David Hogg: Demanding an End to Gun Violence
David Hogg discusses the political burden placed on Gen-Z, his trauma from the Parkland shooting, gun violence, and protests.
David is a survivor of the Parkland shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in 2018. Following the attack, he and his classmates founded March for Our Lives, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence in the U.S, and held the largest single day of protest against gun violence in history.
Since then, David has become a leader in the fight to end gun violence. He graduated from Harvard this year, and has co-founded Leaders We Deserve, an organization that aims to help elect young, progressive candidates to office.
In the wake of the UNC shooting, a March for Our Lives Protest is being held today in Raleigh. Learn more here.
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This is Ken Harbaugh with Burn the Boats. My conversation today is with David Hogg, who is honestly one of the most inspirational guests we've had on this show.
Somehow, he has managed to channel the tragedy of surviving one of America's worst school shootings into a movement for positive change.
David also, does not pull any punches. I think you'll find his take on Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert who have gone after him personally, both wise and refreshing.
I get a little choked up at one point, so I hope you'll forgive the loss of interviewing composure, but this is one of our best.
I'm going to start with the launch video for a new organization David is building called Leaders We Deserve, that aims to elect young progressive candidates nationwide. Here it is.
“Our Kids. The massacre at an elementary school. Our planet. Wildfire, threatening homes and lives. Our freedoms. New laws banning abortion. Our democracy. Thousands storming the Capitol.Are all under attack.Far right leaders in Washington and state capitols across the country are threatening everything we care about, but our generation refuses to back down.
In 2018, we shattered youth voter turnout records. In 2020, we helped power President Biden to victory. And in 2022, we were critical in holding off a Republican red wave.
Now, we're not just voting, we're running for office and we're winning. But we need to elect more of young fearless progressives to Congress and especially our state legislatures. Democracy is being lost at the State House and preventing us from having the future that we know we deserve to live in.”
That's why we're launching Leaders We Deserve, a grassroots political organization that will do just that. We need everybody multi-generational coming together to fight for the world we deserve. So many times in our nation's history, young people have led the vanguard of change. Join us as we build off that legacy and reshape the balance of power by electing more leaders we deserve.”
[End of Video]
I am Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.
My guest today is David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, a co-founder of March for Our Lives and a leader in the fight to end gun violence. He recently launched Leaders We Deserve, an organization that helps young progressive candidates run for office.
David, welcome to Burn the Boats.
Thank you for having me.
We just played the launch video for Leaders We Deserve at the top of the show. It is really well done. I'm sure it's going to get millions of views.
Question, is that you doing the voiceover?
It is. It also, was me that helped write a lot of it.
What really stood out for me in my first impression of that video was how intersectional your approach is, the awareness that unless marginalized groups come together to tackle climate change and assaults on reproductive rights and attacks on democracy and gun safety, that marginalization will continue.
When did that mental shift happen for you coming out of March for Our Lives and being a gun safety advocate, realizing that you needed to, in essence, bundle these issues to motivate young people? When did that click?
Well, I think it really clicked in the short time after March for Our Lives was born, we started working with students around the country. Not just impacted by school shootings, but also impacted by daily gun violence, impacted by the 2/3 of gun deaths that are suicides, impacted by accidental shootings and domestic violence and more.
And when you work around the country an issue like gun violence, you realize how intertwined all of these things are.
The reason why a lot of young people aren't — why Parkland doesn't have shootings every day isn't necessarily just because it's not because we have stronger gun laws than any other community in Florida.
It's because we have the best thing at combating violence in general, which is a median household income of a $100,000 or more per household in my town.
And you realize that it's not just about how does somebody get a gun, although that's important to address, we have to address why do they pick it up?
And over time, I came to learn about like the six principles of nonviolence that Dr. King talked about. And I also learned about the three evils of society he talked about where he essentially said that most of the problems in our society stem from one of three places or combination of the three, which is militarism, racism, and poverty.
And I really see those as three of the biggest drivers of gun violence in our country, more than anything.
As we just saw in Jacksonville, as we saw last year in Buffalo, as we saw in El Paso. And so many of these other unfortunate shootings that often but not always are committed by white supremacists and self-declared white supremacists at that.
I'm so glad you looked to Dr. King for inspiration. When I looked at March for Our Lives and what you and your friends were doing, it made me wonder if the strategies were intentionally and explicitly drawn from Dr. King's strategies or if that was sort of an accident of circumstance.
Did you study him before you helped launch that movement or did you come to that later?
I think it was really convergent evolution. I think some of it was that we knew about the history of things like walkouts that took place during the civil rights movement, that took place even earlier than most significant parts of the civils movement.
It started with a lot students in Los Angeles. A lot Latino students protesting discrimination within their schools and walking out.
And I think it was just a process of convergent evolution. When we face different challenges and we want to make the government create a change to make everybody's lives better, naturally, there's going to be some overlap.
