© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement 

Gun Control

"We call B.S." - Emma Gonzalez

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MKM Gun Violence Prevention Co-Director Debbie Goldberg talked with Julia Spoor, an 18-year-old gun control activist currently based in Philadelphia, PA. They talked about suicide, organizing, and empathy.

 

Debbie: I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding gun violence. What got you so involved? Can you tell me about a specific event or situation?

 

Julia: I got involved in activism around age 13. When my dad died by suicide with a gun, I was in 2nd grade. I didn’t really understand how or why it happened, all I knew was that I missed him and I wanted him back. Upon really processing my loss in middle school, I decided I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to any other little girl. That’s why I initially got involved in gun violence prevention activism.

 

Debbie: What has it been like organizing events to end gun violence and raise awareness across your city?

 

Julia: Organizing is not as easy as it looks. I’ve had events where only six people showed up. It can be discouraging, but totally worth it in the end. I’ve gotten to meet so many fantastic people from my community, from concerned citizens to elected officials. I hear from so many gun violence survivors in Philadelphia and they’re my motivation. I think, “If this woman, whose son was killed in cold blood, can get up and fight every day, so can I.”

 

Debbie: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to gun violence in urban areas?

 

Julia: I think our lawmakers could use more empathy. I think they need a reminder that they work for us, and we control their positions in their jobs. They need to listen to us and be willing to hear our concerns. A lot of racism surrounds the issue of gun violence in urban areas and too many of our lawmakers are not willing to see that. 

 

Debbie: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to making a difference?

 

Julia: Young people are the future. We will be the ones taking over the House and Senate seats that are currently held by complacent, apathetic lawmakers. The more young people who realize their potential, the better. 

 

Debbie: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to tell us about, or plans for the future?

 

Julia: I spoke on a political leadership panel at the Democratic Women’s National Forum. Other attendees of the event were Speaker Pelosi and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. 

 

Debbie: What advice would you give to other young people who want to make a difference?

 

Julia: I want every young person in the country and the world to realize their power. For so long, I was the youngest voice in the room and would get discouraged by people talking over me or assuming I don’t know what I’m talking about. I think that’s changing. Young people are on the front lines and making real impact, specifically on the issue of gun violence. I would tell my fellow young people not to give up, and to make sure they are taking care of themselves. This work is not easy, and we need to be at our best in order to help others. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

JULIA SPOOR

@jspoor

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MKM’s Co-Director of Gun Violence Prevention, Debbie Goldberg, interviewed Destini Philpot, a 19-year-old gun control activist from Baltimore, MD. They talked about Baltimore, the emotional toll of activism, and urban communities. 

 

Debbie: I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding gun

violence. What got you so involved?

 

Destini: Gun violence began destroying my life at the age of two, and I became a true victim to it when I was seven. By the time I turned nine, I saw my first dead body. The number of friends that I have lost to the overall injustices and disparities of being Black in America has grown immensely over the years reaching far into the dozens. Understanding the root causes of violence and understanding that young people in Baltimore are not bad. We are broken people being raised by broken people and living in a broken society. I could not stand silently by while Black and brown people were constantly criminalized and the media continued to carry on a century long narrative of demonizing and dehumanizing marginalized communities such as my own. I became active heavily in activism during the baltimore uprising which resulted in me being a part of and eventually leading a grassroot organization out of my high school called City Bloc which then developed into leading a Baltimore to Chicago organization called Good Kids Mad City. When the Parkland tragedy happened I, alongside members of my organization stood in solidarity with Parkland. We saw a voice that not only needed to be lifted in Parkland, but in our own city as well. We work to tell a new narrative from "troubled youth" or "at-risk youth,” to a narrative that is true to us. Our truth is that the youth in the city of Baltimore are good, but there are systems in place meant to oppress and criminalize us. 

 

Debbie: What has it been like organizing events to end gun violence and raise awareness across your city?

 

Destini: The emotional toll that it has on me as a young person is something in itself. I am

dealing with people who at times feel extremely hopeless and numb to death in our city because it has been our reality for so long. Seeing people actually come out and care about enacting change in our city is definitely worth it all. If I can reach just five

people through my work, it has been worth it. The value of a life is incomparable to anything

else. 

 

Debbie: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at

when it comes to gun violence in urban areas?

 

Destini: There is certainly a lot, especially in regards to urban communities that they need to do, but we need to ensure that we have the right people in those positions to start making those changes. They need to look at the cons of passing certain policy and legislation that ends up being detrimental to urban communities and adds to mass incarceration. There needs to be conversations to understand the disconnect derived from institutionalized racism.

 

Debbie: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to making a difference?

 

Destini: We will be the ones most affected by the decisions made in society now. If we can’t work together on issues as we are facing them how are we going to fix the problems that the generation before us left. No one can do this alone and there is strength in numbers. We have to be willing to connect and stand on a united front.

 

Debbie: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to tell

us about, or plans for the future?

 

Destini: Follow me on twitter @GKMCBmore to keep up with all the latest and future events as they happen.

 

Debbie: What advice would you give to other young people who want to make a difference?

 

Destini: Never be afraid to use your voice, it matters. It is our greatest strength as well as our greatest hope. We were born to make a difference and that's exactly what we will do. We have the power to be the change we want to see.

DESTINI PHILPOT

@gkmc18

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MKM Field Director, Stephen Baker, spoke with Bennett Owens, a 19-year-old gun control activist from Stony Brook, NY. They talked about Marjory Stoneman Douglas, MFOL Binghamton University, and the NRA.

 

Stephen: I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding gun violence prevention in the United States. What got you so involved? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

 

Bennett: The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the student activists from that school inspired me to fully get involved in youth activism, specifically the gun violence prevention movement. I closely watched the 2016 Presidential election and was interested in politics and activism before the Parkland shooting, but the youth activism of the MSD students afterward made me realize that I had to do more to fight for what I believe in.

 

Stephen: What has it been like organizing events to raise awareness for gun violence in America? How have you been able to kickstart the conversation?

 

Bennett: The founding of March For Our Lives after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the catalyst which sparked my gun violence prevention activism. I started a club at my high school called Ward Melville Students Take Action, which encouraged students to protest the gun violence epidemic through walkouts and other protests.

 

Stephen: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues like gun violence  and organize events?

 

Bennett: It's been very exciting organizing events that raise awareness of gun violence in America. The first event I organized was a school walkout during my senior year of high school following the Parkland shooting. The walkout was very successful with 150 students in attendance. With March For Our Lives Binghamton University, it's been really inspiring working with other young people who care so much about the movement. We've held numerous events, from vigils for gun violence victims to town halls with local politicians and letter-writing campaigns. I've been able to kickstart the conversation with other young people, because the gun violence epidemic is something that everyone in our generation has experience with. Whether it be through seeing mass shootings on the news, participating in lockdown drills, or experiencing it directly. Most, if not all, young people believe gun violence is a serious problem in the U.S. Since young people already know it's a problem, my task is to simply show them that it can be solved. I've been able to do this through discussions on specific gun violence prevention policies such as universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.

 

Stephen: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to gun violence prevention  in America?

 

Bennett: Our lawmakers have to act in order to end the gun violence epidemic in America. They need to support sweeping gun safety reform, including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, red flag laws, etc. We know that they won't do any of this while they're in the NRA's pocket. That's why it's crucial to vote out spineless politicians who choose to take blood money from the NRA in order to get reelected rather than support common sense gun safety reform that would save countless lives. Our society needs to understand that more guns will not solve this issue. Arming security guards will only support the school-to-prison pipeline and put students of color at risk. The problem we face is a lack of systemic action to end this epidemic. Lockdown drills and bullet-proof backpacks won't solve this problem. We the people have to take the power back from the gun lobby and elect representatives who believe that people's lives are worth more than guns.

 

Stephen: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Bennett: I've been working with the executive board of March for Our Lives BU throughout this semester, holding a wide array of events. Right now, we're working on an event to write letters to Congressman Anthony Brindisi (D-NY-22). We will encourage him to support a ban on assault weapons along with other common sense gun safety legislation. 

 

Stephen: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Bennett: To other young activists, I would say never stop fighting for what you believe in. Although it may be hard at times and you will face resistance, that shouldn't stop you. The resistance you face while creating change is just proof of your power. Continue to use that power to create a more free and just society.

BENNETT OWENS

@bennettowens

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I spoke with A’niya Taylor, a 16-year-old gun control activist from Baltimore, MD. She is also the #Suffrage16 Maryland State Lead! We talked about gun violence in urban communities, the erasure of Black and brown people, and poetry.

 

Isabel: What got you involved in fighting for gun control among other young people in the United States?

 

A’niya: The first thing that inspired me to get involved with gun violence prevention was the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. I learned about March For Our Lives when I was in high school and decided that this is what I wanted to do. I went to the MFOL in D.C. and I felt like this was where my voice needed to be heard. That we needed to see people who looked like me talking about gun violence in urban communities and the erasure of Black and brown people. No one talks about that enough and I knew that was where my voice needed to be.

 

Isabel: Right. What is something you wish people understood about gun violence in your community of Baltimore?

 

A’niya: That this is our everyday. MFOL wasn’t created until there was a mass shooting in Parkland, but in Baltimore we have mass shootings every week. We lose people on the regular. People in my city have become numb to it. We are just like “oh another dead body” and everyone else talks about how sad gun violence is, but then doesn’t talk about Baltimore. Why does everyone think that this started after Parkland? Why was Parkland the thing that got us to want to stop gun violence? Mass shootings cannot be the figurehead of gun violence. All gun violence is heartbreaking and I am not saying that shootings in urban areas should be looked at more, but look at us too. People talk about how 20 lives were lost in a shooting, but one life should’ve been enough. I know so many people who have lost their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. I have been affected by gun violence numerous times yet there are still no changes at all. Everyone is too scared to talk about it. Everyone makes it seem like Black and brown communities are “killing each other,” but no one stops to ask why. 

 

Isabel: How has being a part of MFOL and Students Demand Action helped you feel empowered as a young woman of color?

 

A’niya: There are not a lot of Black people in these movements, I will not lie. It makes me feel empowered and like we are not being represented enough. When I got involved with MFOL, I saw that there were not a lot of people of color compared to white people. It makes me feel empowered to have a seat at the table, but also why do not many people look like me? I do feel empowered to be at the table at all because there was a time when that could not have happened. It is such a time to be Black youth in America specifically a Black young girl in America where our voices matter because had this been even 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have mattered. Now I am leading chapters and I am the one at the forefront. That makes a difference. 

 

Isabel: I saw on your Instagram that you do a lot of poetry. How has poetry been helpful to you with your gun reform and youth activism?

 

A’niya: Poetry is a form of healing. If you are not healing yourself, you are healing others. When writing about gun violence and Black people facing gun violence, I don’t think I have ever written a happy poem. My best poems are the ones that make me feel something because when you feel something you are able to deliver it in the best way possible. Even if no one else got it, I was able to heal from how I felt. I speak in poems because I don’t know how to speak regularly. 

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

A’niya: I have an organization located in Baltimore City College that is dedicated to working with marginalized communities. Right now we are working on a mural to help beautify Baltimore. Everyone wants to talk about how Baltimore is this city that has nothing going for it, but it is not. We are getting artists and activists together to reclaim our city. March For Our Lives Baltimore is also working on a die-in at the immigration camps to help the children.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

A’niya: There is a quote from a Rabbi that states “if I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” You are in charge of your own destiny. If you aren’t fighting for yourself, no one else will. 

A'NIYA TAYLOR

@poetic_nonsense_

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I spoke with Doran Walters, a 17-year-old gun control activist from Oklahoma City, OK. She is also a member of the MKM Social Media Team! We talked about the students from Parkland, March For Our Lives Oklahoma, and social media.

 

Isabel: What got you involved in fighting for gun violence prevention and why do you believe it’s so important?

 

Doran: I, like a lot of gun control activists, got involved after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I was heartbroken, and when I saw the students from Parkland had created March For Our Lives, I knew I had to do something; I had to get involved. I was tired of thoughts and prayers. Gun legislation can and will save lives however our leaders, the people elected by the people, seem to care more about guns than people. It is illogical that anyone should be walking around with a weapon of war. 

 

Isabel: Talk to me about the chapter of March For Our Lives in your community. What kind of impact have you been able to make through that work?

 

Doran: March For Our Lives Oklahoma City is a relatively new chapter. I helped plan the march two years ago and it was amazing. We had around 4,000 people show up in the middle of Oklahoma. It was pretty unbelievable. Our current goal is education and discussion. We want to turn the spotlight in Oklahoma back to gun violence. We have an amazing Moms Demand group here and they have done some incredible work. There is currently a petition that we are all pushing that will prevent permitless carry from going into effect in Oklahoma. We have some big plans and we can't wait to really implement them. 

 

Isabel: Cool! You are also a member of the MKM social media team. Why do you believe social media is such a useful tool for activism?

 

Doran: In today's world, social media is the backbone of activism. It's how activists communicate, plan, and spread the word. Social media allows anyone to have a voice and I love that. I love running social media because it's the link between an organization and the world. I get to connect with people and educate them. With social media, you always have the comments and hate, but I've learned to ignore it or use it as an opportunity to educate others. One part of social media that is important to me is being kind. I don't want to attack or hate someone because their views are different than my own. That's not good for my cause or for my own outlook on life.

 

Isabel: How do you find that youth activism is intersectional in your other political work?

 

Doran: Activism is intersectional. No matter what issue a person focuses on it connects to other issues. Gun violence is not just a guns issue; it's a women's issue, a mental health issue, a human rights issue, a justice system issue, a race issue, a poverty issue, an education issue. Most issues connect with each other and you can fight them together. I focus most of my energy on gun violence and I try to fight the issues that are a part of it. The system is broken, but we can pick up the pieces together.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Doran: I have some events for March for Our Lives that we're planning. We're hoping to do a lot of community outreach. We also have a plan to educate. It's still very preliminary so I don't want to say too much in case it doesn't happen. I'm also so glad to be working with MKM. I'm really excited about the self-care threads I have planned. I have struggled with my mental and physical health so I want to use everything I have learned to help other activists. Activists often forget about themselves and really suffer because of it. It's really important to me that I can help remind young people that they are important and sometimes they need to put themselves first. 

 

Isabel: So great. What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?


Doran: I say do it. Be brave. Find what you're passionate about and go for it. Also, don't be afraid to be creative. You don't just change the world through speeches. What do you bring to the table? Whatever your talent or passion is tie it into your activism. There will be a way. Use your voice, but also remember that you will do more working with others. You can't effectively spread your message if you drown out everyone else. Avoid drama. It will happen but take a step back. Do not only communicate over text, if you can try to meet in person to figure things out. Everything will be much easier, I promise.

DORAN WALTERS

@dorandwalters

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I chatted with Juli Russ, a 16-year-old gun control activist from Fort Thomas, KY. We spoke about Sandy Hook, the gun debate, and Mitch McConnell. 

Isabel: How did you get involved with politics specifically relating to gun reform?

Juli: I’ve always felt a strong connection to gun reform advocacy because I am a student. I have been part of the first generation to experience normalized lockdown drills, which didn’t even exist thirty years ago. When the Sandy Hook shooting occurred, I remember coming home from school to see my mom breaking down in tears, thinking about how the victims could have been my brother or I, and wondering when things would change. It has been almost seven years since that day, but guns are still not regulated in this country. My first real advocacy event for gun reform happened when I organized a walkout at my school in March of 2018 in support of the victims of the massacre in Parkland, FL.

 

Isabel: What are we getting wrong with how we talk about gun violence in this country?

 

Juli: Many people try to make the debate black or white, guns vs. no guns, but that isn’t the reality of what gun reform advocates want. Regulation, training, and licenses are all we ask. No one wants to take your guns away; we simply want to make it harder for the wrong people to obtain these weapons, because right now it is frighteningly easy. I read a really interesting comparison made to the way we treat driving a car in this country versus how we treat buying a gun. To drive, you have to have training, pass multiple tests, obtain adequate insurance, and if you misuse your car or get caught doing something illegal, your license is revoked. Guns are solely built to kill, unlike cars, but even the threat of people getting into accidents calls for those levels of regulation and restriction.

