Youth-led Gun-Control Movement Gains Momentum

. March 27, 2018.
photo by Karen Smyte
photo by Karen Smyte

The protesters gathered at Pioneer High School on Saturday, March 24th for a local March For Our Lives, joined hundreds of thousands rallying across the country to demand sounder gun control laws and demonstrated a commitment to ongoing action to keep the energy flourishing through the November midterm elections and beyond.

In her poem “X Marks the Spot,” the rally’s first speaker, Serena Varner, a senior at Washtenaw International High School, described the multiple intersections of gun violence. “Philando [Castile] suffered at the intersection of gun violence and anti-Blackness,” she said. “Let’s not pretend gun violence was not an issue before it started stealing away white lives.” Varner acknowledged, “females lost in domestic violence, trans killed, LGBTQ members gone,” and encouraged alliances, stating, “This isolated suffering is the saddest, loneliest song I have ever heard, the shrill of children’s voices as their bodies get gunned down. It’s the cries of their families, of their loved ones as they are gone far too soon and the echo of our separate rallies colliding in cacophony. Just a little fine-tuning could set our voices in perfect harmony.”

Why is the Second Amendment unique?

Every speaker at the event organized by Kennedy Dixon, 18, a freshman at Eastern Michigan University, with the aid of Celeste Kanpurwala, a member of Washtenaw County’s Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, described the fear and trauma pervasive in communities and classrooms. “There’s the belief these deaths are inevitable, even acceptable, that this is the price we pay for freedom,” said Ashley Dunn, a Howell High School student. “Our framers [of the Constitution] could have never predicted the world we now occupy. There have been qualifications placed on all our rights in response to specific events and the evolving nation over time. Our freedom of speech is limited by numerous clauses concerning libel, slander, obscenity, hate speech and any language creating a clear and present danger. Why is the Second Amendment unique?”

photo by Karen Smyte

photo by Karen Smyte

A new fear

Protest participant Chakor Rajenda, 13, a student at Greenhills, said he was marching because, “School should be a safe environment. If our safety isn’t possible, our learning is compromised.”

Elizabeth McCloud, 18, a student at Eastern Michigan University, agreed. “There needs to be a change,” she said. ‘I mentor kids who are still in high school, and they’ve told me  they fear walking into high school. That’s something we shouldn’t have to live with, ever.”

Alec Pline, 18, a student at Schoolcraft, talked about his younger siblings, adoptees from Guatemala, currently in school in Livonia. “There was a fear when Trump became president that they’re from somewhere else,” he said. “Now, it’s another fear, a new fear.”

Is it fair to ask teachers if they’re willing to die for their students?

Mary Voorhorst, an area 10th grade English teacher, described the training exercise she underwent with other teachers and staff on her second day of student-teaching at Pioneer, a drill designed to train teachers in ways to respond to a shooter. “I confronted my own mortality,” she informed the massive crowd gathered in the parking lot.”There are several standard lines of questioning all teachers face, such as: Are you willing and prepared to be desperately overworked and woefully underpaid? Are you willing to go months without affirmation or thanks? But after that training, all teachers were forced to answer the following questions instead: Are you willing and prepared to not cower when the gunshots begin? Are you willing and prepared to take a deep breath and steady your hand to prevent the person outside your classroom from coming in? A person with a gun, a belt full of ammunition and a plan that involves ending as many lives as he can? Are you willing and prepared to die protecting your kids? Are you willing and prepared for this? Are you willing?”

What absolute terror feels like

Several speakers were emotional as they gave their remarks. Liana Treviño of Ypsilanti, survivor of the Las Vegas Mass shooting, described the chaos of that night. “I found myself squatting in a vault at a casino with 30 others, wondering if this was going to be the day that I died … I was in that room looking at three young girls, no older than six, looking into their eyes and there was absolute terror.”

In a rousing speech, State Representative Yousef Rabhi rejected the current status quo. “This is not the America we believe in. We believe in a nation where our kids can be safe when they go to school,” he thundered. “We believe in a nation people don’t get shot at when they go to a club or another venue. We believe in a nation where an unarmed black man doesn’t get shot down in cold blood by a law enforcement officer. I believe in you, in all of us, that we will march today, and we will march to November and we will take our country back.”

U.S. Representative Debbie  Dingell stated proudly, and received hearty applause, that she has a F grading from the NRA. She  too, gave an emotional speech on a subject personal to her. “I lived in a home with a man who shouldn’t have had access to a gun.,” she said. “I know what it’s like to keep someone from shooting their mother. I know what it’s like to hide in the closet, and I don’t want any young person to have to hide like I did and pray to God I would live through the night and that my brother and sister would be okay.” She described the lingering effects. “That fear has never left my heart. My baby sister was never okay. She ultimately died of a drug overdose. We have to do something about guns. We have to get them away from people who should not have access to a gun.”

The march is just the beginning

As Rabhi said after the speeches, “We’re just starting. The turnout today is just going to amplify. We’re going to take this all the way to the election, and that’s the important part, because it comes down to voting and who we are electing to represent us. Every politician who has voted to make it easier for people to get guns is culpable in these disasters. We need to vote those people out of office, and we need to put people in office who will stand up for common sense gun legislation to make sure we’re protecting future generations going to our schools.”

There was humor, there was singing, free hot dogs and soda. There was an infusion of possibility. “I am pleasantly amazed the kids are not only taking the lead but they are the ones who are being successful leading this conversation in a way that others haven’t been able to do in the past,” Rahbi said. “It’s heartening to see that we’re moving in the right direction thanks to kids getting involved and doing this.”

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