But I think we did take a lot of inspiration. We even for one of the parts of our bus tour that we did in 2018 where we went around the country to register young people to vote, to talk to communities impacted by gun violence and not just mass shootings, but all types of gun violence, including gun suicide.
One of the parts of that tour actually traced the freedom rights, that civil rights organizers took a along south.
We realized that there's a long legacy here of civil rights organizing that is not directly related to what we're doing here around trying to prevent gun violence, but is nonetheless very inspirational to us in the first place.
So, we did take a lot of inspiration from them. Obviously, marching in Washington, we were not the first people to do it by any means. And we even had Dr. King's family speak at the March for Our Lives as well.
But it's much more than just the superficiality of how you ran that protest, the March on Washington, the Freedom Ride or the bus tour that you did. There is an aesthetic and a sensibility about your strategy of protesting that has such echoes of the Civil Rights movement.
And I would love your insight on what makes uneffective protest, because you've kind of nailed it a die-in at Publix. Remind our audience about what you did there.
And then contrast that with some of what I feel like are less effective protests throwing paint on works of art and things like that.
You've kind of found your lane in speaking to young people and protesting a way that gets people's attention, that moves the conversation forward.
What are the biggest lessons you've learned about effectively protesting and bringing people to your side instead of alienating?
Well, I think it's a push and a pull. Sometimes you have to push the envelope more and do more radical protests like what I did in 2018 with the die-in at Publix where we went and died effectively on the supermarket floor of a chain that was funding NRA backed politicians, which is known as Publix in Florida.
And there are a lot of friends of mine that I called up and asked to join me on that that didn't. But there were a few who did, and I'll always remember them.
People like Diego from March for Our Lives, who's one of the co-founders who was there with me at 3:00 in the morning, like outside drawing the outlines of bodies in chalk in the parking lot in front of Publix.
It's people like Manuel Oliver who came here fleeing violence in Venezuela and moved to the safest community that they could find in Parkland, Florida only to have their son die of gun violence basically a year after they became US citizens.
It's important to note that it's not just the American people that we're losing to gun violence, it's also the American dream that we're losing to gun violence. It's being stolen from us every day and our future that's being stolen from us.
Gun violence is one of the leading causes of death for people under the age of 19 in this country, and it's a shame that we don't do a damn thing about it at the federal level.
But to answer your question about what makes more of an effective protest, look, I think if you're doing something that's more than 99% of people do.
And certainly, there are types of protests that I think are more effective or less effective, but ultimately, I think the most effective protest is doing any protests to begin with, which is what most people don't do at all.
If you can get people talking about it, it's better than them not talking about it. Of course, there are certain ways that I wouldn't necessarily agree with, but ultimately, I think that's one aspect.
You have to rally your support and show that you are a force to be reckoned with and show up in Tallahassee, your state capital in Washington, DC with a million people like we did with March for Our Lives.
Or on the other side of things, it's more about after you rally that base, how do you reconcile and bring people in once that you've gained some more power so that you can actually have some room to negotiate?
And I think that's kind of what we did after Val Day. My message after Val Day time and time again was, “Look, I can respect the fact that you don't agree with me, or some people don't agree with me, but I can't accept the fact that there's nothing that we can do to end the gun violence that I know no gun owner in this country wants to see continue and no American wants to see continue because it's happening almost pretty much every day at this point. And it's horrifying.”
And I think that there are two sides to this. One, it's like I said, you got to rally the base and then you got to reconcile too with the other when there is a time for action and bringing people together in the wake of something's horrific is what happened in Val Day.
And from that, we saw one of the first major gun safety bills, the first gun safety bill be passed in 30 years at the federal level.
Was it as much as I would've liked to have seen? Certainly not. But I do think that it's progress.
And the important note that we set there is we got 10 Republicans to block the NRA and stand up against that bill or stand with that bill. And then also, not a single person who voted for that bill lost their reelection specifically because they voted for it.
So, this idea that gun control is the third rail of American politics is dead in the water. The fact of the matter is we have flipped the script here where the NRA is now, the third rail of American politics.
And I don't think that would've happened without a combination of those two forces of rallying the base and then reconciling as well and bringing our country closer to a place of realizing the morality of this issue.
Lastly, Ken, I shoot guns, I was part of the shooting club in college. I've grown up shooting guns. My dad is a veteran and an FBI agent. My first time shooting guns was when I was in fourth grade.
I understand the power that's behind these weapons, but I also know that with power, as it's been said before, with rights come responsibility.
And I don't think what a well-regulated militia looks like is having 45,000 American gun deaths every single year in this country. That we do basically zero about. And oftentimes, we even loosen gun laws.
What I think a well-regulated militia looks like is like I learned from many of my friends that are veterans and other people in military about how they handle guns in the first place.
You want to have a gun, I think that's okay, but I think you should need to have a certain level of training and interview. I think you should need to have insurance and a license to have that gun in the first place, just like you need with a car.