 

Isabel: Talk about your experience founding March For Our Lives in Fort Thomas. What have you learned from organizing in that group?

Juli: Three of my friends and I first started the March For Our Lives Fort Thomas chapter in January of 2019. All of us were equally passionate about gun violence prevention, and the large turnout of our peers at the walkout the year before motivated us to take action on a larger scale. I’m so proud to say that our chapter has been involved in organizing marches around the Cincinnati area, a vigil outside of Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office, letter-writing campaigns to elected officials, multiple voter registration canvasses, and so much more. Not only have I learned a lot about dealing with pushback from people who disagree with our mission, but I’ve also grown as an activist by interacting with so many people who care as much as me about keeping our schools and our communities safe from danger. Activism is a learning experience in and of itself, because it takes so much willpower, commitment, and planning to be able to pull off successful events. I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done with MFOL and can’t wait to continue doing more work during this year and in years to come.

 

Isabel: What is something you would like to see your community do on a local level to prevent violence and further equality?

 

Juli: Addressing gun violence on a local level is difficult, because so many regulations come from the state legislature. In Kentucky, we have a lot of really problematic laws that have been passed by the Bevin administration, including most recently the permitless carry law, which allows people to carry guns without licensure. On a local level, gun violence education is the key to promoting safety in our schools until the government catches up. Recognizing signs of students who may be a threat to themselves and others, as well as providing support for those students, is another way to attack gun violence in our schools. 

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects you are working on now or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Juli: Currently, I’m working with the MFOL Kentucky team to organize a town hall with Mitch McConnell in which constituents can address their concerns about his Congressional tactics, especially as they pertain to blocking gun violence prevention efforts. His NRA profits are no secret. Once the legislature is back in session, I plan on bringing a group of passionate advocates such as myself down to Frankfort so we can have a lobby day for gun reform. The more people we bring, the bigger an impact the lobby day will have. I also plan on hosting a lobbying training day to prep people for the trip with the skills I learned this past summer at the ACLU of Kentucky’s Summer Organizing Institute.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Juli: Don’t be afraid to tackle power structures and harmful policies that impact you and those you love. Many people mistakenly believe that their words and actions don’t matter, but every voice is important. Only you can control how loudly your voice is amplified. The ultimate way to use your voice is through voting. Vote, encourage the people around you to vote, and do your research before you head to the ballot boxes. Young people have so much potential to change the world, and we will if we band together and exercise our civic duty in November.

JULI RUSS

@juli.russ

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Our Midwestern Regional Director, Caroline Skwara, spoke with Meena Jani, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Columbus, OH. They talked about State of Ohio Youth Activists, intersectionality, and a Dr. Martin Luther King JR quote.

 

Caroline: Can you tell us about how you got involved with State of Ohio Youth Activists and your current role within that organization? 

 

Meena: I co-founded State of Ohio Youth Activists (SOYA) during the gun reform movement propelled by some of the courageous Parkland shooting survivors. When planning for my school’s walkout on March 14, 2018, I got in touch with students from nearby high schools who were also planning walkouts. We formed a group chat, and some of us also met in person to collaborate, since the organizing process was similar for all of us. After the walkout, many of us felt like it was a pivotal moment—either the gun reform activism in our area would start to fizzle out, or we could build on the momentum from the walkouts and help the movement grow. So we came together to discuss how we could move forward. The result was SOYA, which empowers youth in Ohio to fight for a safer future. We don’t only address gun reform—we are a progressive organization whose purpose is to create a statewide body of student activists that can organize political action on a number of issues, such as climate justice, reproductive justice, and LGBTQ rights. As a founder and leader of SOYA, my role changes depending on our focus at a particular time. I am a manager of the SOYA Instagram account (@stateofohioyouthactivists), and often work to publicize our events and other events in the area. In addition, I have been on committees to organize some of our initiatives and protests, such as our gun reform rally, climate strike rallies, and #StudentsAgainstKavanaugh initiative.

 

Caroline: How has being a young woman of color inspired you to get involved with activism in general? 

 

Meena: As a young woman of color, I have struggled, and continue to struggle, to raise my voice. I mean this both politically and personally—because for me, politics is personal. Our society tells women of color that to please others, we must take up as little space as possible. If we stand up for ourselves, we are considered cold or intimidating. If we stand up for others, we “can’t take a joke.” We are socialized to keep our mouths shut for fear that our voices would be an inconvenience. Becoming an activist has helped me to push back against this mentality, to speak up first and smile later, to defend my own dignity before preserving other people’s pride. Through activism, I want to help create a future in which all women of color can unapologetically be themselves. My passion about certain issues is also fueled by my identity as an Indian-American woman. I want to fight against xenophobia within my cultural community; I’m passionate about immigrant rights, and I want more Asian-American immigrant communities to stand in solidarity with Hispanic and Latinx immigrants. I also aim to push back against white feminism, which is rooted in imperialist and Orientalist attitudes toward parts of the world including India. Finally, I am against eurocentrism in education; the history of my ancestors should be taught as part of a requirement instead of an elective. 

 

Caroline: You also do a lot of gender equality work. In light of the recent abortion bans, what have you been working on to help secure reproductive rights for women?

 

Meena: I have been working on getting SOYA connected with reproductive rights organizations that are fighting to stop the bans. We are getting in contact with Voices United For Women, which has hosted a rally in Columbus against the bans. On the SOYA Instagram page, I have publicized other protests, links to petitions and open letters that people can sign, and information about how to volunteer with Planned Parenthood. Finally, I formed a SOYA Abortion Rights Committee to hopefully get SOYA more involved with reproductive rights issues in the future, especially since Ohio is one state in which a ban has been passed.

 

Caroline: So, you mentioned that you’re involved in activism for a few different causes; notably, gun violence, climate change, and reproductive rights. That being said, can you talk about the intersectionality of these issues? 

 

Meena: The reason that I try to be involved with so many causes is precisely because of intersectionality—it would be a mistake to talk about one cause and not talk about the other causes that are connected to it. When I wrote the platform and my speech for the walkout against gun violence, I included domestic violence, police violence, hate crimes, and suicides as gun violence problems that we must solve in addition to school shootings. Of course, part of the solution is common sense gun reform. However, the problem is deeper. Gun violence is a military issue—one result of the US’ heavy defense spending and the military industrial complex is the militarization of our police forces, which contributes to police brutality. Gun violence is a racial justice issue—black people are much more likely to be shot by police. Gun violence is a corporate lobbying issue, as shown by the power of the NRA, and it is also a toxic masculinity issue and a mental health issue. Gun violence can even be linked to the climate crisis, considering how corporate power has destroyed our environment. A recent example is the Flint water crisis; it is both a climate issue, a class issue, and a racial justice issue, since the government has been so slow to respond and Flint is a majority black and low-income town. In fact, the same corporate greed that contributes to gun violence and climate change restricts healthcare access too. 

 

Caroline: Are there any current activism projects that you want to shout out or plans for the future?

 

Meena: SOYA is looking to expand so that we can take on more future initiatives. If you are a high school student in Ohio, we would love to have you! Text @soyamember to 81010 to join our Remind. You can also register as a member using the Google form on our website, www.stateofohioyouthactivists.wordpress.com. Finally, you can follow us on Instagram (@stateofohioyouthactivists), Twitter (@SOYAOrg), and Facebook (State of Ohio Youth Activists).

 

Caroline: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world? 

 

Meena: Have faith. Whenever you rock the boat, there are critics who question your purpose, who blame you for causing tensions or disrupting the status quo. I really like this quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” So start by ignoring the critics and having faith in yourself. Trust that when the time comes to pick up the megaphone, you will know what to do. Never lose sight of your goal, and believe that your cause is just. At the same time, have faith in others. Don’t be afraid to step aside and give someone else that megaphone. You should not compromise your core values, but collaboration is necessary to build widespread, intersectional movements. Trust that if people believe in your cause, they will show up to fight for it. Finally, have faith in the fight. People may say that you’re not going to make a difference. And if you see the election of a new politician or the implementation of a new policy as the only indicators of change, then it’s true that one petition or one rally might not give you that. But it’s actually the less tangible changes, the new conversations and the shifts within communities, that accumulate to transform the world.

MEENA JANI

@meenajani

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Our Midwestern Regional Director, Caroline Skwara, interviewed Ethan Nichols, a 17-year-old gun control activist from Cincinnati, OH. They talked about Ohio Students for Gun Legislation, a Parkland vigil, and resisting the Trump agenda.

 

Caroline: Talk about your work with Ohio Students for Gun Legislation. What inspired you to found that organization and what has your experience been like as its President and Chief Strategist? 

Ethan: In 2018 I attended a PeaceJam conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and attended a workshop with the founders of Students for Gun Legislation, an organization that is dedicated to ending gun violence in America, mainly through legislative action. I had previously attended the March For Our Lives in Cincinnati, and walked out of school on March 14th, 2018, so I was pumped up about joining the fight against gun violence. When I learned about SFGL, I decided that I wanted to start a chapter in Ohio. At the time SFGL was just in Michigan, and now we are active in four states, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Currently I am the President and Chief Strategist of Ohio Students for Gun Legislation, and it is an amazing opportunity. Since I launched the group, a little over a year ago, we have grown to roughly 35-40 members active in Ohio, and have led and organized marches, rallies, vigils, and more. 

Caroline: Why do you think it’s important for youth to protest against gun violence and try to make their voices heard on that particular issue? 

Ethan: With 100 people being shot and killed everyday, it is important that young people start standing up and fighting against gun violence. The March For Our Lives and the shooting in Parkland really launched gun violence into the forefront of young people's minds, but I do think it's important to mention that school shootings and mass shootings we see on the news are not the biggest part of gun violence. People in lower-income areas and people of color, as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community, face more gun violence than anyone else. So it's important to address all forms of gun violence, and not just the headline shootings we see. I am an activist on many fronts, not just gun violence, but I think that this issue in particular is very important for young people to stand up and speak-out about. Our elected officials have failed us, and not just on this issue. 

Caroline: What has been your most memorable experience as an advocate for gun control? 

Ethan: On the anniversary of the Parkland shooting this year I helped organize a vigil for it, and it went really well. We played a slideshow of all the pictures of the victims set to Shine by Sawyer Garritty, and during the video I looked over at one of our speakers, Ethel Guttenberg (the grandmother of Jaime Guttenberg, who was murdered in Parkland) and she was crying. Slowly a group of activists moved up with their arms around her. It was so moving and beautiful. She was surrounded by all of these amazing activists, and it was an extremely uplifting experience. Another memorable experience was when I helped organize a second March For Our Lives in Northern Kentucky this year, and one of the speakers was this AMAZING kid. He had to be around 9 or 10 years old, and he got up and spoke with the megaphone. Those are some of the most memorable experiences I've had by far.

Caroline: I know that you're also involved with Cincinnati Indivisible. Can you discuss what that organization is all about and your role in it? 

Ethan: Cincinnati Indivisible is a 502(c)4 nonprofit, dedicated to resisting the Trump agenda. We organize actions, meet with legislators, and join other events and rallies across Southwest Ohio to fight the Trump agenda. We are an entirely student organized political advocacy group. I am the Media Director for Cincinnati Indivisible. My job is to help manage our social media presence and promote events. The thing I like most about Cincinnati Indivisible is that we get to focus on so many issues.

 

Caroline: Are there any activism projects you are working on/plans for the future that you would like to talk about? 

 

Ethan: I am working on planning a student activism summit in Ohio at the end of the summer. Then in September another group I work with, Ohio Climate Strike, is planning to hold rallies and strikes to protest for climate justice across Ohio, as well as other events! 

Caroline: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world? 

Ethan: I think the best advice I could offer young activists is to make connections. One of the big mistakes I made at first was to attend these awesome events, but I wouldn't talk to the organizers or connect with people I didn't already know. Part of that was that I can be pretty introverted, but it is very important to make connections, not just with other activists, but also with elected officials, reporters, etc. After I learned from my mistake, I started collecting business cards and contact information whenever I attended events. I now have three job offers for the 2021 City Council and Mayoral elections in Cincinnati.

ETHAN NICHOLS

@ethanrp02

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I talked to Debbie Goldberg, a 17-year-old gun control activist from Cherry Hill, NJ. She is also one of MKM’s Northeastern Regional Directors! We talked about a Never Again group, MFOL Philly, and the younger generation.

 

Isabel: So, you work as Vice President for your school’s Never Again gun violence prevention club. How did that group form and what are your goals for its future?

 

Debbie: This group was actually formed by a few kids in my U.S. History class. We were talking about Parkland, which had recently happened, and we felt like we had to do something, we couldn’t just sit in silence anymore. In the future, I hope the club can be more involved with the overarching goal. We hope to meet with representatives in the state of NJ, work together with MFOL NJ and MFOL Philly, and such. 

 

Isabel: You are also the Director of Finance and Fundraising for MFOL Philly. What has the impact of that organization been like for you and your community?

 

Debbie: It’s been tremendous. I personally have learned so much through this organization that I didn’t know coming in. It also teaches me a lot of life skills and brought me out of my shell. As for the community, MFOL Philly works in a community that is impacted by gun violence more than most other communities. The presence of the organization has enabled more awareness and change to be brought to the issue of gun violence in the city.

 

Isabel: Why is gun violence prevention important to you as a young person?

 

Debbie: Gun violence is an issue that impacts everyone. As a young person, there is a school component that plays a big role for me. There is a certain inherent fear that comes with going to school nowadays, and that is not okay. It has been normalized to be afraid of such a basic thing, and that is not okay. In addition to that, gun violence impacts everyone - regardless of race, religion, gender, age, etc. it is a universal issue.

 

Isabel: How have your opinions of youth activism evolved through your journey with it?

 

Debbie: Like many people, there was a part of me that believed that as a young person, what I could do was very limited. However, throughout my journey with activism I have learned that I was very wrong. Youth activism is such a crucial part of bringing about changes in our country. As the younger generation, we are affected as much as everyone else, if not more, by the laws that our government passes and the decisions that it makes. Youth activism is unlimited. It provides young people with a voice just as powerful anybody else’s. 

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Debbie: March For Our Lives Philly is having a town hall at the end of August, which is very exciting. Definitely check it out if you can.

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Debbie: I would tell other young people to just speak their truth. I would tell them to not be intimidated by the opinions of others or the criticism from “adults.” Their opinion is just as valid as anybody else’s, and their perspective is not wrong. If they speak their truth, fight for what they believe in, and stay persistent, they will bring about change. 

DEBBIE GOLDBERG

@debbie__goldberg

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Our Midwestern Regional Director, Caroline Skwara, talked to Yousuf Munir, a 16-year-old gun control activist from Cincinnati, OH. They talked about uplifting youth voices, youth organizing, and history. 

 

Caroline: Why is the gun control movement important to you and how did you get involved?

 

Yousuf: I got involved after the shooting in Parkland. I always thought that we needed more restrictions, but I didn’t feel like I, as a teenager, could do anything to change that. After seeing high school students around the world stand up and take action, I knew I could do it too. I started by helping to plan the national school walkouts and a few walkouts here in Cincinnati. The reason this movement is so important to me is because it is about lives. It is about the fact that kids are getting killed in their schools and communities. If I can do something to stop that, that is what I need to do. It’s my moral obligation. 

 

Caroline: Absolutely. How do you feel like your community and our country as a whole could better support the youth-led fight for gun legislation?

 

Yousuf: I think our country can help by uplifting the voices of not only the young people, but of the young people who see this all the time. Young people in low-income communities or communities with largely people of color. I think if we keep seeing those voices being uplifted, it will make a difference. 

 

Caroline: What has been your most memorable experience as an advocate for gun control?

