I am the youngest staff member at MomsRising.
In fact, I was too young to remember the Columbine shooting – it happened just ten days shy of my fourth birthday. But I do remember Virginia Tech. It was two weeks before I turned 12. I remember that as we grew up, my friends and I got used to new technology in our schools like SmartBoards. We also got familiar with the corners and closets of our classrooms as places to hide during active shooter drills. Always good to be prepared for the worst. I especially remember that during my senior year, all the students in my high school wore green on December 15 to commemorate the deaths at Sandy Hook.
Before I left for school, I remember my mom saying “This has to be the turning point. They can’t just turn their backs on 20 second-graders.” I remember feeling angry yet hopeful, wondering why it took so long to change this pattern, and trying to figure out what the measuring stick of tragedy was by which we decided whether or not death merited action.
I remember thinking that my mom was wrong (which for her was rare, as it is for many moms). Politicians said their thoughts and prayers, and the headlines eventually moved on without any satisfying resolution to our nation’s grief.
Since that day, I can’t say that I remember every shooting. It’s draining and almost shameful to ride the rollercoaster of mass shooting headlines in America: sorrow and shock at the tragedy, anger at the circumstances that allowed it to happen, optimism and energy at every tweet and soundbite that promises change, then finally resignation and hopelessness as leaders avoid rocking the boat yet again. Year after year, month after month, day after day, this is our emotional cycle – it’s no wonder we’re becoming numb. It’s not just a feeling either – mass shootings in America have been increasing in frequency and in death tolls, thanks in no small part to advanced weapons like military-style assault weapons.
I remember that I voted on my eighteenth birthday. It was a special election, and the best present I could have asked for. I remember thinking back to all the times I had sat in the parking lot or stood next to my mom in the ballot box while she voted for someone whose decisions would affect my future far more drastically than hers. I know my mom always voted for people and laws she felt would improve my life and safety, and on my eighteenth birthday I had the power to make those choices, too.
And this year, I’m remembering Parkland, and I think you probably are, too. But what is sticking with me most has been what happened afterwards. In the days after their world was turned upside down, the Parkland students stood up, spoke out, and answered the question that has been burning in the hearts of young Americans and all who love them: “Someone has to do something about gun violence, but who?” These kickass young adults, just a few years younger than I am, eloquently and passionately conveyed their pain, fear, and resilience to the nation. And they went further than many in their position have gone before: They used their spotlight to respectfully pass the mic to students of color who are at least 10 times as likely to face gun violence, and whose tragedies are all too often ignored by mainstream media. As callous as we have become to coverage of mass shootings, the grief of communities of color rarely even draws the attention of the news cycle.
Through the formation of MarchForOurLives and their subsequent campaign VoteForOurLives, these incredible leaders have reminded us that all Americans have a responsibility - an obligation - to vote. The Parkland students are holding accountable all those who can vote and those we elect, and rightly so. When I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue at the national MarchForOurLives in DC, I felt so much pride for the students from across the country on stage, the thousands of supporters marching beside me, and the millions more taking action in cities worldwide. I remember thinking, if everyone here votes, if everyone gets one friend or one coworker or one teen to register and make a Voting Day plan, we will change this country.
In the 2016 election, only about 46% of eligible voters under age 30 cast a ballot, but thanks to efforts from groups like MomsRising, MarchForOurLives and others, those stats are changing. Our future is increasingly in our own hands. We remember. But we can’t forge the future alone; we need everyone’s voice and we really need your votes. We will not let our peers and our children (and your children, grandchildren, and neighbors) grow up with the same memories that we have.