Can you talk about that well-regulated militia? Because when I used to speak at VFW Halls and American Legion posts and people would get in my face about the Second Amendment. It was shocking to me how few could actually remember the first four words of the Second Amendment.
And it makes me laugh every time someone comes at you on Twitter and tells you to study your history, given that you have a history degree from Harvard.
Talk about the Second Amendment and just how twisted it's become, both by the NRA, but even more dangerously by our Supreme Court, by a major American political party.
Either it's cynical and they know perfectly well why the Second Amendment came into being or they just are intentionally ignorant and choose not to understand the history of it.
I think going beyond what the historic interpretation second Amendment is because in both ways, both liberal and conservative, we're beyond that at this point. And where we're at in this country, as I just mentioned.
I think we need to be talking about in the modern day and era, considering the fact that we do not live in the 1800s anymore, what do we want gun responsibility to actually look like in 21st century?
Back then, they didn't have semi-automatic weapons that were chambered in 223 or 5.56, like the AR-15 or 308 in the case of many AR-10s for example. And it took a long time to reload during the Revolutionary War.
And our amendment was written around those muskets and those weapons that were frankly took a while to reload in comparison to a lot of these semi-automatics that we have today available on the open market.
400 million guns of which not all of them are semi-automatic, but nonetheless, we have over 4 million guns in this country. That's more guns than people.
And I think we can take some inspiration actually from a country that does have, in my view what a well-regulated militia looks like, which is Switzerland. Actually meant with the Swiss ambassador-
I'm glad you mentioned it.
… not too long ago to talk about this. And he discussed his frustration about the fact that Americans, the right wing in particular, continuously uses the Second Amendment or Switzerland as an example of how we don't need any gun laws.
When he says, “Actually, it's the opposite. The reason we don't have gun violence is because we have a strong culture of gun safety and strong gun laws in the first place no matter where you live in Switzerland.”
I would be totally okay with people having as many as they want so long as it meant that everyday Americans weren't dying from gun violence.
Because I think death is the ultimate infringement upon all of our rights, including the Second Amendment in the first place. Because if you're dead, you can't practice your right to free speech, bear arms, or any of the others.
I am glad you mentioned Switzerland because it's the modern-day analog of the well-regulated militia.
I spent time in high school with a Swiss family, and the father had essentially an M16 locked in the closet only able to be accessed with a key and just about every male in his demographic group had the same.
And it speaks to the power of training, and licensing, and that regulation. And I think that is the counterpoint to the NRA and it's pushing concealed carry and permitless carry and this insane wild west nihilistic approach to gun air quote “rights” that we've had to live under.
It is antithetical to what the Second Amendment was prescribing.
I mean, on top of that, Ken, I have to also mention that obviously they have conscription in Switzerland, which helps with that training aspect.
And I don't think we necessarily should have that in the United States, but I do think that there's some level of training that is substantially more than is required in many states to have currently.
And it should not be run through the NRA as a special interest that oftentimes gets funding from a lot of these gun manufacturers as well where they've created a positive feedback.
Where you sell more guns without the proper training, without the proper culture of safety, and then you have more gun violence inevitably because if more and more people are armed, you turn what would otherwise be a fist fight, a middle finger in an instance of road rage into a shootout.
And what they then do is they sell this idea that you need to have a gun to protect yourself in America. That's just continuously what happens.
Not to mention what our lax gun laws do to other countries that border us, especially Mexico. Where I think there was a study that came out that showed something like 90% of guns recovered by the Mexican military that are used in crimes don't come from Mexico, they come from the United States.
So, when we see these rightwing presidential candidates talking about how there are armed cartel members coming across the border, it's important to note where they're getting those guns because it's from the United States, and oftentimes it's because of our weak gun laws in the first place.
So, the gun industry has created a positive feedback loop where they’re able to drum up terror domestically by arming many people who are not responsible gun owners, who do not have anywhere near the training that is required and know how to deescalate situations.
And then internationally, they help arm the cartels, which then scare Americans into buying more guns, which then requires, as well, when they arm the cartels, the Mexican military to also, get bigger and bigger guns, which then grows their profits. It creates this massive positive feedback loop.
Then when you have school shootings like happened in Parkland, you fear monger around people like myself who dare to have the courage to say, “Maybe we shouldn't just be arming more people in a country that has thousands of gun deaths every year. Maybe we should actually do something about the guns.”
You fearmonger around us in order to sell more guns that then results in potentially more shootings.
If memory serves, you were escorted out of a congressional hearing for telling that truth, that the violence that supposedly is being carried into the US from south of the border is actually our own product coming back home.
Is my memory correct on that? There was a hearing and one of these MAGA extremists … yeah, go ahead.
Yeah, I mean, essentially, I was escorted out of the congressional. I think it was a House judiciary hearing where there was a Republican repeatedly talking about a Hispanic invasion, a Mexican invasion essentially of people flooding over the border.