 

Yousuf: I believe that activism is about building a community and making your community better. My most memorable experience would be meeting my friends who are activists and getting involved to help with their work. 

 

Caroline: So, both in and out of the gun reform movement, you have done a lot of organizing around things you are passionate about. What have you learned about youth activism through advocating with your peers for change?

 

Yousuf: I’ve learned that young people are a lot easier to work with and more effective than older people sometimes. Young people are more accepting of change whereas older people are more set in their ways, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it is easier to work with people who are willing to listen. Youth organizing is almost always built on passion and a need to do what is right.

 

Caroline: We are a very powerful demographic. Are there any activism projects that you are working on or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

 

Yousuf: Young Activists Coalition, which I am a part of, and Students Demand Action are planning on organizing an interfaith event to talk about the gun sense movement. We are also planning on trying to stop the abortion bills that have been introcuded in the Ohio legislature. We just want more people to get involved.

 

Caroline: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Yousuf: Do what you are passionate about. Don’t let people tell you that you are stupid or dumb or that you’re activism won’t change anything. People said that to Martin Lurther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but history remembers them as having made a difference. 

YOUSUF MUNIR

@yousuf__munir

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I spoke with Ahmad Ibsais, an 18-year-old gun control activist from Sarasota, FL. We chatted about global health issues, college students, and the March For Our Lives in Sarasota. 

 

Isabel: How does being a young Muslim American shape your perspective on political issues like gun reform?

 

Ahmad: It has shown me that all activism movements are related. Climate change is a global health issue, so is gun violence. These issues affect minorities disproportionately and as a young Muslim American, I can really see that.

 

Isabel: Totally. As a new college student as well, why do you feel like students will be the ones to end the gun violence epidemic?

 

Ahmad: I think up until recently, youth activists were not as well known as we are now. That is especially true with college students because as we are being recognized as young adults, we are also wanting to be more progressive and see meaningful legislation get passed. 

 

Isabel: What has been your favorite organizing experience within the gun control and youth activism movements?

 

Ahmad: Right after the Parkland shooting, I went to the March For Our Lives in my city and it was the largest rally in history for Sarasota, Florida. This year I planned the MFOL in Sarasota myself. I’m not majoring in political science. I am majoring in global health, but it goes to show you that anyone can learn activism.

 

Isabel: What are your goals for your community when it comes to activism and inclusivity?

 

Ahmad: Including people of color would be a big thing. I am starting an organization with fellow students called Ground Zero which will fight for global health equity among different races and religions. That is an organization run by people of color and females in particular. So often women get left out of the political landscape even though they are so proactive. 

 

Isabel: Yep! Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

 

Ahmad: I am founding Ground Zero and we are going to try to plan a rally or march on Global Health Day in April of next year. We want to keep building our social media campaign and educate the public on global health issues that are not talked about in the media. I also want to organize more marches and rallies for Palestinian rights.

 

Isabel: That’s amazing. What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Ahmad: Start as early as you can. We have all been there before and we didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we all did it, so you can too.

AHMAD IBSAIS

@ahmad.ibsais

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I spoke with Eternity Rodriguez, a 16-year-old gun control activist from Spring Hill, FL. We talked about Sandy Hook, communities listening to young people, and MFOL Tampa.

 

Isabel: You do a lot of work with March For Our Lives. How did you get involved with gun control action in the first place?

 

Eternity: My first time wishing our gun laws would change was when I was in elementary school. I was still in elementary school when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. I have clear memories of coming home that day and my mom hugged me tighter than she ever did before. I was old enough to understand what happened and it registered in my head that I could go to school one morning and never return that afternoon, but I was barely 10 at the time, I really couldn’t think of how to change things. Now, about 6 years later I’m a high school student and the shooting in Parkland happened. It was the first school shooting that happened since I was in high school. I again felt this sense of fear. This is where my activism begins. I’ve been involved with MFOL from the start and I also worked with Ohio Students for Gun Legislation and the Future Coalition. I currently work with MFOL Tampa.

 

Isabel: As a young person, why do you believe that gun reform should be a top priority of our lawmakers?

 

Eternity: I believe gun reform should be a top priority because anyone can be a victim of gun violence. No matter where you live, what race or ethnicity you are, no matter what religion you are or you socioeconomic status. Anyone can become a victim of gun violence. I don’t think a lot of people realize this, they push this issue aside because they believe it won’t happen where they live.

 

Isabel: Yep. How do you feel that your community could better support young people in the fight for safety?

 

Eternity: I think my community or really any community could listen to us and give us a chance before brushing us off because we are “just kids.” Or they could be more open in hearing opinions that differ from theirs. They don’t have to agree with us or accept our opinions, but just listening to us pushes us one step closer to change. 

 

Isabel: What are your goals for youth activism and advocacy going forward?

 

Eternity: One of my goals for youth activism and advocacy would be to get more people involved. To make teenagers aware of these issues and how they can be fixed. Let them start to think of solutions for these problems. Who knows, maybe some kid has an amazing idea, but they don’t know how to speak out or they think someone won’t listen to them. I want to gain more youth involvement in these movements, especially youth of voting age or approaching voting age. I want to help connect these kids with organizations that will help them and make sure their voice is heard. 

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Eternity: I am currently working with MFOL Tampa on the #GenerationLockdown campaign by MFOL National.  MFOL Tampa is doing something really cool so keep a lookout on our social media. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Eternity: If I could give any type of advice it would be don’t give up. There will be times you will be frustrated and feel like no one is hearing you, but your voice matters. Get involved in any way possible, join an organization that supports your cause or better yet form an organization that will support the cause. When I first joined Ohio Students for 

Gun Legislation, we were a group of 4 to 5 students from all around Ohio. It was rewarding to see the group grow and get more involved. Activism can be hard work, but it’s really rewarding when you hit big milestones. 

ETERNITY RODRIGUEZ

@eternityrod

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I spoke with Paige Cromley, a 17-year-old gun control activist from Houston, TX. She’s also the Education Coordinator for MKM! We talked about counter-protestors in Texas, Emma Gonzalez, and education.

 

Isabel: Talk a little bit about your work with MFOL Houston. What inspired you to join that organization and why is it important to you?

 

Paige: My sophomore year of high school, I started and led the March for Our Lives event in Houston. Though I’d always been aware of current events and passionate about issues like gender equality, it was the first time I got involved with activism in my community. It was an absolute whirlwind and I definitely didn’t expect all the work that leading a march would come with, but I also couldn’t have expected how fulfilling it felt to march with my peers and work toward change. 

 

Isabel: What has it been like advocating for gun safety in a more conservative state? 

 

Paige: Though I truly believe in gun safety, as I believe every kid has the right to feel safe in their neighborhood and school, I can’t lie and say that it hasn't been hard to advocate for in Texas. At our rallies, counter-protestors show up with guns to intimidate us, and I sometimes struggle to keep my head held high while walking past them. It’s been eye-opening advocating for an issue in an area where it’s so controversial, and I’ve learned so much about how to have healthy and productive conversations with people who have differing views from my own. I’ve also become so much more confident because of my activism, as I’ve realized the worth in my voice and opinion.

 

Isabel: Why do you think that young women and obviously women of color, are so important in political movements like the fight for gun reform?

 

Paige: I think girls often feel as if they don’t matter, but young female activists around the globe are changing this perception by speaking up. We need more women at the forefront of movements, because the female voice continues to be disproportionately ignored in the political sphere. By fighting for gun safety, action against climate change, or any other issue, girls are also advocating for themselves and showing the world that they matter. It’s teenage girls like Emma Gonzalez that originally inspired me to become involved in activism, which is why I’m so excited to work with the Meddling Kids Movement as the Education Coordinator. By showcasing young activists and the work they do, Meddling Kids Movement inspires other kids to speak up and educate themselves on important issues.

 

Isabel: So glad you brought that up. You were recently hired to be the Education Coordinator for MKM. Yay! Why do you believe that education in youth activism is so important?

 

Paige: Young people need to gain a better understanding of the causes they feel passionate about, the work their peers are doing, and how they can make a difference. It all starts with education and awareness; then comes action. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Paige: There are so many kids out there who are just waiting for something to call them to action, for a spark to jump them into action. If that’s you, and you’re reading this, my one piece of advice to you is that whatever you have in mind to change this world for the better, do it now. There’s no use in waiting, even if you think you’re too young or if the project seems too big. Get to work and know that all the kids featured on this site are cheering you on.

PAIGE CROMLEY

@paigecharlotte1

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I spoke with Ashley Causey, a 19-year-old gun control activist from Helena, AL. We talked about March For Our Lives Birmingham, age discrimination, and the civil rights movement. 

 

Isabel: How did you get involved with the youth-led gun violence prevention movement?

 

Ashley: I got involved with March For Our Lives through Facebook, actually. As soon as they announced there was going to be a national march, I looked everywhere to see if Birmingham had one. There weren’t any details worked out, it was just an idea of “what if we did have a march?” I started reaching out to organizations across the state and got them on board. 

 

Isabel: What has it been like leading a MFOL chapter in a more conservative state?

 

Ashley: It’s been difficult. Even with my family, they still support me fully, but most of them don’t agree with what I am doing. Some of our other organizers weren’t that fortunate. I was still in high school when I was organizing it and seeing the language used around gun violence made it really hard to bite my tongue. Leading it has been a great experience. It has changed my life and I will never be the same, in a good way. 

 

Isabel: That is great. What would you like to see from your community when it comes to common sense gun laws and youth activism?

 

Ashley: I would like to see less discrimination based on age. You have older people who think “they are too young,” but you also have younger people who think “they are too old.” We need to get to know each other before we judge anyone. 

 

Isabel: Why do you believe that youth activism can be productive in communities that might not be so open-minded?

 

Ashley: We are very lucky because in our state especially, we have a lot of youth-led movements to look back on. Looking at the civil rights movement in Alabama has given us a much better guide for how we make change and we are gonna be the future. I have really bad anxiety and I never liked talking in front of people, but after seeing how students stood up after a horrible tragedy- that’s what got me involved.

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

 

Ashley: I am currently restructuring the way MFOL Birmingham is conducted. I am not from Birmingham, I am from an over-the-mountain city, and I can’t fathom some of the experiences people in Birmingham have gone through, so I want to get them involved. I want to make the group more about actual policies that will affect change. I’m also working on a voter outreach program for high schools, so that all high school seniors will be able to learn about voting. 

 

Isabel: What is your advice for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Ashley: Anybody can do it. It opens up so many opportunities for you to get to know so many people. My main thing is just that anybody can do it. It’s a lot easier than people think.

ASHLEY CAUSEY

@ashleycausey57

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Our Western Regional Director, Stephen Baker, interviewed Stephan Abrams, a 16-year-old gun control activist from San Diego, CA. They talked about Team Enough San Diego, talking to people who disagree, and learning about gun violence.

 

Stephen: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

 

Stephan: My whole life I have always been passionate about social justice issues, but I hadn’t found a platform to create real change about the issues I care about. However, after the Parkland shooting, I immediately started organizing at the local level. Once I started getting more attention for my walkout and events at my school I was asked by Kara Chine, my organizer at Team Enough, if I wanted to help her build up Team Enough San Diego and join other high schoolers to continue the fight for gun violence prevention.

 

Stephen: What has it been like organizing events to raise awareness for gun violence across America?

 

Stephan: Organizing events for the gun violence prevention movement is one of my favorite, but also one of the hardest things to do as an activist. It’s important to talk to those who aren’t informed or disagree with you more than those who already agree with you. With those who agree with you, it’s important to build coalitions and organize together, but to have your event be more effective, you can’t only talk to those who think the same way as you.  

 

Stephen: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to gun legislation and human rights in America?

 

Stephan: When it comes to gun legislation and fighting for human rights, we aren’t as successful as we can be because of partisan politics. Most gun legislation is supported by all parties, but extremists from both parties create a divide that doesn’t allow us to get things done.

 

Stephen: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

 

Stephan: It’s important to get everyone involved because many issues are so complex and there are so many different aspects to take into consideration. Also, people who aren’t activists can sometimes make the most change since they can relate to those haven’t cared before and show them the importance of getting involved.

 

Stephen: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Stephan: We are working on lobbying with March For Our Lives and I am also looking forward to going to DC this summer to learn how to become a better activist. I think it’s super important to constantly be learning and understanding the facts when it comes to gun violence and that’s why I will also be using a John Hopkins online course to understand the statistics of gun violence better.

 

Stephen: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Stephan: Just go for it. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and do whatever you can to get involved. I would also say that you should join an organization that is very active in your community.

STEPHAN ABRAMS

@stephanabrams

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I talked to Rebecca Yanez, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Oklahoma City, OK. We spoke on MFOL OKC, gun safety education, and cooperate politicians.

 

Isabel: Talk about your work with March For Our Lives Oklahoma. What has your experience been like within that organization and what goals do you have for the group going forward?

 

Rebecca: I am currently the chapter lead for MFOL OKC and we are working on recruiting members into our chapter. I was also an organizer for the rally we had in honor of the 1 year anniversary of MFOL. We plan to go beyond the march and work on more events related to civic engagement. We also want to expand by helping people in Oklahoma start their own chapters, since MFOL OKC is going to only really impact the metro area and we want rural Oklahoma to join the fight. We also want to ensure that MFOL OKC is more diverse than it has previously been.

 

Isabel: Very cool. How do you feel like your community and our country as a whole could better support the youth-led fight for gun legislation?

 

Rebecca: I think it is important to take into account that education on gun safety, as well as gun laws should be implemented on a state and national level. Every state has different needs when it comes to legislation and there is not a one size fits all type of solution. Aside from that, registering to vote and showing up at the polls does wonders.

 

Isabel: You also do a lot of work with things like climate justice and reproductive rights. What does it mean for you to be an intersectional activist and why do you think that is important?

 

Rebecca: Being an intersectional activist is the understanding that every social issue intersects with each other. For instance, cooperate politicians (aka those who support big businesses over the lives of individuals)  that allow protections on big oil companies instead of increasing environmental protection laws are typically the same politicians who support the NRA. Also, activism must include all people regardless of race, gender identity, ability, sexuality, religion, immigration status, etc. If someone’s activism is not representative, then it is not sustainable.

 

Isabel: Why is it so vital to organize within a community or group of friends when it comes to creating change on a local or national level?

 

Rebecca: Organizing with a group is so important. It helps to spread awareness to the cause, whatever it may be, to the community and potentially inspire others to do the same, creating a chain reaction that garners a response from lawmakers.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to shout out or any plans for the future?

 

Rebecca: There are a couple of projects that I am working on. I am primarily focused on creating content for You Go Girl Oklahoma and trying to gain donations for Red Box Oklahoma (an organization meant to deliver period products to public schools.). I also am the new advocacy director for Youth Enacting Change and hope to help plan more events in Oklahoma.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Rebecca: To any young person wanting to make a change, regardless of where you live or how alone you may feel, just go out and do something. This can be anything from striking once a week from your school for climate, registering your friends and family to vote, or even setting up fundraisers for your local organizations. Or if you feel up to it, start an organization in your community or school. You may make mistakes along the way and that is okay. What matters is that you are actively working.

REBECCA YANEZ

@suitelifeonbec

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I talked with Sasha Ashton, a 16 year-old gun control activist from Austin, TX. We talked about black voices, Austin ideologies, and white women.

 

Isabel: Why is the gun violence epidemic important to you and how did you get involved in the movement to prevent it?

 

Sasha: I've always been aware of how black people were disproportionately affected by gun violence. When the Parkland shooting happened, and everyone my age was electrified by fear, I saw this sentiment that fear was gone at the end of the school day and knew I and so many other people who looked like me couldn't relate to that. I knew I had to get involved and speak that truth.

 

Isabel: What has been your most memorable experience as a gun reform activist and what did it teach you?

