González, a young woman who challenges the national status quo
"My Name is Emma González. I’m 18 years old, Cuban and bisexual. I’m so indecisive that I can’t pick a favorite color, and I’m allergic to 12 things. I draw, paint, crochet, sew, embroider—anything productive I can do with my hands while watching Netflix."
Surviving a mass shooting in a school should not be the turning point in the life of any child or adolescent. But in the United States, it seems that money and politics are more important than the safety and the lives of its people.
According to extensive research carried out by the Gun Violence Archive platform, in recent years the Second Amendment has allowed around 60,000 deaths via mass shootings, and this situation shows no symptoms of change either in the legislation or in the political perspectives of our leaders.
But it is the voice of a young woman after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that has fueled a new movement that says “enough is enough,” a movement that will hold the Republican majority and the Trump Administration responsible for this social crisis through what is being perceived as a social revolution.
“Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” Emma González said in an 11-minute speech in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, just two days after the shooting that forever changed her community.
On February 14, 2018, Emma was distributing love letters with her collective Gay-Straight Alliance—a pro LGBT+ group at her school—to “spread the love” during lunchtime.
“We were handing out ‘proclamations of love’, basically little free Valentine’s Day cards,” Emma explained to David Remnick during her interview on New Yorker Radio Hour, trying to describe her day prior to when the shooting took place.
After three hours under the sun in the schoolyard, Emma and her classmates went to the auditorium to continue their classes.
“My teacher printed off an attendance sheet to make sure none of us left the auditorium. Sometimes we would be able to sneak off and stuff but this time, for some reason, she doesn’t even know why to this day, she just (took attendance),” Emma recounted.
“My friend and I were actually going to leave and go to one of our favorite teachers who was on the third floor of the freshmen building,” she continued. “That was one of the classes that got hit pretty hard (during the shooting).”
“If my teacher hadn’t printed the attendance sheet, we would have been there.”
At 2:19 in the afternoon, Nikolás Cruz got out of an Uber in front of the school, entered Building 12 with an AR-15 and told his partner Chris McKenna, “You better get out of here. Things are gonna start to get messy,” just before starting to open fire.
The school went into the “Code Red” protocol applied to school shootings; 14 students and three adults lost their lives.
“Since the time of our Founding Fathers and since they added the Second Amendment to the Constitution, our guns have developed at a rate that leaves me dizzy,” Emma said in the speech that would elevate her to headlines across the country. “The guns have changed but our laws have not.”
Gonzalez explained how the situation originated: from the limited arms control in the United States, it has transformed into the only country in the world with these types of situations—and without apparent resolution. According to an analysis by CNN, “Americans have more weapons per capita than any other country,” reaching 89 weapons per 100 people. Likewise, the United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population but it hosts 31 percent of mass shootings globally.
Just last week, 10 people lost their lives when 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis allegedly opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas, the latest of 101 gun-related attacks in the U.S. in 2018.
Both Emma and her classmates have decided to take matters into their own hands by organizing a national movement under the slogan #NeverAgain that has gone directly to Florida’s government headquarters in Tallahassee, and filling the streets of the country in a historic march, demanding action—not prayers—against people with psychological problems having free access to weapons.
With the #NeverAgain movement and the organization of a national protest, these students have contemporized the concept of the “walkout,” coined more than 50 years ago by the Brown Berets, but using a much more powerful weapon: social media.
In just one week, these teenagers managed to sit down for conversations with their legal representatives, organize their community and local groups in other states, and mobilize the conscience of an entire nation that came together on March 24 for the #MarchForOurLives.
Moreover, these young people have warned of the power they will have when they turn 18 and be able to vote, thus making a president as stubborn as Donald Trump consider progressive measures regarding the bearing of arms.
But both Emma and her companions would have to pay the worst price of U.S. politics along the way.
Social leaders are born and made. For Emma, the case is no different.
In her interview with Remnick, Emma spoke of how she has always been politically conscious, especially after the last presidential election.
“I was always understandable of the way the world works, because in 9th grade, that was when I fully came out, and I was very aware of all the things that could possibly go wrong for someone who is part of the LGBT+ community,” Emma said.