And that's why people need to be armed with an AR-15. That's why God loving, God fearing American patriots need their AR-15.
And the reality is he was saying the same talking points as the shooter in El Paso was. It also reminded me of just how recently at the time the Buffalo shooting had happened, where that person was a self-declared white supremacist that hated black people and intentionally went to a supermarket in a black neighborhood to murder black people.
And the reality that really frustrated me is we deserve better from our leaders. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, if you're saying the same thing that a mass shooter is saying of what is motivating them, you shouldn't be saying that thing in the first place.
I don't care if you say that, “Oh, I'm not directly …” It's like saying I didn't say the same thing as that person, but literally they go on and commit the same acts of violence. You shouldn't be saying that in the first place.
And that's why I interrupted that hearing because it was a bunch of bullshit talking points that are used just to sell more guns and make their problem even worse.
Because if they actually were interested in securing the border, they would do something about the guns that are being used to destabilize Mexican government and destabilize Mexico as a country as well.
They would also take account for the fact of the centuries of interference the US government has taken across Latin America as well, which also, is resulting in the massive immigration that we're having.
Such as our 1954 intervention with Árbenz in Guatemala, where the CIA successfully helped to overthrow that government by democratically elected president. And we've done that so many times across Latin and Central and South America in general.
Maybe the reason why there are thousand tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people coming to our border is because their governments have been intentionally crippled by the US government for essentially centuries because they can't economically develop.
And anytime that they do, anytime they have a leader that the US doesn't like, we overthrow them.
Talk about the complicity of the Republican party in our gun violence epidemic. This is something I've spent a lot of time focusing on because we have had violent movements in this country. In the past, we have had terroristic and white supremacist movements.
One of the really dangerous things about the moment we're living in now though, is that those movements have a sympathetic ear and a major American political party.
And that brings us to almost a uniquely dangerous moment. You really have to go back to the 1850s to find something comparable.
And when you have people like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene making common cause with white supremacists, it takes us to a whole new place.
I mean, absolutely, they are very complicit in the creation of this problem, the enabling the army of this problem.
I think what they're doing is disgusting because they're weaponizing hatred, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and so many of the other fearers of external basically anybody who's not a straight white Christian male.
And weaponizing that fear as much as they can to help sell guns and frankly making the problem a whole lot worse of the shootings that we have in this country.
Not only by harming these individuals and continuing to loosen gun laws, oftentimes in the wake of these shootings, we see them continuously saying the same things that a lot of these mass shooters are saying.
And it's incredibly disturbing because they continue to say it and the media lets them get away with it a lot of the time.
We hear shooting, after shooting, after shooting, when it's a white man that commits it … even if they literally, I think in the case of Jacksonville, at least from the early reporting that I saw, I think that shooter drew a swastika on his AR-15.
The media has the audacity to go out there after somebody does something like that or writes a manifesta like the shooter in Buffalo wrote about how much they hate black people, or the shooter in El Paso wrote about how they were worried, they were terrified of a Hispanic invasion and a white genocide happening.
And the media has the audacity to call those individuals just immensely ill in the first place. And it's disgusting.
The reality is this, we do need to talk about mental health. It's 2/3 of gun deaths are suicides. But because of that, we also, know that the vast majority of people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be a risk themselves than other people in the first place.
And all we're doing is stigmatizing it more instead of talking about what's actually motivating a lot of these shooters which is armed white supremacy in the first place, and their fear of losing power.
I think it also, speaks to the need of why we need more young people in office that understand that our country is a country that celebrates diversity and isn't one that sees it as anti-federal to its existence, but as critical as part of it because we see it as a strength and not a weakness.
And I think our generation especially sees that because of how we've grown up.
This is not always the case, but I think it's very important to note that according to one of the articles that I read about January 6th, I think the average age of the insurrectionist was like 41 years old, when typically, in your typical insurrection, globally speaking something like 20, 22 years old.
What that tells me is there's something that happened within that age, the older age demographic within the United States that is causing a lot of this.
Forgive me if I get this not entirely accurate, but if you look back at this article where they summarized a lot of the research on January 6th and who actually went to it, they found the top predictor was people who lived in communities that had become substantially less white essentially over the past decade. That was the biggest predictor.
What that tells me is America, to many of these older Americans, especially boomers in the generation before them, was built around this idea of white superiority more than anything their entire lives.
They came into a country that was incredibly white and they're leading a country that sooner in the next couple of decades, it's going to be a majority minority country.
And I think that shift for them has created such an existential threat in their own mind of a fear of white people having done to us, frankly, what we've done to minorities historically for centuries, that it's causing a lot of this visceral reaction.
The Republican Party is taking on so much as we see through the hateful, racist commentary that many of them have.
But I do have faith that we'll get through it because young people have been turning out from record numbers despite what many older people said to us.