 

Sasha: Working on my school walkout, was an incredible experience, but also a reminder of the ways black voices are forgotten in activist spaces. So often in that process, I found myself spoken for, spoken over, and discounted. Having to stick up for myself and claim my space while still giving my whole self to make the event run smoothly was one of the biggest learning moments of my life thus far.

 

Isabel: Totally. I know a lot about fighting for common sense gun laws in a conservative state. What has it been like being an activist in an environment that isn’t  entirely supportive of it?

 

Sasha: Honestly, especially being a person of color, I find my activism dampened so much more by the faux-neoliberal Austin ideologies than the conservative Texas ones. All of the activism work I do is centered in uplifting marginalized voices, so when I struggle with support, it's usually because my voice makes white liberals uncomfortable. However, this is definitely different when it comes to political goings-on within the state, where we're represented by largely conservative lawmakers. Having to open people's eyes to that, and its effects, is definitely different.

 

Isabel: As a young woman of color, how do you feel that your voice goes overlooked in certain political discussions and what can our society do to better prevent that?

 

Sasha: People will always find a reason to shut me down, calling me angry or argumentative, stubborn, unwilling to compromise, etc. White people don't understand that in a lot of instances, people of color don't have the privilege of opinion. What could be nothing more than a hypothetical issue up for debate for a white person is a lived experience of a person of color. In addition, being a woman of color, I face a lot of racism that comes from white women specifically. I take a lot of issues with feminism, largely because its waves were built with stolen ideas from excluded women of color. I hear a lot of talk from white women who are activists and claim to be allies but cannot count the number of times they have spoken over me or failed to show up.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Sasha: I am currently in the early phases of developing a black youth march. Stay tuned, and keep up with my social media for more information!

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Sasha: Empathy first, always, in every context. If someone is only doing the work for the fame, or to ease their guilt, they're not doing the work. Feel every injustice. Feel every wrongdoing. Your brain has been indoctrinated with hate, internal and external, but if you sit with your heart, you'll know how to see straight through it.

SASHA ASHTON

@ashasashton

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I spoke with Alex Franzino, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Pennington, NJ. We chatted about MFOL Philly, the roots of gun violence, and being scared to go to school.

 

Isabel: So, you are the Director of Operations for MFOL Philadelphia. What do your responsibilities entail and how did you get involved with it?

 

Alex: As Director of Operations I am the main contact point for the group. I facilitate the leadership group as well as a larger group, which includes volunteers and people who may not want to take on a leadership role, but still want to be involved. I schedule calls, monitor our email, answer people's questions, and, with the help of the social media team, run all of our accounts. I initially got started with MFOL Philly during the march on March 24th, 2018. All I did was introduce a few of the speakers. Then, after a few months, I really tried to step in and be an active member for the group. During the Road to Change tour, I helped organize and contribute an event. I really enjoy what I do for the group and I really enjoy working with my team to create awesome initiatives!

 

Isabel: So cool. As a young person, what do you think your community can better do to help solve the gun violence epidemic?

 

Alex: A really important thing that needs to happen in order for this problem to be solved is for us to keep talking about it. The moment we stop talking about the gun violence epidemic it will fade in the background and nothing will get done. A lot of what we focus on at MFOL Philly are the different roots of gun violence. Yes, the easy access to guns is a tremendous problem, but why do people pick up a gun in the first place? A lot of the times, especially in the Philly area, it is due to failed education system and socioeconomic inequalities. In our communities, we need to show people who think they don't have a voice that they do. Everyone's voice is important and everyone matters. MFOL Philly strives to give young people in the Philly area a place to express their opinions and use their voice, especially since many of them do not have anywhere else to turn. Our communities need to lift up those who have experienced gun violence and show the country their stories.

 

Isabel: I saw your speech at the Women’s March in Philly and I thought it was incredible. What was it like writing that and what did that experience mean for you?

 

Alex: Writing the speech for the Women's March was a really great experience. Our game plan was for us to show the many sides of gun violence since we all had varying connections to it. My part of the speech was about school shootings. Although I have never experienced one myself, I do know what it is like to go to school terrified for my life. No one should have to be scared to go to school. I have heard countless stories from people, especially students, describing hearing the sound of a gun when they were trying to fall asleep. No matter what form it takes on, gun violence is a major problem in our country. We can not ignore it anymore.

 

Isabel: Yes. Why do you believe that politicians should be listening to young people when it comes to creating change on a local and national level?

 

Alex: We are the future. It's really that simple. Politicians should listen to us because we know what is really happening to our communities. If they choose not to listen to us, then they should be afraid because we will just replace them. Just because we are young people doesn't mean we don't have voices. We have relied on politicians to do the work for us for far too long and now we are speaking up and making sure they are doing what needs to be done in order to make change. They should listen to our cries for change because when the youth get involved, you know it is real.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Alex: Just do it. No one will judge you for it, and if someone does, ignore them and keep moving forward. Speak your mind, speak your truth. Your voice is so incredibly important and without it change may never happen. We need the young people to speak out and advocate for change because we are the future of the country and the world. We will eventually be running the world, so why not start early?

ALEX FRANZINO

@_alexfranz

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I talked to Stephen Baker, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Encinitas, CA. He is also the Graphics Coordinator and Western Regional Director for MKM! We spoke about Bernie Sanders, being a pseudo elected official, and putting people over profit.

 

Isabel: When I was researching for this interview, I was stunned because you work on so many human rights causes. What got you involved in politics and youth activism specifically?

 

Stephen: I have been involved in quite a few political movements, mostly involving human rights. 2016 was definitely a game changer for me, more specifically Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. His message inspired me and energized me. After the 2016 election and the unfortunate outcome, my activism and passion grew stronger and louder. Seeing the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh, being a survivor of sexual violence, the demonization of immigrants, who play a large role in the community in which I live, and the countless school shootings, myself being a high school student, are what I would consider some of the most notable motivations of my activism. I think my anger, frustration, hope, and desire for change naturally linked itself to student activism and the power that the youth truly have.

 

Isabel: I want to talk about your gun control work specifically. What has it been like organizing events to advocate for common sense gun laws and how has your community reacted?

 

Stephen: Gun control and common sense gun law reform has become one of my biggest concerns. Organizing the National School Walkout at my high school was by far one of the most humbling and empowering experiences of my life. Alongside organizing my schools National School Walkout, I helped organize my city’s March for Our Lives. When organizing an event of such importance like these, I found that I became a pseudo elected official. I became a representative, a leader who spoke to the students, engaged the students, and instilled a desire for change. Organizing these events reshaped who I am. I have become a leader for my community and become responsible for the duty of speaking truth to, energizing and engaging my peers while allowing for civil communication that leads to positive change.

 

Isabel: That is so cool. What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to gun legislation and human rights in America?

 

Stephen: In all honesty, I think it's about time we vote these out of touch lawmakers out, on both sides of the aisle. It's about time we recognize that a large amount current elected officials, including the current administration, remain complicit in our unhappiness towards the government. These politicians are corrupted by “organizations” like the NRA, the fossil fuel industry, big pharma, or lobbyist groups. It is no secret that when dark money investments plague our institutions, we the people become less important. When politicians listen to profit over people, we see the results in the failure to protect children from gun violence, the failure to provide a single-payer healthcare system, or the failure to stop climate change. What we need to do is elect unbought and unbossed politicians. At the end of the day, what we need is transparency, because the truth is America, we can do better.

 

Isabel: One hundred percent. Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people when it comes to creating change?

 

Stephen: We are in a world where pessimism has become the easiest solution. Where losing hope seems inevitable. As young people, we are incredibly impressionable, and as we reflect on the current state of the world, understanding and evaluating the daily onslaught of tragedies, we must remember that for every tragedy in a day, there are hundreds more acts of good faith. We need to connect with each other to create a safety net of hope and passion. There is strength in numbers, and when we stick together and fight alongside one another, we are virtually unstoppable. If we give into the divisive, hateful, fear-mongering rhetoric that has become all too familiar, we lose our power and we lose our voice.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Stephen: Currently, most of my time is dedicated to Bernie’s 2020 presidential campaign. I have been volunteering nonstop, from rallies to phone banking. I am also working on pushing the Green New Deal and Medicare for All into legislation because those issues are quite possibly the most critical for America to solve.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Stephen: Don't be afraid. Your voice holds so much power. Use social media, connect with other influencers online, join a campaign, a club, a movement, or create one. Never feel as if you are alone. You are not alone, there are so many other students and young people who are just as ready for a change. There is no revolution without the youth, and I think that's something any teenager struggling to find their place in activism needs to remember.

STEPHEN BAKER

@stephenxbaker

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I chatted with Anusha Chinthalapale, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Poolesville, MD. We talked about MoCo4Change, being a field director, and the number 47.

 

Isabel: So, you are the Field Director for MoCo Students for Change. How did you get involved in that and what is your position all about?

 

Anusha: MoCo4Change was founded by one of my incredible friends who graduated last year. She really encouraged me to put myself out there and get more involved in the political sphere. I’d tell her how much I enjoyed politics and everything that came with it, so when she told me they were looking for kids to fill the slots that’d be left open, I knew it was something I had to get involved with. As field director, I’m in charge of making sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible during our events, so that means a lot of networking and a lot of schedule checks.

 

Isabel: Cool! Why do you believe that gun control should be top priority for every legislator right now?

 

Anusha: The US is the only first world country where gun violence is an epidemic. The only first world country where people have grown so used to gun violence that it’s something they’re numb to. Sometimes kids who experience rampant gun violence everyday genuinely don’t think that it’s a problem, and that’s heartbreaking. Students should not have to go to school scared for their lives. People should not have to go to concerts, church, or work and be afraid that they will not come home. Congress needs to understand that human lives are not a partisan issue. It’s a threat that their constituents face everyday, and everytime they vote against a bill that supports gun reform, they are voting against their constituents’ lives.

 

Isabel: Why do you think it’s important for kids to protest against gun violence and try to make their voices heard on that particular issue?

 

Anusha: 47. That’s the average amount of children killed everyday in the US due to gun violence. That could include your family, your friends, or eventually you. That’s why we fight. Gun violence doesn’t only affect one race or gender or generation. I want to encourage kids who are POC, are not cisgender, or are not straight to speak out about these issues. Gun violence doesn’t discriminate, but these marginalized communities are far more likely to be harmed by it than others. The US needs to hear our voice.

 

Isabel: I have seen that you’ve worked on a lot of events and cool stuff within the gun reform movement. What have you learned about youth activism through organizing with your friends for change?

 

Anusha: I was always so stubborn and headstrong when it came to my opinions, and for the most part I’m still like that. After settling into my role as an organizer, I’ve realized that there are times where I have to step back and let others take the lead, and there are times where I have to step up and take the reins on a project. I’ve also found that with a strong activism community, friendship is not that far behind. This community is so supportive, thoughtful and authentic. It is truly an amazing group to have. We stick with each other in our grief, and then we fight. Every single time, we fight.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Anusha: MoCo4Change organized a walkout for DC, Maryland, and Virginia on March 14th. It’s in support of H.R.8, and its sister bill in the Senate, S.42. With our proximity to DC, it’d be a shame not to make some noise about this, and let congress know, we’re still here, and we’re still fighting. Also, Women’s March Youth Empower organized a Creative Action/Town Hall event for the 14th. 47 is the recurring number here. We want it to stick with people as much as it can and we need to get people angry about this number because it is way too high. The more we get this number out there, and the more we talk about it, the more we can get done.

 

Isabel: Totally. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Anusha: Do it now. Our generation is the strongest one by far. We have the power to harness our voice and use it for change. So do it. Step up and speak out. Because if you don’t, who will?

ANUSHA CHINTHALAPALE

@xanushax

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I talked with Mollie Davis, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Roanoke, VA. We spoke about Great Mills High School, the second amendment, and theatre.

 

Isabel: What made you passionate about gun violence prevention and how has it impacted your community?

 

Mollie: I started caring about the issue after Sandy Hook and even more so after Parkland, but what lit the biggest spark under me was the shooting at my own high school, Great Mills. I had my first lock-down drill in kindergarten and was in a school shooting my senior year. I feel like that's a really sad portrait of what it's like to grow up in a country that doesn't care about gun violence as much as it should. I don't want my story to be anyone else's.

 

Isabel: You are the Founder of March For Our Lives Southwest Virginia and an organizer with National Die-In. How did you get involved with those organizations?

 

Mollie: I got involved with National Die-In through replying to the founder, Amanda. She tweeted about wanting to do a die-in on the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting and I said I was interested in helping. The March For Our Lives chapter in the SW Virginia region was something I started completely by myself. I knew that when I moved away for college I wanted to take my activism with me, which that allowed me to do.

 

Isabel: Why do you think so many politicians have ignored the gun violence epidemic and don’t consider young people?

 

Mollie: Two things. First, I believe that there are politicians who think gun violence is just the price to pay for having the 2nd amendment. I detest that notion. Every person who has been killed by guns in this country was a person with plans and dreams. Their lives shouldn't be brushed off as just an exchange for Jim in Ohio being able to own a glock. Second, I think their silence has a lot to do with the fact that people under 18 can't vote, so gun violence hasn't been an issue that has threatened their job security. Now as the generation of kids born into a post-Columbine world starts to turn 18 and gains the right to vote, they're starting to realize that they can't lean on that excuse anymore.

 

Isabel: Oh my gosh yes. You wrote some pieces for the website sinceparkland.org which is incredible, by the way. What has writing done for your activism and how do you use it for change?  

 

Mollie: My 'bylines since 2018' list goes Dazed Media, Sojo, and The Nation. I also wrote an essay for a book called "If I Don't Make It, I Love You." which is coming out in August. Writing been a passion of mine for years, and after the shooting, I wrote until my hands hurt. My love for writing also stems from having a stutter, as I can write better than I can speak. I recently started a play centered around a school shooting. It's been something I've wanted to do since before I was personally impacted and I finally found a good starting point for it last month. I think theatre and journalism are the two most powerful forms of storytelling, and it's my hope that by writing about gun violence, I can make people question how we've allowed it to get as bad as it is.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Mollie: I'm on the organizing team for 50 Miles More DMV which I'm so excited about. Outside of that and some local organizing, I'm mainly focusing on my writing. The sooner I can pump out a first draft of the play, the sooner I can edit it a million times and the sooner I can start pitching it to festivals. I'm gonna go ahead and speak into existence that it will have been produced in some capacity by the 2021 inauguration.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Mollie: Change doesn't happen overnight. One time when I was really upset about an event I planned not going well a mentor told me, "you don't fail until you quit" and I repeat that quote to myself often. If no one shows up to your event plan another one and if your lawmakers are ignoring you keep reaching out until they can't. People who aren't afraid to be annoying are the ones who make history.

MOLLIE DAVIS

@mollsdavis

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I had a great conversation with Austin Michael, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Sacramento, CA. We spoke about Team Enough, stopping domestic violence, and nitty-gritty work.

 

Isabel: I saw online that you are a part of the organization, Team Enough. What is that movement all about?

 

Austin: Team Enough is the youth branch of the Brady Campaign to end gun violence in America. It was started after the Parkland shooting and they don’t just focus on policy, but ideas to change the culture surrounding guns in the US. Team Enough is just about getting young people involved with gun violence prevention.

 

Isabel: What are your personal goals for common sense gun laws in your community?

 

Austin: I recently wrote an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee that talked about Gun Violence Restraining Orders and while we do have that bill in California, not many people know about it. That issue is important to me because I believe it could help stop a lot of domestic violence and gun suicides.

 

Isabel: Why do you believe that gun violence is something everyone should be focused on preventing?

 

Austin: While it affects people differently, it does affect everyone. We all know someone who has been impacted by gun violence. We shouldn’t be waiting until it happens to us, we need to be working on it now.

 

Isabel: 100%.I know that you also do a lot of work with climate justice. Why do you believe young people should have their voices heard in politics or social justice?

 

Austin: We are the ones that will deal with the impacts of these issues. Gun violence and climate change affect us the most. With climate change specifically, we are inheriting this world and lawmakers made the horrible decision to not protect it or us. Young people of color should especially be heard on these issues because they are already being affected more than anyone else.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Austin: I’m working locally and nationally on the US Youth Climate Strikes.