To cut her hair, for example, Emma convinced her mother “by creating a presentation of 10 slides with the reasons why she should do it,” Emma’s mother, Beth González, told Univisión Noticias.
One of the reasons was to spend less money on shampoo, her mother said, and also as a response to how she was not allowed to wear suspenders to school.
But it was the death of several friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and teachers that ignited Emma’s need to fight for change.
“What matters is that the majority of American people have become complacent in a senseless injustice that occurs all around them,” Emma wrote in an essay for Harper’s Bazaar. “What matters is that most American politicians have become more easily swayed by money than by the people who voted them into office. What matters is that my friends are dead, along with hundreds upon hundreds of others all over the United States.”
Emma unconsciously began her venture into politics with an 11-minute speech, addressing the politicians and the president directly, and saying with tears in her eyes that this had to come to an end.
“How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter’s fault, the fault of the people who let him buy the guns in the first place?” said the young woman, referring to President Trump’s message on Twitter that condescendingly derived blame on the students, the attacker and even the educational system.
“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened, and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” Emma said.
At almost 19 years old, Emma has become a fusion of all the characteristics that seem to represent the new American generation: a precocious maturity, social conscience, integration of all social spectrums and an invaluable determination to make the government accountable for the consequences of its management.
Emma grew up in the community of Parkland, Florida, the daughter of José González, a cybersecurity lawyer of Cuban origin, and Beth González, a math tutor from Virginia.
“I have two older brothers; the biggest one lives in New York, he’s fully grown up. The other is at college, ahead of me. I am very excited to go to college,” Emma said in her radio interview.
For her family, the unforeseen national debut of the girl of the house is not easy.
“I’m terrified,” her mother said in an interview on “60 Minutes.”
“It’s like she built herself a pair of wings out of balsa wood and duct tape, and jumped off a building,” Beth González explained. “And we are just like running along beneath her with a net which she doesn’t want or think that she needs.”
For his part, her father said he feels proud, but “still can’t understand what happened, how they have all managed to be heard,” said the immigrant, who arrived in New York from Cuba in 1968.
Emma González did not know the impact that her name, in addition to her image, would have on national politics.
In a country that has been divided in recent months by an administration that constantly attacks immigrants, especially Hispanics, the fact that a young teenager with a Latino last name spearheaded a social revolt against an American paradigm such as firearms is not a flat issue.
For many, Emma’s political stance is as exceptional as it is incomprehensible: “What need does a child have of getting involved in adult affairs?” has been the most constant criticism.
But for the young woman, the argument stands on its own: “When did children become such a dirty word? Adults are saying that children are lazy. Meanwhile Jaclyn Corin organized an entire trip to Tallahassee, three buses stuffed with 100 kids and reporters who went to discuss our pitiful firearm legislation with the people who can—but won’t—do something about it,” Emma wrote, referring to the coordination of her classmates when responding to a tragedy that hit their lives very closely.
But for organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA), these kinds of civic deeds threaten a powerful industry that hides behind the pamphlet of the “auxiliary right of self-defense” that promulgates the Second Amendment.
The NRA’s response to the media reaction of #NeverAgain revealed the aggressiveness and incoherence with which this group defends the multiple investments it has at the national level and has revealed that, beyond a simple organization of fanatical citizens of arms, they are a powerful empire.
From an actress paid by the Democrats to similes with the Nazi youth, Emma has been one of the favorite targets of the conservative right, and the political and economic machinery behind it.
For example, and as the Washington Post reported, “a doctored animation of González tearing the U.S. Constitution in half has circulated on social media... after it was lifted from a Teen Vogue story about teenage activists,” the Post explained. “In the real image, González is ripping apart a gun-range target.”
Similarly, on the Sunday after the march, the campaign team of Iowa Representative Steve King directly attacked the teenager through Facebook saying: “This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self-defense.”
But for this teenager, the “stubbornness” of politicians is just another tool to keep fighting for change.
“If they don’t reflect what the majority of their constituents are calling for, it just makes it that much easier to vote them out of office,” Emma concluded.