Many people said, “It's great that young people care after Parkland, but you guys don't vote. And that's the reason why these shootings continue.” Describing the fact that many of us literally couldn't vote because we were high schoolers.
But we proved them wrong. We voted at the highest rates for 18 to 29-year-olds in American history for the past three elections, and we were critical to helping elect President Biden and we're critical to helping hold off the red wave in 2022.
And I have faith that we're going to continue turning out, but I am also, worried because I think the reason we've been turning out so much is because we're afraid. We're not turning out because of some great love of civic engagement and fulfilling our civic duty or that we're incredibly hopeful about the future.
We're turning out because we're terrified. We're terrified about the country that we're coming into as adults that we've largely not had a say in because we were obviously just children throughout the creation of much of it over the past 20 years.
And the reason why I started Leaders We Deserve, in particular as an organization that helps to elect more progressive young people, especially in lean red states, is to take inspiration from people like Justin Jones who's on our advisory board and show young people that it's not just about voting against something, it's about voting for something.
It's not about voting against hate, it's about voting for tolerance and seeing that as a critical part of who we are as a country and that it's a massive strength and a huge asset for us as a country and not a liability in the first place.
It's about voting for politicians like Nabeela Syed, the youngest elected official in the Illinois state legislature, who's I think 24 years old, and I think she's the first Muslim woman elected there as well.
To show that our generation is not just reelecting younger versions of what's on Capitol Hill, a bunch of old white men but actually electing people who reflect what our generation looks like and not just what privilege looks like in the first place.
Yeah. Your recollection of that stat around Insurrectionists is right on. First of all, they're predominantly middle-aged white males.
And yes, the best predictor of that insurrectionist tendency is the county they came from and whether it had a major decrease in the white population.
So, that racist thread cannot be ignored. It has to be acknowledged throughout that movement. It's very real and I would argue that the dominant driving force.
You were at UNC after the recent shooting there. One of the initiatives that kicked off in the aftermath was a voter registration initiative, which is just fantastic.
But you made a comment, it might've been on NPR, it might've been on Twitter that really stuck with me. And it was the observation that the American students at UNC were just kind of numb to it, and gun violence is so much a part of young people's lives in this country.
They almost took it in stride as compared to the international students who had the more human reaction, the more realistic reaction, which is to be terrified and outraged and wondering how the heck can a country live this way?
Can you share your experience speaking with students at UNC and then hopefully, give us a hopeful coda on what they are doing to try to move the North Carolina legislature to do something?
Yeah. So, when I spoke to the students at UNC, one of the things that … we've had a chapter there for a couple years now, and unfortunately that chapter has now gone through one of the very shootings that they were trying to prevent in the first place.
And one of the most disturbing things that I heard from students when I went there and met with them and they asked me to come down and I could just be in community with them, was how there were many international students at the school who, when the shooting happened, were terrified and were having panic attacks, freaking out, understandably so.
But many of the young people were there, especially the freshmen, when they heard the alarms going off and everything, they just slowly started packing up their bags, looking at each other and be like, “Okay, this is just happening.” And walking out.
And it speaks to how numb our young people become to kind of expecting this. I think even before Parkland, many of us were not surprised that the shooting — I think many of us figured that something like this would happen at some point in our lives as young American students. And unfortunately, it did.
And I think some of us weren't actually very surprised that it did happen in the first place because it has become a thing for our generation that we can go through those shootings in the first place. And it's really horrifying that we've become that numb.
But I think what has made me hopeful is that students on September 12th are going to stay capital to demand action in North Carolina.
Part of the reason why I'm hopeful for that is because I saw the passion of those young people from March for Our Lives at UNC demanding action and wanting to do something and not just send their thoughts and prayers like their politicians do in the first place.
They wanted to show up, they want to demand action.
And that's what they're doing on September 12th. They're showing up in state capital in North Carolina. And the information's on my Instagram for anybody that wants to go to demand action, students from around North Carolina.
And it makes me hopeful because after Florida, many people said that we couldn't make any change because we're just a bunch of dumb young kids and this is a Republican state, this is an all red state. And we said, “Okay, watch us.” And we did.
Despite the state being controlled by a Republican Governor House and Senate, we still were able to raise the age to buy guns to 21 and pass a law that can disarm people that are risk themselves or others through a court order, with due process and the right to counsel.
And that same law that we passed was even used to disarm somebody who threatened to shoot my own mom.
There are all these people that say gun laws don't work. The reality is the law that we passed out through Parkland has been used over 6,000 times. And it may have prevented me from having to bury my own mom.
So, if there are people out there that resonates with in North Carolina, especially young people or anybody out there listening who knows young people in North Carolina who stand with that and want to make that kind of change there.
On September 12th, students from UNC and other schools from around North Carolina are showing up to demand action their state legislature.
That's great. Send us a link, we'll put it in the show notes.
You're from Florida, a deep red state. We've had your friend, our mutual friend, Fred Guttenberg on the show a lot to talk about his observations about Florida politics. Do you have a take on your governor and his chances in the Republican primary?