 

Isabel: That’s cool! What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Austin: Fight the issues you are passionate about. For a lot of young people, you may not have the support of your family, but if you keep doing what you feel is right, there will be people to support you. Also, social media can make it feel like change has to be this huge thing. The huge national flashy events are cool, but they are not what creates change. Change is created with the local nitty-gritty work like contacting your representatives or organizing your community.

AUSTIN MICHAEL

@austinjmichael

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I had a great conversation with Michael Solomon, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Montgomery County, MD. We talked about Montgomery County Students for Change, lawmakers ignoring school shootings, and the impact of one person.

 

Isabel: In March of last year, you were featured at the March For Our Lives in Washington D.C. What was that experience like and how did it come about?

 

Michael: That event was so incredible because people came out from all walks of life across every part of the country. It was really cool to be a part of this collective group of people with the hope of changing the conversation around gun violence. It came about because the organization I work with, Montgomery County Students for Change, organized a walkout where students rallied in D.C. That demonstration started outside of the White House and we marched to the Capitol building. We got a lot of media attention and we impacted our lawmakers, so when the March For Our Lives team saw that, they reached out to us.

 

Isabel: That’s really cool. As a young person, why is the gun violence epidemic something you feel passionate about solving?

 

Michael: It could happen to me, it could happen to someone I care about, and it could happen to someone I love. School shootings have been an epidemic for my entire life and we have gotten to the point where our lawmakers have decided not to do anything about it. After the shooting in Parkland, the incredible students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas inspired all of us to speak out. I can also speak on the communities of people that look like me who are impacted by gun violence every single day. It’s been that way and they have been ignored for a very long time. We need to reach the point in this country where we care about people dying.

 

Isabel: Can you talk to me a little bit about Montgomery Students for Change? What is that organization all about?

 

Michael: We started in February of last year and our main focus was just making sure the walkout went well. After the walkout, we realized we had such a large platform and decided to expand on the amount of issues we were talking about. We want to work on things that the people in our community care about while staying true to our purpose of gun violence prevention. We have pushed for 3 major pieces of gun legislation that passed and mental health awareness as well. Even though we are centered in Montgomery County, the issues that we tackle are not limited to Montgomery County.

 

Isabel: What do you think that politicians could do to better protect young people in their schools and communities?

 

Michael: I think they need to stop taking money from interest groups like the NRA that prevent them from considering common sense legislation. Other than that, they need to include young people in their conversations about policy and civic engagement. When we reach 18, we are going to be voting them either in or out of office, so it only makes sense that they listen to us.

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future that you want to talk about?

 

Michael: We have been working with Change the Ref on promoting art surrounding the issue of gun violence and everyday shootings. This is art from the family of victims, gun violence survivors, and young people.

 

Isabel: Wow. What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Michael: Don’t let adults scare you off or tell you that your voice doesn’t matter. I believed that for a really long time until I saw the impact of one person speaking up. There is nothing more powerful than the bravery and compassion of a young person doing what’s right.

MICHAEL SOLOMON

@msolmn

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I spoke with Sana Shaikh, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Morris County, NJ. We talked about getting involved in fighting gun violence, having respect for youth activists, and climate strikes.

 

Isabel: What does it mean for you to be a part of March For Our Lives in your community and how did you get involved?

 

Sana: Being part of MFOL in my community means so much to me. It means that I am able to support and be part of an organization that is working towards sensible gun control in our country, an issue that is very close to my heart. Through MFOL, I am able to fight for change alongside student activists who I know are just as passionate as I am. I got involved in MFOL, and gun control activism in general, the same way a lot of other activists did. I was blindsided when I learned about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and felt compelled to take action to prevent these horrors from happening ever again. The next day, I started planning a walkout against gun violence at my school. After this, I became part of MFOL New Jersey.

 

Isabel: What do you think lawmakers need to know about growing up in the gun violence epidemic?

 

Sana: Lawmakers need to know that growing up in the gun violence epidemic is traumatizing. It is not normal, nor should it be, to constantly see young faces reported dead in the news. To have guest speakers come talk to middle school students about Columbine, and the importance of lockdown drills. To wonder if your school is next. Simply put, it’s not acceptable. We, as a society, cannot accept this. We need change.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. I know you also do a lot of climate activism as well. Why do you feel like youth activism will be so successful when it comes to solving injustices?

 

Sana: Youth activism will be successful because youth activists are the most dedicated and passionate people. Think about it: kids have better things to be doing. We have school, friends, and extracurriculars, but youth activists choose to fight for what they believe in over everything else. They are willing to put the rest of their obligations on hold and work towards change, both out of necessity and because they know that the movements they’re a part of are bigger than them. I have so much respect for my fellow youth activists, and I know that our hard work and diligence will create a better world.

 

Isabel: You work with a lot of organizations like Women’s March, MFOL, and the US Climate Strikes. Why do you think organizing and mobilizing is so important for kids to do?

 

Sana: I believe that organizing and mobilizing are some of the most important things anyone, especially kids, could do. For one, this is our country and planet; its future is ours. We need to make sure that we are inheriting a world that is sufficient for our needs. In order to ensure that, we have to mobilize and organize, because youth aren’t directly represented in our government. We aren’t able to vote, and it’s expected that we’ll be represented through the votes of adults, but that isn’t always the case.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Sana: I most definitely want to shout out the US Climate Strikes! Students strike from school across the country and globe to show our leaders that climate change is a legitimate issue we are concerned about and want them to act upon. For information about strikes near you, check out www.youthclimatestrikeus.org/strikes!

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Sana: I think the most valuable piece of advice I could give is that if you’re contemplating speaking out for what you believe in, don’t hesitate. Start the Google Doc! There’s no wrong time or place for you to fight for change.

SANA SHAIKH

@s.anashaikh

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I had a great conversation with Malick Mercier, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Ithaca, NY. We spoke about student journalism, Instagram, and letting kids talk about gun violence.

 

Isabel: Why do you believe that student journalism is so important for creating change?

 

Malick: I think that student journalism is so special because we are still learning and we can bring our own ideas into our work with other students as the editors or copy editors. In order for journalism and media to evolve, we need people that are coming in with fresh ideas and a lot of times that comes from student newsrooms.

 

Isabel: I was looking at your Instagram and I saw that you brand yourself as a teen storyteller. How do you use storytelling to fight for things like gun reform on a regular basis?

 

Malick: Last March during the March For Our Lives, Instagram reached out and asked if I would host an official Instagram takeover on their account for the march. That was so amazing because it was a monumental moment in history, but as an activist and journalist, I sometimes find it hard to balance between activism and journalism. Journalists are supposed to be objective, but we do have opinions and while those don’t really matter when we are telling the news, it is helpful for our viewers to know. One thing that was obvious in my reporting is that I am not ok with any kid losing their life in school and I think gun violence is a plague in our country.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit more about your experience with the March For Our Lives Instagram takeover? What did that mean to you and what did it teach you about the gun control conversation nationally?

 

Malick: Doing the Instagram takeover was so meaningful. At the time, they had just over 200 million followers which is like the most ever and it was so cool to share that story which affected so many students, on a global platform. It taught me how strong this effort really was and Instagram getting a student journalist to cover a student movement was so special. We have to keep in mind who is telling these stories. With the gun violence issue, this is something that is happening to us, so we are going to be the ones that you talk to about it.

 

Isabel: As an activist who has an online following, how have you seen youth activism evolve with social media?

 

Malick: When I’m on Instagram I don’t think about it as a way to use my phone, I think about it as a way to use my voice and so many other young people think the same way. Instagram is not just for avocado toast and lattes, but it is for speaking your truth.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Malick: I’m looking to see what March For Our Lives will do next and I know that there are a lot of stories out there affecting young people right now, so I want to tell those.

 

Isabel: That’s great. What advice would you give other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Malick: Changing the world is such a big idea and I try to think about just changing individual lives. When people are impacted by your work to go fight for something that they care about, that’s when you can do some amazing things. Go do it.

MALICK MERCIER

@classymalick

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I had an in-depth conversation with Katie Eder, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Milwaukee, WI. We talked about the Future Coalition, our generation, and the fear of gun violence.

 

Isabel: So, you are the Founder and Executive Director of the Future Coalition which is really cool. What inspired you to create that organization?

 

Katie: I ran a non-profit when I was in middle and high school called Kids Tales which is dedicated to helping kids find their voices through creative writing. The skills that I developed from that allowed me to take action when the March For Our Lives happened because it really resonated with me and I wanted to do something with the kids at my school. We went to the superintendent to see if he would be supportive of a walkout at our school and he basically asked us what more we could do to make sure that after everything is over, the momentum continues. After MFOL, we organized another march to Paul Ryan’s hometown and called him out for his role in blocking gun legislation. Through that, a bunch of youth organizers got together and we realized that within the youth space, no one is really talking to each other. We created the Future Coalition to provide support and resources to young people across the country.

 

Isabel: Totally! Working with so many young people as you do, do you feel hopeful about youth activism creating lasting change?

 

Katie: When you look at history, when young people get involved in social movements, things change. When we see a problem, we offer bold solutions and those solutions are things that a lot of adults don’t see. Another thing about our generation is that we are one of the only generations that can tell older people “you don’t understand what it’s like” and have that be true. Growing up in a post 9/11 world with social media is a really unique experience. We are also a generation that lives in a world where the future is not a definite thing. That is scary, but we will act.

 

Isabel: That leads me to my next question perfectly. As a young person, why is gun reform a top priority issue for you?

 

Katie: I think gun violence has become one of the defining issues of our generation. The fear and the effects of gun violence have reached every corner of this country. This issue truly affects everyone in a different way. Fear is part of this movement because we are all scared that it could happen to us or someone we love, but what is driving the movement is the hope that this will no longer be the normal.

 

Isabel: What do you believe lawmakers should know about growing up in the mass shooting generation?

 

Katie: I just think that going to school today is very different then it was for our parents. Anyone who went to school post Columbine understands that gun violence is always on your mind. It was a privilege in the past to go to school and not be afraid. I have been sitting in English class thinking “if a gunman walked into the room right now, what would I do?” That question is so common and we have to ask it to ourselves as 9 year olds which is really sad. Our lawmakers have an opportunity to change that and for them to not take it, it is literally deadly.

 

Isabel: 100%. Are there any current activism projects you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Katie: The Future Coalition is ongoing and we are figuring out how to best support young people. As a young person, I know that sometimes when you have an idea, you don’t always have the resources to work on it and there isn’t really a space for that, so we want to be that space.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Katie: There is never going to be a perfect time. If you want to make a change or do something, do it. I feel like to start a new project, you need a vision, a team, and a plan. If you have a vision for how to create change and even one person who wants to help you with a plan to reach this goal, that is all you need. It’s just a matter of getting started.

KATIE EDER

@katie.eder

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I spoke with Vikiana Petit-Homme, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Boston, MA. We talked about March For Our Lives, the normalization of gun violence, and having a conversation.

 

Isabel: So you are the Southeastern Regional Director for March For Our Lives. What inspired you to start working with that organization?

 

Vikiana: I actually live in Boston and last year we lost over 45 lives to gun violence which is minimal compared to the rest of the country, but those lives seem to go unnoticed because we feel like we have solved the problem. It feels like no one is listening and I wanted to do my best to bring the attention back. MFOL was a perfect combination of youth empowerment while tackling this issue that I’m really passionate about

 

Isabel: What have you learned through your position about youth organizers around the country?

 

Vikiana: I got into this position very recently and in this short period of time, I have reaffirmed how amazing young people are. We all have so much in common. An MFOL chapter just started in Fort Payne, Alabama where there are 14,000 people and I live in Boston where there are around 600,000 people. It’s just amazing and it shows how universal this problem is.

 

Isabel: Totally. I’m from Alabama and that’s really cool! Speaking of young people, why do you believe that young people can end gun violence?

 

Vikiana: I think we can end gun violence because even though it has become so normalized, we are able to see the problem with that. The other generations have become complacent whereas we are trying to change the world and we can. When a lot of people come together, amazing things can happen.

 

Isabel: As a young woman of color, how do you feel like gun reform is intersectional with other political issues like racial inequality?

 

Vikiana: It’s so intersectional. If we were to address gun violence without talking about how people of color are disproportionately affected by it, then we wouldn’t be trying to solve gun violence. Race plays a part in everything and I’m really happy that MFOL is striving for that intersectionality.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on or plans for the future?

 

Vikiana: Yeah! In Boston, we are working on this thing called a “Roundtable Series.” It’s a series of conversations that focus on access to basic resources, education structure, and media. We are looking at how all of those topics play into violence within our community. We are not trying to solve all these problems right away, but talking about them with other people makes everyone feel less alone. Like the violence happening in our communities is not happening because we are bad people, but because there are systems in place that perpetuate it.

 

Isabel: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Vikiana: I would just say that every impact matters. Whether it’s just working on a local level or having an educational conversation with someone at your dinner table. That creates a ripple effect and every little thing can help change the world.

VIKIANA PETIT-HOMME

@vikiana_ph

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I spoke with Amanda Fugleberg, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Orlando, FL. We talked about everyday gun violence, National Die-In Day, and future voters.

 

Isabel: As a young person, why does gun control matter to you?

 

Amanda: Gun control matters to me for a plethora of reasons. We know about school shootings, but gun violence also happens everyday in so many different situations. I’ve had a few run-ins with gun violence throughout my life and it is just concerning that many other people have grown up the same way. It’s time to look at the problem. Do we want to lose more of our peers to something that is preventable?

 

Isabel: You work with National Die-In which was created last year to fight for gun control and increase youth engagement. What has the impact of that organization been like for you?

 

Amanda: As far as working with the community, it has been a really great experience. When we did the National Die-In Day event, we only had 3 weeks to put it together, but it was really rewarding to see other people caring about the cause. I think people caring about the message has just been the best part.

 

Isabel: Totally. You’ve been a primary organizer for a lot of activism events. Why do you believe it’s important for kids to be on the frontlines of political issues?

 

Amanda: Our generation is so big and it is unfair that politicians just let the NRA lobby against gun laws and then we continue to be shot in school. It’s just not fair and it is important that our voices are heard because we are being impacted the most by these problems. It’s our future.

 

Isabel: That’s a perfect segway to my next question. What would your message be to lawmakers who refuse to try and protect young people in the United States?

 

Amanda: My message is just that I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to. It’s actually in their best interest to listen to us because we are such a large pool of voters. I don’t know if they realize that or not, but I’m 19 and a lot of people I know will be able to vote in the next election cycle. When you are talking about saving children’s lives, you would think they would care anyway, but if that is not the case then it is very telling of their character.

 

Isabel: I saw on your Instagram that you really like art. How has art helped you with your activism if at all?

 

Amanda: Actually, we are starting to gear National Die-In toward a more art activism level. The reason that I liked the die-in in the first place is because it’s a really symbolic protest. The image of people lying on the ground is in itself an artistic thing, so I just really appreciate being able to use different forms of art for activism. People are just so impacted by art.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on or plans for the future?

 

Amanda: So, National Die-In is in the middle of re-branding our organization and trying to balance things like passing legislation with creating art projects. We also want to work with March For Our Lives and follow their lead with whatever they do next.

 

Isabel: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Amanda: Just do it. I know that some people can feel uncomfortable being outspoken about issues and can even get rejected by friends or family for that, but at the end of the day, if you are doing what you believe in, the right people will show up.

AMANDA FUGLEBERG

@thesmelloftea

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I talked with Pujan Patel, a 16 year-old gun control activist from Ocala, FL. We chatted about empowering marginalized groups, MFOL Ocala, and mental health in schools.

 

Isabel: What got you personally involved in advocacy for gun reform within the United States?

 

Pujan: It really started during the aftermath of the Pulse shooting in Florida. I know that area well and it hit so close to home for me. When I read the notification that there had been a shooting, I cried myself to sleep because it just signified how real this is.

