“It’s not all the change we wanted, certainly not,” she added. “But it has been progress.”
The organization grew to equal status with more established organizations like Brady and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But some people have questioned whether the Parkland youths were more figureheads than organizers.
Tax records show that the group spent nearly $1 million in 2020 on fees to Precision Strategies, the communications consultants who worked on President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. In its first year, the organization received large donations from celebrities like George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.
“It was professionalized from the beginning,” said Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the Parkland massacre, and who went on to clash with members of March for Our Lives over gun legislation in Florida. “Does anybody really believe that a group of traumatized kids were able to pull off a march with hundreds of thousands of people, just a few months after they were traumatized? It strains credulity.”
Carly Lovell, a 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate, said Mr. Petty had a point.
“I remember at the CNN town hall, they asked people to ask questions of the speakers, and some of the March for Our Lives kids had people writing the questions for them,” said Ms. Lovell, 21, who graduated this year from George Washington University. That’s not what this was supposed to be. You were supposed to write your own questions.”
The student activists insist that they spent countless hours working after school to get the first events off the ground, though they acknowledge that, of course, they needed professional help with logistics.
“I think they brought fresh energy to the movement,” Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, said of the student activists. “They provided a moral clarity that was very helpful.”