I think Ron DeSantis and his polling speaks for itself as for his chances in the Republican primary. I think the other reason his campaign exists at this point is to help continue paying consultants more than anything.
I think it's potentially possible that he may try to challenge Rick Scott in a primary for the Senate against him because he's clearly not going anywhere for the presidency.
But I do want to push back on the notion that Florida is just a super red state. I think it's important to note that we've passed very progressive ballot measures across the state by a wide margin, by 60% or more like a 15 minimum wage, like restoring voting rights for people that have been previously convicted.
The reason why the state continues to be as red as it is, at least in the state legislature and many of the members of Congress, is because our state is incredibly gerrymandered.
It's the same case in North Carolina. There's a school, I think it's an HBCU called North Carolina A&T that I've gone to before March for Our Lives to help register voters and turn people out. And it was the only school I've ever gone to where it was actually hard to find people that were not registered to vote.
And what was depressing is that if you look at the congressional map of that school or the area around that school, it's gerrymandered straight down the middle to divide that vote as much as possible and diminish the power of those young black and brown people's voice in our politics as much as possible.
And in Florida, that's kind of the problem too. Ever since the 2010 midterms, Republicans have gerrymandered their way to power in a system that enables them to pick voters instead of voters picking their politicians.
What gives me hope though, about Florida is that I think what's powered DeSantis win is not so much that he's become extremely popular. I think it's that Democrats have lost a lot of their passion and hope for the state.
From the best of my recollection, DeSantis did not get that many more votes in 2022 than he did in in 2018. And what made the difference though was that Democrats did not turn out as much.
And it speaks to a need of the party to do better marketing, frankly, and rally the base better and run better candidates as well.
And also, the need for a new generation to come in. Because what's powered DeSantis, I think more than anything are a lot of the older conservative people that are moving to Florida in the first place that are helping to supercharge a lot of his victors as well.
Yeah, well, I think it bears mentioning that Jacksonville, which has never elected a democratic mayor, just flipped in the last election. You've got a new head of the Florida Democratic Party, Nikki Fried, who's doing really tough work and rebuilding and trying to get that investment.
So, yeah, I should give Florida more credit because we're experiencing a lot of the same structural challenges here in Ohio. It's not a deep red state but coming up against gerrymandering and voter suppression and a lack of investment, that's a lot to overcome.
David, if you're willing to go there with me, I want to talk about something that we do not address nearly enough when it comes to gun violence among young people, which is the enduring trauma.
I think part of the reason is there's always another shooting to focus on and we just think about the immediate aftermath and the lives lost.
But if you could share for us (and I come at this question as a vet who's been in some pretty awful places and had to live with some of the aftermath of that) what is it like carrying that with you for the rest of your life and having that community of others who you know share those same scars?
It's awful. It's the reason why I do this work more than anything. If I could give up everything today and everything that we've ever done to stop what happened at my school, I would do it instantaneously obviously.
Our generation is really messed up from these shootings, not just inside of their schools, but the daily shootings that happen in black and brown communities that don't get on the news every day, that happen outside of schools.
The group that dies most from violence in this country are young black men who rarely get any of the media attention as victims of gun violence that they deserve as well.
And I think part of the challenge is just learning how to live with the new reality of what has happened and learning how to be there for other people that are going through a lot more. And learning how to pace yourself.
There's a lot of young people from March for Our Lives who stepped back from the movement. Many young people in fact, that I met at UNC Chapel Hill who were involved with us in 2018 and got really emotionally burnt out, which is totally valid. But now, I've unfortunately gone through their own school shooting as well.
I think for myself, part of what the media messes up about Parkland is that it's not like a school in the Northeast that a lot of people probably stereotypically think of it as. There are multiple buildings on campus.
So, the building that I was in was right next to where the shooting happened. So, we heard gunshots because our door was open because it was like a freezing day in Florida in February. It was like 70 degrees. So, it was one of the few times a year that we could have our door open, so we could hear everything outside.
So, all I heard was like screaming and gunshots, but I didn't see anything. Unlike many of my classmates who unfortunately did.
But the reality is too, for all the young people that are at school, all the young people that were at UNC Chapel Hill, all the young people that were in Parkland, you don't know in that instance whether or not there is a shooter or not.
You don’t know if you're about to die or not. You don’t know if there are multiple shooters on campus bombs or whatnot. So, it's very real to you as well.
And what I did during the shooting is I interviewed my classmates not knowing whether or not we would survive, and I asked them about their experience as a young person in America.
I asked them about their opinion of the NRA and gun violence and what we should do about it so that if we did die in our classrooms, hopefully our voices would carry on. And the NRA couldn't say, “Oh, you're just politicizing this.” Like they always say, which is bullshit.
What's politicizing this is not doing a fucking thing about it in the first place and letting this continue because you have vested interests politically in letting it continue in the first place.