 

Isabel: What do you believe lawmakers can do to better support youth in the fight for gun control?

 

Pujan: I don’t believe in taking away all guns, but one thing we can do is enable universal background checks. We can also create a high-capacity magazine ban, disarm domestic abusers, end gun trafficking, have safety reports on gun storage, eliminate restrictions on the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) and the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention.)

 

Isabel: Absolutely. I have seen online where you have talked about intersectionality in the gun safety movement. Why is it so important to recognize marginalized groups in this discussion?

 

Pujan: The truth is that marginalized groups are the most affected by this discussion around gun violence. It is important that these national movements recognize marginalized groups and that the representatives of those communities can speak uninterrupted. That in itself is activism too. Empowering people of color is a huge step because building trust is how we can start making change.

 

Isabel: So, I know you work a lot with March For Our Lives Ocala. What are your goals when it comes to community organizing?

 

Pujan: Our main goal with MFOL Ocala is to end the gun violence crisis in Ocala specifically. There is also a lack of youth empowerment here. When I founded MFOL Ocala, it wasn’t just for gun violence prevention, but also to find kids who want to step up and be politically active. That’s what matters the most. Having people feel empowered and getting their voices heard.

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects you are working on or plans for the future?

 

Pujan: Right now with MFOL Ocala, we are working on a school board resolution to increase mental health awareness. Mental health is a really big issue within the education system in the US, so I think our resolution would be very helpful. I am also a state lead for the Youth Climate Strikes, so I am trying to get those to happen all over Florida. Lastly, I am working on diversifying youth activism overall because as a person of color, it can be really hard to get your voice heard and we have to address that.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Pujan: If you really want to make change, just go for it because although there are outside forces, you are the only thing stopping yourself. The first step to making change in your neighborhood, community, state, country, or world is to overcome that mental block. For me, that happened in 2018 when MFOL gave me a platform that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I was just aware that if I didn’t do something, who would?

PUJAN PATEL

@pujanpat.el

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I had a great chat with Julia Heilrayne, a 17 year-old gun control activist from Austin, TX. We discussed the importance of listening, the intersectionality of gun violence, and e-books.

 

Isabel: What got you involved in the fight to end gun violence and what has it taught you so far?

 

Julia: My parents have always raised me to stand up for what I believe in, but in December of 2017, a nine year-old girl I knew was shot and killed by her father who then killed himself. After the shooting, I got really, really angry. I remember thinking about the fact that I could turn my anger into anything, but I wanted to do something good, so I did. The fight to stop gun violence has taught me the importance of listening. You learn a lot by listening to other people’s stories, thoughts, and experiences, especially the people who have different lives, views, or political affiliations than you.

 

Isabel: Why do you think so many adults and lawmakers underestimate young people fighting for gun reform?

 

Julia: I think that many adults don't realize just how far young people are willing to go in order to end gun violence. They assume that this movement is just some fad or trend that will pass, but this is not an Instagram hashtag, it's literally life or death.

 

Isabel: You are an advocate for a lot of other political issues from healthcare to gender equality. How is gun safety intersectional with other human rights and equality topics for you?

 

Julia: Gun violence is obviously a health issue, and so it frequently intersects with advocacy around health care. In addition, advocacy around gun violence intersects with race issues, since it disproportionately affects people of color, as well as women's rights, and children's rights, because two of the issues with gun violence are gun in schools and guns in the hands of domestic abusers.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. You also have a blog called Polite Rants where you talk about a lot of issues that are very personal to you. Why is writing so important for you and your activism?

 

Julia: Writing allows me to process my thoughts, and get my ideas into the world. Writing also lets me educate people about things that I have experience with, like being chronically ill, that many people do not understand or have experience with. Currently, I am currently working on an e-book called "When You're Chronically Fabulous (Sick) In High School," and I am planning another one about activism as a young person.

 

Isabel: That's so cool. Are there any other current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Julia: Yes! I am the co-president of the community organization called Student Empowerment Association, and we are currently working towards our 501c(3) status. Also, check out my Instagram for more information on my e-books when they start to come out, and for information on whatever I am up to right now.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?


Julia: I wish I could tell young people who are starting out in activism that they are going to get a lot of hate from people who think they are doing the wrong thing, but if you really believe in what you're doing, keep going. It can take years to see a real change, but when you do, it makes all the hate and late night crying and arguments with people who don't understand, worth it.

JULIA HEILRAYNE

@julia_heilrayne

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I had a great conversation with Olivia Hoffman, a 15 year-old gun control activist from Austin, TX. We talked about proving adults wrong, the Student’s Empowerment Association, and social media.

 

Isabel: Why do you believe that lawmakers need to be listening to young people when it comes to gun reform?

 

Olivia: Because we have had a firsthand interaction with the lack of gun control in the United States. We are on the frontlines when it comes to the effects of gun violence, so we will be on the frontlines in politics as well.

 

Isabel: Why do you think that kids and teenagers have been so successful already with creating/supporting common sense gun laws?

 

Olivia: We have a lot of motivation because it is our friends who are being shot just for seeking an education. You can find a community within activism and I think that is very inspiring for a lot of young people. I also think we are trying to prove adults wrong because they have this preconceived notion that we’re lazy and don’t care about politics, but that just makes us want to create real change.

 

Isabel: Totally. What has been your favorite experience as a gun control activist and what did it teach you?

 

Olivia: My favorite memory would probably be hanging out with the other youth organizers at a rally I did. It was so inspiring to see so many young women who cared about gun safety as much as I do. We are in Texas, so it’s kind of hard to get gun legislation passed, but it was really cool to see kids saying “hey, we could do something about this.”

 

Isabel: Can you talk a little about the organization you work with? What inspired you fight for change with the Student’s Empowerment Association?

 

Olivia: I’m really proud of the Student’s Empowerment Association. It’s made up of kids who I planned a walkout for gun control with and we just want to empower youth. It was inspired by us attending a town hall with our legislators where we decided that our mission would be to get kids to show up in politics. We give them tools to advocate with their peers and find their voice.

 

Isabel: That’s awesome. Why do you believe it’s important for young people to use their platforms like social media to create change?

 

Olivia: This generation is very social media savvy and I am really proud of that because we’ve been able to do a lot with it. I remember that the National School Walkout was all started by a tweet. Relying on social media for activism can lead to a lot of harmful things which I discourage, but it can also lead to national globalism that I love to see young people engaging in.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Olivia: Find something that you are really passionate about that affects you or your friends, find someone that needs help, and do your best to make it happen. I think seeking out organizations that align with your values is a really important part of getting your start. Just make sure you are always fighting for something good!

OLIVIA HOFFMAN

@olivhoffman

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I spoke with Nurah Abdul, a 15 year-old gun control activist from Atlanta, GA. We talked about inner-city gun violence, fighting for change in the South, and young people leading a movement.

 

Isabel: So, I know that you work with March For Our Lives Georgia and National Die-In. What inspired you to be an organizer on the frontlines for gun violence prevention?

 

Nurah: I had a family friend that was more like a cousin to me, who got shot and killed in 2016. Then when the Parkland shooting happened, it was just awful and I wanted to get involved in whatever way I could. Experiencing inner-city gun violence as well as general gun violence first-hand was what made me want to work with MFOL Georgia and National Die-In.

 

Isabel: With MFOL Georgia, I know it can be hard to advocate for gun control in a more conservative state. How do you fight for justice in an environment that isn’t entirely open-minded to it?

 

Nurah: I try to approach it with love and kindness especially toward people who don’t agree with me. I have a classmate who owns a lot of guns and I usually just try to explain safe storage laws in a way that makes sense to them. The best way to do it is with kindness and rationality.

 

Isabel: For sure. How does being a young woman of color shape your perspective in the fight for gun safety?

 

Nurah: There are definitely more factors that contribute to gun violence especially being a Black woman living in a southern inner-city. It all ties together. I am also Muslim and there is a lot of unspoken Islamophobia having to do with gun violence that no one is addressing. So, I advocate for change because I see injustice happening around me and I don’t want to be complicit.

 

Isabel: Why do you believe young people will be the ones to end the gun violence epidemic and what sound lawmakers know about the movement?

 

Nurah: Young people have been leading movements since forever. It’s usually to fix a mistake our lawmakers have made or that past generations have made and that is what we are doing now. We are fixing mistakes because too many people have died or gotten hurt by guns. I really want our legislators to know that we’re not going away and we won’t stop until we get the change we are demanding.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Nurah: Not to let other people silence them and to keep fighting for what they believe in.

NURAH ABDUL

@nurahabdulhaqq

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I had a great conversation with Abbie La Porta, a 17 year-old gun control activist from State College, PA. We talked about National Die-In, growing up with gun violence, and saving our planet.

 

Isabel: What got you involved in the youth-led fight for gun control?

 

Abbie: I started paying attention to gun control after the Parkland shooting. Then the Santa Fe shooting happened and when I found out there was another school shooting, I was so angry. I found some kids who felt the same way and we created National Die-In Day which was a memorial on the second year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. I met some amazing people through that and I learned how gun violence affects everyone. It made me want to fight more.

 

Isabel: That’s a perfect segway, actually. Can you talk a little bit more about National Die-In and what that organization has been like for you to work on?

 

Abbie: National Die-In was kind of my first jump into activism. It was really difficult because I had never taken a leadership role before, but I felt like this was such an important issue that I had to step up. We have done a National Die-In Day as well as a Vote For Change rally to get people excited about mid-term elections. It’s been so amazing to see people come together through something that was created in me and my friend’s brains.

 

Isabel: How do you feel like being a teenager affects your perspective when it comes to fighting for equality and justice within politics?

 

Abbie: I think we have a different perspective than adults because they do not directly see the way gun violence impacts young people. They haven’t grown up with it in the way that we did. I remember the first time I had to learn what school shootings were, I was 10 years old. It gives us a unique perspective because we see how big the issue really is.

 

Isabel: So, you are also the Social Media Coordinator for the Meddling Kids Movement. Yay! Why do you believe that social media is such an important tool for creating change?

 

Abbie: I love social media for activism because it connects you with people all over the world. Without social media, I wouldn’t have friends all across the country. It’s just such an effective way to bring people together and inform people about different causes.

 

Isabel: Yeah and you’re really good at it. Are there any current activism projects you are working on?

 

Abbie: National Die-In is actually rebranding and we came up with the slogan 96 to None because the statistic is that 96 people die a day from gun violence in America. We want to bring that down. I also just started working with the youth climate organization Zero Hour and have been volunteering with the Sunrise Movement trying to get a Green New Deal into Congress. We really need that because our planet is going to get worse until we do something about it.

 

Isabel: For sure. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Abbie: Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and just go for it because your voice matters. The whole world needs to hear it.

ABBIE LA PORTA

@abbiee.L

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I talked to Jordan Harb, an 18 year-old gun control activist from Mesa, AZ. We discussed MFOL Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake’s inaction, and young people showing up.

 

Isabel: Can you talk about what inspired you to join the national March For Our Lives team and the one local in your community?

 

Jordan: The summer after the 2016 election, I participated in a campaign to put a school voucher bill on the ballot. That is where I discovered my passion for politics because I was doing something that quite literally impacted me and my education. Especially as someone who has grown up with a lower-income and a single mother, I know what it is like to rely on the public school system. What got me into MFOL is that I was meeting with Senator Jeff Flake the day of the Parkland shooting. The news coverage was being shown in his office, one of my teachers got very emotional, and she asked him what he was going to do about this. He could not give an answer. He leaned back in his desk, said that what’s happening is an atrocity, but that he can’t promise anything. That really stuck with me because I was standing in front of my senator as children were being shot and he “couldn’t promise anything.”

 

Isabel: Yeah, that sounds about right. How do you feel that MFOl Arizona has made an impact with the youth in your community?

 

Jordan: MFOL Arizona has grown quite a lot and I think the reason we’ve grown is because we focus on relationship building. Last summer we had pizza and pool parties in every branch of MFOL in Arizona (Tucson, Phoenix, and Flagstaff.) Every week kids would come, we would talk about politics, plan voter registration events, and then spend the rest of the time hanging out. We went from having 10 kids at the meetings to having 70 kids by the end of the summer. I think a lot of young people want to make a difference, but don’t know how and we have made a space in Arizona where we will help and train them to be leaders themselves.

 

Isabel: That’s awesome. In the 2018 election, around 27 NRA-backed candidates were voted out of office. Does that give you hope about what young people can do when we organize?

 

Jordan: Absolutely. I know in Arizona that youth turnout was up 200% and this year MFOL Arizona registered 3,500 kids to vote in over 50 schools in every congressional district. We changed the conversation to where at the town hall we hosted, everyone was talking about gun violence and school safety. Those were the talking points of all the campaigns and that wasn’t the case last year. It’s because we had students all over the state speaking, talking to voters, and mobilizing. At Arizona State University, there was a line so long to cast ballots that the polls didn’t close until 9 pm when they usually close at 7 and that county is what made Kyrsten Sinema win.

 

Isabel: How do you think adults can support young people in the fight for gun safety?

 

Jordan: I think older people need to take on a mentor role. They need to be there to tell their experiences because some people in the activism community have been doing this for decades and have such a massive well of knowledge. It’s about giving advice and helping, but also letting kids lead their movement.

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like  to shout out?

 

Jordan: Right now, MFOL Arizona is working on a campaign towards mental health. We are going around school boards across the state asking people to realize that mental health is a big aspect of school safety. We are pushing a bill to legislators that advocates more funding for school counselors because Arizona has 900 students per counselor and that ratio is just too high.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Jordan: Just do it anyway. Something that holds a lot of young people back is thinking that they can’t do it. I have had a lot of people say to me that going to school boards is pointless and protests aren’t going to do anything, but we just did it. We did it anyway and that is why we have been so successful.

JORDAN HARB

@jordanharb11

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I had a great discussion with Sabirah Mahmud, a 16 year-old gun control activist from Philadelphia, PA. We talked about minority communities, National School Walkout Day, and being unapologetic.

 

Isabel: As a young woman of color, how do you feel like gun control is intersectional with other political issues?

 

Sabirah: I'm privileged enough to live in a very safe neighborhood so violence isn't common, but when I think of my friends who live in the lower-income neighborhoods, it seems that they're even more susceptible towards this violence. My friend once opened up to me and told me that when she was in 8th grade, her father took her mother into the basement and shot her 8 times. Thankfully she survived, but the memories of that instance still haunt my friend to this day. Gun violence isn't just an issue of school shootings. It's about keeping communities safe, getting these horrible devices out of the hands of those who abuse them, and protecting minorities that don't have the money to protect themselves. There's an economic issue in America where if you're Black, Latina, or Asian, suddenly you live in the "bad side" of town. These communities soon in our minds become plagued with guns and drugs when instead they're just people who want to be in good neighborhoods. It's annoying and gun violence doesn't help the stereotype because guns are too easy for people to exploit.

 

Isabel: What do you think lawmakers should be doing to prevent the gun violence epidemic and what could kids do to further the fight?

 

Sabirah: Lawmakers can do a lot of things to prevent gun violence. They can start by making guns harder to access; they should increases prices, have background checks, and make automatic guns less accessible to those who may harm themselves. Lawmakers can then try to improve these communities that struggle with violence by creating open outlets for victims as well as trying to make the communities safer. Kids have already done so much and I'm so proud of us, but we need to keep getting into the streets. There is no fight if we just keep to ourselves and it's important that we find adults to help amplify our voices. I recently picked up the book #NeverAgain and it was amazing. We need more moving pieces like that.

 

Isabel: You participated in National School Walkout Day. What inspired you to take part in that and what did the event mean to you?

