What Does 17 Mean?


I found out about the Parkland shooting the way I usually do –  through the notifications on my phone. I remember waiting in my AP U.S. History classroom for class to start, and my phone buzzed with a CNN news alert “Florida school shooting: At least 17 dead.” Honestly, I’m ashamed to say that I ignored the headline when it first popped up. Was it because class was starting and I didn’t have time to process? Was it because I thought I misread the headline?  The most likely reason was that, like so many others, I’ve become desensitized to this. I reacted by thinking much along the lines of what Hasan Minhaj said, – “ye cheeze to hoti hain, aur ye cheeze to hoyengi” (These things will happen, and these things will continue to happen.) There have been over 200 school shootings in the U.S. since I was born and I’m only a teenager. It makes sense that my subconscious has started to normalize the senseless and preventable deaths of people in tour country because of gun violence.

Of course, a second glance at the headline and the details about it brought with it a sinking feeling into my stomach as I realized what the Parkland shooting actually meant. Two months into 2018, and there have been 14 shootings already, a number that doesn’t even begin to include the instances of racially motivated gun violence against African-Americans, and other marginalized groups.

Later, as I was trying to make sense of what happened, I watched videos of Emma Gonzalez speaking and the Parkland town hall meeting as well. I became emotional, but watching these videos stirred a different feeling inside of me – a strong feeling of connection. At the beginning of her speech, Gonzalez says, “I know this looks like a lot,” referring to the stack of papers in her hands, “but these are my AP Gov notes.”

I think what’s different about hearing of this specific shooting at this time in my life is how much I can relate to these students. In most instances, it’s hard to find similarities between yourself and the victims of a tragedy, but when you realize that they are taking some of the same classes that you are, that they are studying for the same standardized tests that you are, and that they’re going through the same college admissions process that you are, it’s a lot easier to truly connect. Along with it comes the shock of understanding that this could just as easily have happened to you. And even if you’re not a student – this could just as easily have happened to your daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, cousins or grandchildren.

Only a few days after the Parkland shooting, I got another taste of my connection to this issue of the imminent threat of gun violence. Someone showed me a tweet saying that at 5 pm that day, a shooting would occur at the San Jose State University campus. As soon as I saw it, my heart stopped. SJSU was only a 5 minute walk from my school, and the campus was very close to coffee shops and stores that many of my school’s students frequented. I was lucky enough to be leaving a bit earlier than 5 pm that day, but I left with the knowledge that I may return to a school the next morning with one less student. I left school that day knowing that I may return to an entirely different one, rife with grief and outrage.

I found later that the threat came from graffiti found on a bathroom stall in one of the college campus buildings, and spread through social media rather than through campus security. It did turn out to be an empty threat, but having my classmates ushered indoors at 5 pm that day and texting my friends while they were at school to make sure they were safe was truly terrifying. It hadn’t been 2 weeks since the Florida shooting, and here we were in California going on lockdown.

Being a part of this movement and feeling so connected to it has also changed the way I react to its’ critics. Elizabeth Porter, a member of the Florida House of Representatives, recently made a statement regarding the Parkland students’ activism. She said “we’ve been told we need to listen to the children and do what the children ask. Are there any children on this floor? Are there any children making laws?” She went on to say that “the adults make the laws because we have the age. We have the wisdom. And we have the experience to make these laws. We have to make laws with our heads and not with our emotions. Because emotions will lead us astray.”

As I write this, I’m surrounded by anti-gun violence posters and orange t-shirts, in preparation for the national school walkout on Wednesday, the 14th of March. It will begin at 10 a.m. local time and students will walk out for 17 minutes to honor the 17 students killed in Parkland. The website for the student-run March for our Lives is bookmarked on my computer, and I’m planning with my friends about how we will meet at City Hall.

I have officially joined the fight for stricter gun laws. Is this because of an outburst of emotion? I’m sorry, Elizabeth Porter, but your underestimation of today’s youth is ultimately going to bring you down. No, children aren’t making laws. And no, there are no children in the House of Representatives. But those 17 children that died because a 19-year-old was able to get access to a gun have a much bigger and impactful voice than any member of the House right now. Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, and all the students they represent have single handedly sparked a national discussion regarding access to guns and the implications of the far too lax gun laws currently in place.

What does 17 mean?

The 17 people that died in the Parkland shooting is the same number as about half of my English 3 AP class. It’s the same number as the people living in four houses on my street. It’s the same number of people as the ones in the Starbucks I was sitting in yesterday. When we hear the news and try to make sense of the numbers that it reports on, it’s difficult to understand just exactly what those numbers mean. It’s difficult to see how those numbers would play out in the lives of the people affected by them, but I encourage you to try and personalize those numbers to understand how important they are and what they mean for us.

There is a tendency for adults to use stereotypes to describe youngsters.  There are many adults who are responsible for spreading conspiracy theories that all the Parkland student activists are paid actors who exist solely to increase media attention on the issue to create nationwide outrage. Their behavior shows that they do not believe that young people can effect change in any meaningful way. 

Teenagers are not moody and unmotivated.  We have become a generation of advocates, leaders, and game changers that no one expected us to grow into. The next time someone underestimates us, or you catch yourself doing the same, take a look at what the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have done – the school walkout planned for March 14  and the March For Our Lives planned for March 24th.

There is so much more to us than you think.

Isha Trivedi is a junior at Notre Dame High School in San Jose. She worked as a summer intern at India Currents last year and is keenly interested in writing. 



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