And I think what's been really important for me and what I've been thankful for is like having the privilege of being able to go to therapy for the past several years as well, which I continue doing. And I'm thankful for that. But I also know that I'm lucky that I have that.
I'm very thankful for the response that Parkland got from the state, federal, and local government which was frankly overwhelming I think in many ways.
But the reality is, and this is not to diminish that, this is not to say that Parkland shouldn't have gotten this response, but every community that is affected by gun violence should get that response, not just predominantly white ones like Parkland.
And it's a weird experience because on one side, like I obviously feel horrible about like everything that's happened and it's easy for me to feel like, man, like it's hard to keep going at times, but at the same time, I know that this is happening every day to people.
There was one young person I met at UNC, who's 18 years old and has gone through three shootings now. And if they can continue to operate and function and be a human being, it's like why does it matter what I've gone through in the first place?
And I know that that's not a great way of looking at it, but it's challenging because it's hard to acknowledge that you've gone through something. But there are a lot of people who go through a lot worse every single day as well and don't ever get the same attention.
Well, I'm glad you talked about therapy, David, because setting that example and helping to de-stigmatize it is so important.
And I'm sure others have told you this, but I'm going to say it again. Everyone's brain works differently, and it does no good to measure your trauma against someone else's. We all need help getting through what we've experienced in our own ways. So, keep it up. Keep talking to your therapist.
Something you said earlier I think is going to stick with me for a long time. And I haven't heard gun violence framed this way before, but you called it an attack on the American dream, and I totally agree. I totally see that.
What do you think of when you see supposed leaders like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert being so dismissive of that violence, so dismissive of your attempts and your friend's attempts to address it and being just cruel in their response.
Have you ever tried to get inside their heads and understand where they're coming from?
I think I have. I mean, I've talked to a lot of people who don't agree with me outside of our events where they've been counter protesting and everything.
And the crazy thing about it is even with some of the more extreme people who are open, caring and screaming, calling us Christ attackers and stuff outside of our events, I know that a lot of them actually don't understand what we stand for completely.
And they don't understand the nuances that can come with civil discourse and that we can disagree on some things like banning semi-automatic rifles like the armor line AR-15. But at the same time, maybe you do agree that we need to find more mental health programs, the 2/3s of gun deaths that are suicides.
And I think what's really frustrating to me is we let the few things in politics that divide us, keep us apart. And there are many things that we're united on.
The problem is not that the American people don't agree that we need stronger gun laws. 90% of Americans support universal background checks. Well over 60% of Americans support banning weapons like the AR-15 and other semi-automatic rifles.
The problem that I've come to realize is that it is not our movement that's broken. For a long time, Ken, I thought it's us. After Parkland we had so many people say to us, “Thank God you kids are here to save us. My generation really fucked up.”
And I'm really tired of hearing that because it absolves any responsibility of older generations that they still have to work with us and vote with us on this. And I know that they are.
And the second reason why that really bothers me is because it's incredibly disrespectful to the many people who have been working on this for decades that are older people.
And what I've realized is it's not the movement that's broken, it's not the survivors of gun violence that are broken in any massive way that is preventing the movement from being as successful as it should be.
What's stopping us from succeeding is that our government is broken. And that's a lot harder to fix.
And the reason why I say that is like we have all of this massive public support for something like universal background checks.
But what stops us from being able to pass it is the fact that we have a non-democratic structure like the Senate with, in addition to the filibuster that represents land more than it does people, that gives an inordinate amount of power to a small minority of people in this country that do not understand what the vast majority of us go through everyday in this country.
The vast majority of young people who experience gun violence go through everyday experience in this country. And that's what prevents us from being able to pass these laws us in the first place.
And I think in the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, I think that they don't care. I really don't think that they care.
I think that it is about whatever is about gaining power for them in any way possible and profiting in whatever way they can from this politically. Which in its own sense that is what is politicizing gun violence in this country more than anything.
And I think it's shameful and disgusting that they spread … I don't care how left or right you are on this issue. The reality is, if you were spreading conspiracy theories that school shootings are fake, you are an awful person and you should not be anywhere power in this country.
And if we have a political system that empowers people like that, we need to change that system because the reason why the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, Lauren Boeberts of the world are able elected is not because the vast majority of the American people agree with them.
It's because they live in Republican gerrymandered districts where the primary has become whoever can be the most extreme insane right winger person possible, even if it is not actually authentic.
Marjorie Taylor Greene plays this whole game of how she's some outsider from Washington and is here to disrupt the system. When I know from people that I talked to on Hill that she's talking with House and Senate like House leadership all the time and working with them.
She's the establishment, she's working with them, the establishment, and she's lying to her followers in the first place. And I think she knows what she's saying is bullshit. And it's just shameful because we can't actually make progress in the issues that do matter in this country.
As we saw with the PACT Act, like I was … my dad's a veteran as I mentioned, and he has the potential to be impacted by that legislation.