 

Sabirah: When I participated in National School Walkout Day, it wasn't just about gun violence, it was about being empowered and having my voice as a teenage girl heard. I've grown up where I was told just because of the color of my skin or my religion, my voice didn't matter. When I had my arms linked with the other students from my school, I knew that my life was going to make an impact. This issue is so important and we can't stay silent when we know that others are going to die because of it. As someone who fears every single day for my life, I just needed to come out and let my voice be heard. If not for our voices, then we wouldn't have any change at all.

 

Isabel: Youth activism has become so strong in the recent years. Why do you think so many young people have stepped up to fight for change in this country and other countries?

 

Sabirah: I'm proud to be a part of this generation for many reasons. We are so powerful as one and we make our voices heard no matter what. The fact we've all grown and experienced our own trauma makes us stronger than everything that is thrown at us. This generation has done so much in the past few years and it's important that we continue to go at this rate. Through things like the #MeToo movement and the movement against gun violence, we're all fighting not just for ourselves, but others as well.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Sabirah: A current project I'm working on is trying to bring less of a bias against Muslims. Sometime in February, I'm going to hold a meeting for a bunch of students to come and speak to my school’s Muslim Student Association. It'll be an open discussion, but through it I hope to stop the Islamophobia rising in America.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Sabirah: The advice I have for the youth is to never give up, don't ever take the words of those who want your demise, always lift your head up and be unapologetic. I've lived some of my 16 years of life trying to be a "good girl" instead of using my very powerful voice to make sure I have what I want out in the world. You should never let someone else dictate your mind and who you are as a person because you're so important. Keep on being unapologetic, have confidence and love yourself. With this mindset, we can make a new world for us all with love, compassion, and acceptance.

SABIRAH MAHMUD

@sxbirah

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I had a conversation with Isabella Segall, a 17 year-old gun control activism from Wilton, Connecticut. We talked about #RoadToChange, the Connecticut Teens Against Gun Violence, and getting kids involved.

 

Isabel: So, you took part in the March For Our Lives #RoadToChange tour. What was the most impactful part of that event?

 

Isabella: Yeah, I did the March For Our Lives in Hartford and then the #RoadToChange event in Newtown, CT. Those events were just incredible and the best part is that I haven’t seen that much unity in such a long time or maybe ever. It was 15,000 people coming together who were all so supportive and it was the best day ever. That sort of unity is what really sparks change.

 

Isabel: You are also the Director of the Connecticut Teens Against Gun Violence organization. What inspired you to organize that and what are your goals for the group going forward?

 

Isabella: When the Sandy Hook shooting happened, I was too young to understand, but as shooting after shooting happened, it just became more real to me. When it happened in Parkland, it was just heartbreaking as a high-schooler to see that. To know that this could happen to my friends or family is petrifying and I knew I had to do something. I called Jeremy Stein (the Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence) and I organized a rally where some local politicians showed up. That is how CTAGV was formed. From there, we’ve just been having town halls, writing to senators, going to events, and we are hoping to get more people involved in gun violence prevention.

 

Isabel: That’s awesome. Connecticut has passed some of the strongest gun laws in the United States, but what do you think your lawmakers and lawmakers around the country can do to further the movement?

 

Isabella: Connecticut has been really incredible paving the way for some really impactful things. Our next step is gun storage safety and tacking ghost guns (guns without serial numbers that can bypass regulations.) Fortunately, in the last session we did ban bump stocks which is incredible, but we were not able to figure out the ghost gun situation. For other states, I think a lot of work needs to be done. Politicians need to listen to young people and they need to listen to people who are directly impacted by these tragedies. Having meaningful conversation is what’s going to make the most change.

 

Isabel: For sure. Why do you believe that other kids should join the fight for common sense gun legislation?

 

Isabella: I think other kids need to get involved because we are the change. This is our future, this is our world to live in, and most of our politicians are not super young. Once they are out of office, it is our turn and we need to start educating ourselves. More important than that, our lives are on the line. These politicians don’t have to worry about going to school everyday and facing a shooter. Kids need to get involved because this is our world and I want to live in a safe one.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Isabella: Right now, Connecticut Teens Against Gun Violence is working on this big youth summit for the whole state that we are hoping to have this summer. We are having a lot of youth planning forums to get everyone excited for the event. We are also working on an open mic series with spoken word and music to get people involved in making change.

 

Isabel: So great. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Isabella: I would say to use your resources, talk to everyone you know, and you just can’t give up. It’s not all glitz and glam. Working really hard for something is so rewarding, but you have to be passionate about it because for a long time it can seem like nothing is gonna happen. You’ll work tirelessly and the person you were rooting for will lose or the bill that you support won’t pass, but you have to have that drive to not give up.

ISABELLA SEGALL

@isabellasegall

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I had a great conversation with Jack Torres, a 16 year-old gun control activist from Boston. We talked about marches, lowering the voting age, and an inspirational Dr. Suess quote.

 

Isabel: Can you talk a little bit about 50 Miles More. What does that group stand for and what inspired you to be a part of it?

 

Jack: 50 Miles More is a national organization that helped students across the US to organize 50 mile marches for gun reform. The first march was in Wisconsin, and they marched 50 miles to Paul Ryan’s hometown from the capitol in Madison. They brought attention to his lack of courage in this issue after the March for Our Lives. In MA, we heard their call to action and we marched 50 miles to the headquarters of firearm and weapons manufacturer Smith & Wesson. This company in MA produces the AR-15 style weapons used in Parkland, Aurora, and San Bernardino. Their guns have also been a part of everyday urban violence, domestic violence, suicides, and police violence. We marched to urge them to stop producing all weapons that are illegal in MA, so they wouldn’t contribute high-capacity military style guns to homes across the country.

 

Isabel: You are also the Political Strategist for March For Our Lives Boston. What does that organization mean to you and what can lawmakers learn from the students involved?

 

Jack: It means a lot to me to be a part of March for Our Lives Boston. MFOL helped MA students gain a voice when lobbying our state legislature for a Red-Flag law. When 100,000 people marched on the Boston Common to support this bill, it made it more effective for us to walk into the State House the next day. We did eventually get this bill passed after weeks of walkouts, phone banks, and lobby days. It means a lot to have this organization behind me and I love all of the people I have met. Whenever organizing a new action, I know I have a massive network of motivated student leaders that I can call upon to make some change, and that is the most empowering and encouraging feeling. We used the national platform to fight for violence that goes unreported in Boston. This violence has gone unnoticed for too long, and we have used MFOL to fight for change.

 

Isabel: Why do you think it’s so important for young people to organize and take politics into their own hands?

 

Jack: It’s so so important for young people to get involved in politics. First, for those of y’all who are over 18, if you don’t vote, politicians won’t cater to your demands. The young people voting demographic needs to increase or we will never be listened to. Second, since those of us who are under 18 can’t vote, we have to get involved other ways or we have no voice in our government. Either way, no matter what, not everything is perfect. Find something that’s not right, that you care about, and fight to fix it.

 

Isabel: From looking at your Instagram, I can tell that you are an advocate for many other political issues. How do you feel like gun violence is intersectional with the other problems in this country?

 

Jack: I have always felt that guns are an enabler for other types of social issues and inequalities. They are a catalyst. Until we solve all societal problems which might take awhile, violence will always exist. However, without guns, violence is much less likely to kill or mass murder. We must fight to equitably fund education, reduce the cost of higher education, retrain police on bias, fight mass incarceration, and fight for healthcare as a right, but until then, people will still have access to guns and motivation for violence. Take some types of guns away and the deaths will be greatly reduced.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on?

 

Jack: Right now, I’m working on a few projects. The first is lobbying for a Green New Deal with the Sunrise Movement. I feel like climate change will be the issue of our generation and time is running out so we all have to fight for that. I’m also working on getting a sex-ed/consent-ed reform bill passed in MA. Trying to work the idea into schools that it’s not just “no means no” but “yes, and only yes, means yes.” Lastly, I’m working on lowering the voting age for municipal elections in cities across MA to 16. That will hopefully build momentum toward an amendment to the constitution that lowers the age to 16 as well.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Jack: The biggest piece of advice I have is to just do it. I know that sounds corny, but I promise I’m not paid by Nike. Are you angry? Do something about it. Sad? Do something. There is nothing you can control in life except for how hard you try. There are no special powers you need to fight inequality. All you need is a bullhorn and a couple friends. It’s like that Lorax quote, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” Don’t wait for permission from someone else, go out and fight.

JACK TORRES

@jack_torresOO

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I spoke with Riley Arnold, a 16 year-old gun control activist from Utah. We talked about creating legislation, the current unity of young people, and adults saying we “don’t have experience.”

 

Isabel: So, you are one of the organizers in the Utah Student Action League. What is that group all about and what inspired you to be a part of it?

 

Riley: Our main focus when we started was on gun reform and there were 7 of us all across Utah. We were very inspired by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, so we organized a rally to support them and remember the victims. We had over 800 students walk out and show up to that rally at the Capitol. Then, we decided to go ahead and get registered as a non-profit.

 

Isabel: That’s awesome. What do you think are important actions lawmakers could take to protect kids in your state and in the country?

 

Riley: I think one of the biggest steps would be to initiate Red Flag Laws where if someone does something and it pops up as a red flag, they shouldn’t be allowed access to a gun if ordered by a judge. That is what we are working on right now, but eventually we will get a ban on semi-automatic weapons as well as more extensive background checks and longer waiting periods.

 

Isabel: How does being a young person shape your perspective while fighting for gun safety?

 

Riley: I feel like as a young person, my voice is often diminished because I am a kid or don’t have experience, but my experience is that I grew up in a world with mass shootings. I guess it can be hard not to get overlooked, but you have to keep fighting and remember what your end goal is.

 

Isabel: Why do you think young people have been so successful coming together in the fight to end gun violence?

 

Riley: I think this is the most unified we have ever been because we all have such a common goal. In the past, when kids have tried to speak out, there were so many obstacles standing in their way, but we are standing up and we have social media to help us communicate. March For Our Lives was one of the starting points and after that, we saw so many people saying “Oh okay. This is what I can do.”

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current projects you are working on related to activism?

 

Riley: Personally, I have been working for the last two years on getting free menstrual products in public restrooms throughout our school district. I’m working on some legislation for that right now to make it mandatory. Also, our community just did a Christmas drive getting toys for refugees, so just a lot of volunteering.

 

Isabel: So cool. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Riley: I don’t want to be vague and say to just go for it, but honestly just go for it. You can start out small by contacting your representative because it is so easy to look up their information and call them or text them or email them. If there is not an organization that you can get involved with, create one and reach out to your friends for help. I used to think it was so hard and I didn’t understand how young activists got where they were, but it’s just about putting your voice out there.  

RILEY ARNOLD

@rileyabbigail

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I had a great conversation with Daud Mumin, a 17 year-old gun control and human rights activist from Utah. We talked about the Eighteen x 18 Summit, affecting change on a local level, and gearing up for 2020.

 

Isabel: So, like a few people I have interviewed, you recently participated in the Eighteen x 18 summit to increase engagement and voter turnout among young people. What did that experience teach you?

 

Daud: It was so amazing and I want to thank the entire Eighteen x 18 crew for inviting me. I learned so much about the intersectionality of our communities and whether or not we are voting. I also learned about how to interact with the African-American and Muslim communities which I am a part of and trying to get them to vote.

 

Isabel: For sure. You are also a director for March For Our Lives Utah which is really cool. What does that group mean to you and what are your roles within it?

 

Daud: When my family fled from Somalia there was a lot of gun violence and people could not really do anything to fix it. So, when I saw the opportunity to join MFOL, I had to step up. I have personally experienced people close to me in the United States dying because of guns and it was a situation where I needed to stand up. My role right now is as the Public Relations Director, so I am in charge of social media, outreach, newsletters, and making sure that the people in our community’s voices are being uplifted.

 

Isabel: What do you think that our lawmakers could be doing to prevent the gun violence epidemic in this country?

 

Daud: The first thing I think we need to do is recognize that gun violence is a health crisis and a public safety issue. It is the job of politicians to listen to people who have experienced it and are trying to solve it. The first step to solving any problem is recognizing it exists. We need to reach across all party lines because gun violence does not care about race, wealth or gender. Gun violence cares about whether or not you have a body that can be killed. We have tried to make this a liberal versus conservative thing when in reality, it is human lives versus a gun.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. Do you feel like having a Gun Sense majority in the House will help create a better future for young people?

 

Daud: I think that having a Gun Sense majority in the House is the very very very first step that we are ensuring. Here in Utah, I am working with the legislative body on local reform just to make sure that our voices are uplifted. If everyone does their part in their community, we can start moving to the national level. It is really hard to get every House member and Senator to agree on the same thing, but it is easy to reach out where you are because gun violence is a federal, state, and local level issue.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about?

 

Daud: I have a lot of secret things in the works. I am excited to start working on my voting initiative for 2020 because there is no rest after 2018, it is just onto the next election we have to prepare for. I am ready to reach out to young people and give them a role in our democracy. Since we had the largest voter turnout of the last 25 years in these mid-term elections with people 18-25, I think it will just keep going. Also, look out for me at the Women’s March!

 

Isabel: Very cool. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Daud: My advice is a 3 step thing. Identify a problem that you are passionate about, find organizations to work for within your community, and if you can’t find an organization then get a couple friends together to create one. All of these opportunities won’t just be there for us. We have to create them ourselves and make sure our voices are being uplifted through our work or because politicians care enough to listen to our experiences. Being in Utah, I noticed a lot of the inequalities that people face here and I didn’t know what to do. I said “You know what? I am a debate kid” and I wrote an Oratory about Islamophobia. It ended up being the best ranked Oratory in Utah and qualified for nationals. I did that because you have to create your own platforms and while the people in your community might not always understand the issue, you can make solving it a reality.

DAUD MUMIN

@daud.mumin

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I chatted with Nyasha Magocha, a 19 year-old gun control activist from Dallas, Texas. We talked about the NRA, universal background checks, and inspiring young people.

 

Isabel: What inspired you to join the fight for gun safety around this country and why do you think so many students are passionate about it?

 

Nyasha: I think the thing that pushed me to start fighting was noticing the level of apathy not just from elected officials, but also from the people around me. It was really odd for me to see people normalizing gun violence and it just got to a point where I felt like I needed to say something. I could not continue to be complacent along with the people around me.

 

Isabel: What do you think that adults and lawmakers are getting wrong when it comes to the discussion of gun control?

 

Nyasha: Elected officials are controlled by NRA money. Big NRA money is the issue, but they are also not listening to their constituents. According to a Quinnipiac University poll that was released last November, 97% of Americans support universal background checks. That percentage includes gun owners, so the fact that it is the most agreed on topic with no action behind it shows that elected officials are not listening to their constituents. They are listening to the NRA and they have this belief that young people don’t care about anything. That we won’t organize or mobilize enough to make a change. They continue to doubt young people and what we are really capable of doing in this fight.

 

Isabel: Yeah. What does it mean for you to be part of such a big student-led movement? Do you think young people are more likely to create change?

 

Nyasha: It means a lot. It’s incredibly empowering to see people my age from all different backgrounds and experiences uniting and coming together against gun violence. I think this issue should be an intersectional issue because we all experience different things and it is inspiring to see people who have been through different forms of gun violence come together as one.

 

Isabel: That is a perfect segway. I saw that you recently participated in the Eighteen x 18 Summit to increase youth engagement and voter turnout. What was that experience like for you?

 

Nyasha: Honestly, it was the best experience of my life. I came back home ready to work harder, start new projects, and find ways to create change in my community. It was a breath of fresh air to see young people come together and celebrate the work they are doing on a local or national scale. It was 150 young people together strategizing on different ways to increase the number of 18-25 year olds who are voting.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you want to shout out?

 

Nyasha: I work with studentsmarch.org and we are currently working on the WeAreThe97 campaign which was created to highlight the elected officials who support universal background checks and also highlight the ones who don’t. For myself, I am working on a book drive in my community to help children here and internationally.

 

Isabel: Very cool. I’m asking everybody this: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Nyasha: I think it is really important to never give up. Don’t let anyone discourage you.

