Parkland Students Have Raised $3.5M for Gun Control

MIAMI (Miami Herald/TNS) -

To help fund a national gun-control movement, a small group of South Florida students who survived the worst high school shooting in U.S. history set up a modest website Sunday and created a GoFundMe account to pursue an ambitious goal: raise $1 million.

In four days, they received more than three times that amount.

In a sign of just how much momentum they have, the students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland have amassed donations from more than 18,000 people backing the #NeverEnough movement and the March For Our Lives, an anti-gun-violence protest they’re planning on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The money has poured in from all over the country, escalating to seven figures before the young organizers could even set up a foundation to fund.

By Tuesday, the pot was nearing $1.5 million. And then four celebrities committed a half-million dollars each.

With $3.5 million suddenly at their disposal, this core group of roughly 20 teenagers — still grieving the loss of 17 classmates and school mentors — has enough money to fund a national march and a revolution. They’re now beginning to consider the long game: a lasting movement to keep the pressure on pro-gun politicians and the National Rifle Association.

“Donations will be used to pay the expenses associated with the (March 24) March for Our Lives gathering in Washington, D.C., and to provide resources for young people organizing similar marches across the country,” a spokeswoman for March for Our Lives told the Miami Herald. “Any leftover funds will go towards supporting a continuing, long-term effort by and for young people to end the epidemic of mass shootings that has turned our classrooms into crime scenes.”

Teenagers like Cameron Kasky, Emma Gonzalez, Alex Wind and David Hogg — all of whom have received enormous media attention since the shooting — seized a moment when the country was mesmerized in horror and called for action. Prepared by years of theater, journalism and debate classes, the students began leveraging media interviews and social media to solicit donations before they had even set up a fund to accept the money, and without any expertise on how to organize a national rally.

At first, they weren’t even planning on seeking donations, said Kasky’s father, Jeff Kasky. But then they decided to pursue the national rally, and things steamrolled after their announcement. Kasky said his son sought out to raise $1 million only after he and his friends did some basic research on the costs of organizing a rally in Washington, D.C.

“That’s where the money is going,” Jeff Kasky said. “They’re being directed by people with knowledge of how to responsibly spend this money and it’s going to be very transparent. Every penny is going to be accounted for.”

With the help of a celebrity, Kasky said the group has brought in some attorneys, some administrative help and a public relations firm, 42 West. This week, they expect to establish the March for Our Lives Foundation in order to deposit all donations to the cause.

In order to help organize the rally in Washington, which requires applying for permits with the federal government, the city — and probably with the state of Virginia or Maryland depending on the exact route of the march — the students have brought in Deena Katz, a TV producer and co-executive director of the Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation, but is not involved on behalf of the organization.

A permit application for the National Mall filed Monday by Katz shows organizers are expecting 500,000 people to arrive by 20 buses and public transportation. They plan to erect 14 Jumbotrons, and 20 tents. The event will feature student speakers, musical performers, guest speakers and video tributes.

Emma Collum, a South Florida attorney who ran point on transportation and logistics for the Women’s March in 2016, said the endeavor will be complicated and vast for the upcoming gun-control rally. She said the regulations about where buses have to park, how marching routes are formulated and changed, and even how portable toilets are paid for and shipped in can be exhausting and costly: “At a minimum half-a-million” dollars, she estimated.

Collum, who said she’s assisting in the organization of a March 24 event in Parkland, helped the Women’s March gather more than 1 million people in D.C. But despite initial crowd estimates by organizers, she thinks the upcoming gun-control event will be even bigger.

“I truly do think the numbers are going to be above 1 million” people, she said.

The donations to the march fund are only part of the picture. A GoFundMe page for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims has also raised at least $1.8 million, with donors from all 50 states and over 50 countries.

The page is run by the Broward Education Foundation, a registered arm of the School Board of Broward County that raises funds to enrich education throughout the district.

“This is nothing that any of us were prepared for. However, we are surrounded with the best possible resources, we’re working with the senior team from GoFundMe, they are helping to guide and instruct us every step of the way because this is not your ordinary fundraising effort,” said Broward Education Foundation director of marketing Peejay Ryan.