And I spent two nights out there with the burn pits crew that were doing the work out there. And when I met like those veterans out there, I think two things really occurred to me.
One was how broken our political system is that it's not only failing to protect our young people as our most valuable asset of anything, but it's also, failing to protect those that have served us. It's failing to serve those that have served us like my father. And so many others who aren't out there and aren't known as well.
And the second thing was how horrifyingly I found a lot of comfort being around them because I think that a lot of them have PTSD from their service. And it's not at all the same as what I went through or many other young people have gone through in school shootings.
But nonetheless, it's a certain level of trauma that I think the coping mechanisms of which a lot of these people that do share that trauma, that blood that is trauma that creates family, how much we were able to naturally relate.
I still talk to a lot of the people that I met at that protest to this day because I became very good friends with them. And it speaks to the need of new leadership more than anything to fix our broken political system.
So, now, that we've rallied these movements out on the outside of politics to March for Our Lives and these other movements like the environmental movement and the Movement for Black Lives and others, we got to get involved on the inside and we need to get better people on the inside in the first place.
And that's what I'm trying to do with Leaders We Deserve by helping you like more young people in lean red states like Ohio, like Texas, like Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina to bring them into office so they can do that long-term change.
Because young people, despite all that we've gone through, I think there are two important notes. One, great generations are not born, they're made by awful circumstances that they grow up.
The greatest generation grew up through I think some of the hardest circumstances in American history. And I don't think that our generation is anywhere comparable to them.
But nonetheless, we faced an enormous amount of challenges. We were born in the shadow of 9/11. We were born in the shadow of Columbine happening a year before I was even born. We went through elementary school with a massive financial crisis, the likes of which the world had really not seen in some ways since the 1930s.
We then went into a political world when I was in high school, that was dominated and contrasted by the hope that Obama brought into office as the first black president contrasted with the white supremacist backlash that Donald Trump represented.
And our generation saw the potential of the power of gaining power in politics and doing good with that power, but the danger of apathy as well.
And then after that, as we were in college, we lived through the COVID epidemic as well. Another consequence of our failed government response on top of all of that. And now, we're dealing with crippling student debt as well.
So, I think that we have a great asset and that our generation is finding its leaders to lead itself out of this situation. I think the political system naturally cleanses itself over time if it's failed so much that there's a new generation that comes in that addresses those issues in the first place.
And then second to that, I think we have the greatest asset than anybody can have on their side in politics, which is time. I'm going to outlive almost everybody on Capitol Hill, as is my generation.
The question that we have to face is, what are we going to do about the legacy that those cowards in power, most of them are cowards, at least. What are we going to do about the legacy that they're making behind?
What are we going to do about the Supreme Court that is making decisions today that are going to far outlive them as well, going against hundreds of years of jurisprudence through things that can serve a few brew, and so many other awful decisions that they're making in the first place, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
I have a tactical question about Leaders We deserve. I love that you're focused on electing young progressive candidates that positive vision is something we need much more of.
But do you have a war chest or reserve fund for opposition research for going after really bad actors and hitting them hard and telling the truth?
I know that positive campaigns are great, but do you have anything set aside to continue to hold people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and the others accountable?
All I'll say, Ken, is we have many assets at our disposal that I would be very politically worried if you were to go against us and you were a incredibly corrupt politician.
What we're starting out with is focusing on open blue seat primaries to help bring in those voices into politics in the first place.
So, what that looks like is we don't challenge incumbent Democrats. We focus in a lean red state like Florida, for example, in their state legislature where there's an open seat where somebody is running for House or something like that, for example, or just retiring.
And it's a safe democratic seat and then we can plug somebody in there during the primary to help them be one of those Justin Jones like voices, hopefully in Tallahassee.
But also, after that we work on the general elections as well of young people that are running in these races under the age of 30 for state legislature, under the age of 35 for Congress.
And I won't get much into the specifics about kind of what does it look like, that war chest look like, because I also know from my favorite book, The Arc of War that all warfare is based on deception. So, I'm not going to disclose all my secrets.
But we have a very savvy team coming together and I'm very excited about the potential good that we're going to bring ultimately.
I am excited too. I can't wait to see your next ad and to support the campaigns you're getting behind.
One last thing, not a question, but a thank you. I saw online and in the news when you dropped in of the Pact Act Fire Watch to help my fellow vets who are on the capital steps trying to get that thing passed.
Actually, the namesake of that act, Heath Robinson is an Ohioan. His mom, Susan, is a friend of mine. Thank you so much for standing in solidarity with those vets.
There's a saying in the military, we got your six. I feel like you had ours, and we'll have yours going forward. Thank you so much, David.
Absolutely. We need each other, Ken. So, thank you.
Thanks again to David for joining me. To learn more about Leaders we Deserve, visit leaderswedeserve.com.
Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We're always looking to improve the show.
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Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.