NYASHA MAGOCHA

@magocha99

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I had a powerful conversation with Saida Dahir, a 17 year-old gun control activist based in Utah. We talked about intersectionality across movements, art creating emotion, and what meddling kids did in the mid-terms.

Isabel: So, you are a very strong advocate for gun control in this country. What does it mean to be a black Muslim young person in that fight?

 

Saida: I think that what I do now is all about representation for people who don’t have voices. The gun control movement is very intersectional because there are a lot of people affected by it in third-world countries and American schools. Being a refugee, my family has fled a war-torn country where guns were very accessible everywhere then we come to the United States and it’s turning into another warzone.

 

Isabel: I saw your speech at the March For Our Lives in your community and thought it was incredible. What has it been like being a part of that particular initiative?

 

Saida: Being part of that group, I just felt so fortunate. Growing up, I really didn’t see anybody that looked like me doing things that were influential, so being up there felt like I was representing a wide variety of intersectional groups that need to have their voices heard. I want to pave the way for future generations.

 

Isabel: Very cool. In these mid-term elections, 27 candidates backed by the NRA lost their seats. Do the results of the mid-term elections give you any hope on what the future looks like?

 

Saida: Oh my god yes. I was watching results of the mid-terms with my fellow March For Our Lives people and we were so ecstatic. The changes that need to happen are going to happen because a couple of meddling kids decided to do something about it. There were some huge losses in the mid-term elections that we wanted to flip, but it’s so amazing to see that we put power to our voices. We did that.

 

Isabel: Yeah, for sure. I can also tell from following you on Instagram that you love creating art and writing. Why is art such a powerful tool for change right now?

 

Saida: There is this new phrase being thrown around right now called “artivism” and it is the power of expressing yourself. I do poetry as my artivism which means telling my stories and making them poetic so they can inflict emotion because art is fundamental when it comes to emotion. In every big movement, there are chants, songs, poems, paintings, and I think it is universal that when people need to be uplifted they turn to art.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you want to give a platform to?

 

Saida: Right now, I am a senior in high school, so these months are just dedicated to college applications and getting that ready. So, I took a pause on activism to try and get into college, but I can’t wait to be back and dive into activism like I did before.

 

Isabel: I’m also looking at colleges, so I get that. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Saida: As a young person who also wanted to speak out and change the world, I can say that it is our turn to do it. I think that people are scared because they feel lonely. I remember when I started activism at 12 years-old going to #FreePalestine rallies being very vulnerable that no one else talked about activism, but I began to find a community of like-minded people who also wanted to change the world. My biggest advice to activists who want to do this is to not do it alone. You don’t have to. You can find a huge amount of people online and at local events who want to help you take action.

SAIDA DAHIR

@saida_dahir

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I talked with Sydna Kennedy, a 16 year-old gun control activist based in California. We discussed standing up for safety, creating art out of hard times, and pre-registering to vote! 

 

Isabel: So, you have led a school walkout and a voter registration drive within your community. What inspired you to get active in the fight for gun control?

 

Sydna: The March For Our Lives kids 100%. I think they were the fire behind a lot of people’s desire to start protesting. 

 

Isabel: What do you think that lawmakers are doing wrong when it comes to gun legislation?

 

Sydna: They’re not making any changes. They’re not listening to anybody’s demands. They’re not doing anything after innocent people keep dying. So, they’re not doing their job. 

 

Isabel: Yeah. I feel like the reason kids are having so much success in this movement is because they have seen the effects of it first-hand. Why do you think young people should be at the forefront of this fight?

 

Sydna: I think because it is our lives at stake. The adults in charge don’t seem to be doing anything about it, so that really leaves it up to us. We’re not just going to sit here and keep getting murdered. We have to do something about it because it’s our lives.

 

Isabel: What advice do you have for people who want to speak out in their school or community, but are afraid of what people might say?

 

Sydna: It depends on where you live, but I live in a small community that’s pretty conservative where everybody loves their guns and supports things that I don’t agree with. So, I would just say you have to go out and do it no matter how scared you are. Just do little things because if you can stand up you should stand up. 

 

Isabel: Are there any projects you are currently working on that you want to shout-out here?

 

Sydna: The last big thing I did was the voter registration drive which my friends and I held in September in front of our town’s local library. I am currently writing a screenplay about political times now and what it is like to grow up in the Trump administration. I started working on it a couple months ago and it’s getting there. 

 

Isabel: That is ridiculously awesome. I feel like creating art is a form of political activism and resistance in a way, you know what I mean?

 

Sydna: Oh yeah. If there’s anything this administration has taught me it is that you have to make art from a bad situation because as horrible as things are right now, there has been so much wonderful art coming from it. Shows, books, movies, paintings, articles, drawings, and everything else. Art is just a positive thing. 

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: As you know, mid-term elections are coming up November 6th. In your opinion, why is it important to get out and vote?

 

Sydna: It is very important to get out and vote no matter who you are or what you stand for because voting gives you the right to elect someone with your best interest at heart. It’s also really important to vote for those of us who can’t. Although, the very first thing I did this morning on my 16th birthday was wake up and pre-register to vote. I have been waiting for that for months, but I still can’t vote in the mid-terms. So, for anyone who can I will say that it is your civic duty and it is the least you could do. No matter who you are. 

SYDNA KENNEDY

@sydna_k148

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I had a conversation with Andy Porter, an 18 year-old gun control activist from Montgomery, Alabama. We talked about youth-led movements and what lawmakers should consider. 

 

Isabel: What got you involved with the fight for gun safety in the United States?

 

Andy: Here in Montgomery, a young girl was walking to her middle school when she was shot and killed. That incident sparked my interest in gun safety laws not only in the country, but in Alabama. It happened in my freshman year and immediately after, I hosted a rally where we talked about what we could do to prevent gun violence in schools, our city, and the state. 

 

Isabel: That’s great. Can you talk about your position as co-leader in Students Demand Action Montgomery? What are your responsibilities within that group?

 

Andy: Well, co-leader is like vice president. My duties are basically to help out our leader Aylon Gipson in everything he does relating to the group. When we make decisions on what to do for SDA, we ask each other questions and give suggestions.

 

Isabel: This is not the first time in history that kids have taken action and changed the course of history. Why do you think that youth-led movements are so successful?

 

Andy: I think youth-led movements are so successful because adults tend to do things the wrong way. Who can ignore hundreds of kids begging for gun laws? No one. They are going to listen. We are showing state and elected officials that we are fighting for what we want because students don’t fight for things they don’t care about. 

 

Isabel: Totally. What is something you think politicians should know as the movement for common sense gun legislation grows bigger?

 

Andy: I just want them to think about their children. What if it was your child? What if it was your child’s high school that was being invaded by a mentally ill person with access to a firearm? Why are you fine with an AR-15 being out in the streets for anyone to get? That gun should be allowed for nothing but military purposes. The fact that it can cause so much mass destruction is awful. I just want them to think about their kids.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism related projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Andy: I just want teens to get registered to vote. That is what I am really focused on right now. If you are 18 or older, register to vote. Your vote is your voice. 

 

Isabel: That is a perfect segway. I’m asking everybody this: As you know, mid-term elections are November 6th. Why is it important to get out and vote?

 

Andy: To me, I feel like you can’t complain if you didn’t vote. You can’t complain on things not getting fixed if you didn’t get out and try to fix them. These mid-term elections are so important and it is a perfect time to exercise your right to vote. If you have a problem with what a candidate is doing then voice it and vote for another party. Don’t complain after the election if you didn’t vote. 

ANDY PORTER

@mkm_andy334

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I had a conversation with Aylon Gipson, an 18 year-old gun control activist based in Alabama. We talked about the importance of voting, fighting for gun reform in the south, and congress being old.

 

Isabel: As a young person, what do you think needs to change with the way our country handles gun violence?

 

Aylon: I think we need stricter background checks. It is not right for a person who is severely mentally ill to own a gun. People with unchecked mental issues that do not have extensive training on how to work a gun should not have their hands on one. We as citizens need to start taking accountability for our own possessions. A gun should not make its way to a child’s hands at any point and time.

 

Isabel: Can you tell me about the work you do as Student Demand Action Montgomery’s Group Leader and what that group is all about?

 

Aylon: I recently became leader of SDA Montgomery and I am grateful for being elected into that position. The work we have been doing has basically been about informing voters of stricter gun laws and school safety. Through social media, we have also informed people about mid-terms and how they need to go vote in this mid-term election. This mid-term is going to be vital to the way our nation will be formed in the next couple of years. One thing that I want to stress as group leader is that people of all backgrounds need to vote.

 

Isabel: For sure. What inspired you to join Students Demand Action and the fight for gun safety within the United States?

 

Aylon: What inspires me everyday is when I see someone who has died of gun violence that never should have. With all these school shootings that are happening, it worries me that a shooter is going to come into my building and my life might be over in a split-second. It’s sad that the country is like that and I have to worry about those situations, so that’s why I am motivated. That is why I am informing people about the laws being made and how important it is to vote. We need to vote and we need stricter gun laws. Not taking away guns, but making sure well-trained responsible people have them. We don’t need teachers armed. That’s a very big issue.

 

Isabel: Totally. That would be insane. So, why do you believe that young people should form groups and collaborate with each other when it comes to activism?

 

Aylon: I believe that young people should come together because we are the future. We will predict how this nation will go and it is time for us to step up. The people in congress are old and in the future, I think there will be some young faces moving up in political offices.

 

Isabel: That would be awesome. Alabama is a pretty hard state to fight for gun control in. What is your advice to kids who live in more conservative states that wanna speak out against the norm?

 

Aylon: My advice is just that you should start. If you start and you are passionate about what you’re doing, it will go a long way and even if you live in a state where it is hard to fight for gun laws, just keep pushing. You will have a breakthrough and somebody will listen to you at some point. Keep striving to do your best.

 

Isabel: What kinds of things are you working on now? Are there any projects you want to give a platform to here?

 

Aylon: We are currently working on recruitment for SDA Montgomery and planning meetings as we speak.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: As you know, the mid-term elections are coming up November 6th. In your opinion, why is it important to get out and vote?

 

Aylon: It is very important to get out and vote and it is important for me because my ancestors have died for the right to vote. They have marched for the right to vote and we need to exercise that right. It only takes about 20 minutes to go in there, check who you want to represent you, and leave. We want to have safe schools and offices, so it is very important for us to vote. People say your vote is your voice and I believe in that strongly. Vote. Please.

AYLON GIPSON

@aylonxlv

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I had a great conversation with Love Lundy, a 16 year old gun control activist based in New Jersey with arguably the best name on the planet. We talked about student-led movements, Black Lives Matter, and being in love with Rachel Maddow.

 

Isabel: So, you were an organizer at the March For Our Lives in your community (then Alabama,) what does that movement mean to you?

 

Love: It’s a form of empowerment for me as a student. I didn’t really realize the full power of my voice in terms of making a change in the community I am active in until I saw there was a necessity for young people to be involved in their own space. We have this weird conception that adults should create a lifestyle for students so, it’s time for us to take that power that should have always been ours and use it to the best of our ability.

 

Isabel: Yeah, for sure. What do you think that lawmakers need to understand about the student-led gun control movement specifically?

 

Love: They’re moving too slowly. There job is literally to make laws for people, but we have to now go to school, deal with the trials of being a teenager, deal with family life, deal with just all these teenage things, and also make laws to protect ourselves which is not our job at all. Lawmakers should be doing their job more efficiently and effectively because we literally don’t have time anymore.

 

Isabel: I agree with that 100%. You can’t really talk about gun control without also talking about the Black Lives Matter Movement and racial equality as part of that. How have those things affected your work within your community?

 

Love: You know, it was hard for me initially. When I was on tour with the MFOL kids, I was expressing to them that I was kind of torn because when I was first hosting the march within my community these black girls who are my friends were texting me that the march was excluding Black Lives Matter and I was explaining that they are trying to work with student leaders especially those who have been promoting gun control for a while. It’s still a struggle for me now to not look like I am siding with anyone, but I just think MFOL is doing more for the black community than people like to acknowledge.

 

Isabel: I also know that you wanna be a journalist which is incredible. What inspired you to pursue that and how important do you think young journalists are to our society?

 

Love: That’s a great question. I love to talk. I love to talk and I love explaining things if not to other people then literally to myself. That’s the way I learn. I try to understand a concept by explaining it to myself and I thought “maybe that’s a gift I should share with other people who learn this way as well.” I wanted to become a doctor because my main goal in life is to help other people, but I realized I could achieve that through journalism as well. I had this epiphany while watching Rachel Maddow and I was like “I have been watching her for nine years and she is the love of my life. I wonder why I am so drawn to her. Maybe it’s because she does something I wanna do?” I love writing, talking, politics, debating, informing people, comforting people, and I just think journalism is fun. I think being a young journalist is more fun because you are just new to the game and I just love journalism. You will hear me say that once a day.

 

Isabel: That’s very awesome. Getting back to my previous question about the March For Our Lives stuff, we’ve seen in history that when young people speak out stuff kind of gets done. Why do you think that young activists are the key to creating radical change?

 

Love: Because people underestimate us. Adult society expects young people to just not have brains. It’s so strange. Adult society puts young people into these boxes and then when human nature kicks in and they go out of the boxes, adults are like “woah why did you do that?” They are surprised that we have our own thoughts and opinions. That is why change comes so rapidly from then on because the surprise is like “oh if they care about this then we should too.”

 

Isabel: For sure, for sure. I’m just like agreeing with you so hard right now. So, you are a teenage girl as am I and it can be a lot sometimes. Do you feel inspired by young girls to continue the fight for equality even when it’s hard?

 

Love: For me, all the activists that I look up to are women. Well okay, when I was on tour with the MFOL kids, Bradley Thortan, Brendan Duff, and John Barnitt are three of my literal favorite people in the entire world. They are great guys, they are so hard working, and I love them to death. So, shout out to them because they brought me on tour and showed me this passion. That’s off-topic, I just had to say I love them so much. Other than them, I really can’t think of guy activists that I look up to. Girls are the forefront of every movement that is good.

 

Isabel: And that needs to be on a T-Shirt. Are you working on any projects now that you wanna shout out?

 

Love: I am working on the Peter Joffrion for Congress campaign in District 5 of Northern Alabama. That’s not just important because it’s an election, it is important because our incumbent Mo Brooks is a repulsive man who does not deserve to be in office anymore. He doesn’t understand basic morals. He thinks domestic abuse is just drama, he thinks climate change isn’t real and we live in Alabama.

 

Isabel: Where it is 90 degrees in October.

 

Love: Right! He said that he would “do anything short of shooting them” when talking about undocumented immigrants. So, he’s just an immoral man, but shoutout to Peter Joffrion who fits all the requirements to be a good person. He is also very qualified to be in congress and is a great representative of where I used to live. I’m still working with March For Our Lives, still working with the High School Democrats of America who are doing great work to get out the Blue Wave. Then on a broader scale, something I learned while on tour was to pay attention to your school board elections. Get involved in them, run for them, and make change within your school. It is a lot more important than people think. Education is taken for granted in this country and it is time to change that.

 

Isabel: Yeah. Lastly, as you know mid-term elections are coming up on November 6th. Why is it so important to get out and vote?

 

Love: Voting is just one knotch on the key to open the door to civic freedom. That was the worst thing I have ever said, but I think I am going somewhere with it. You know how keys have like multiple ridges? That’s just one ridge closer to opening the door that will make America pretty cool. Voting is extremely important, it is a way to voice who you want to represent you, but also you can’t just vote. You have to vote and volunteer and phone-bank and canvass and support your candidate financially and do whatever you can to get other people involved in civic engagement. How do you expect what you want to happen if you don’t at least try to vote? People will say because of the 2016 election that voting doesn’t matter, but there were some other forces at hand in that situation. We just need to keep proving that voting is important and we need to protect it, so America can be better for everyone. Do it now.

LOVE LUNDY

@theblackaltoid