general newsletter

Voices of Change

March 9, 2018

Like many of you, I have been impressed and energized by the resolve, passion, and organizational skills of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Rather than writing a message this week, I thought it was important to share the reflections of Marie Camino, our newest staff member, on her experience at the events on March 24. – Lee Sherman, President & CEO

This past Saturday, I attended the March for Our Lives event here in Washington, D.C. I went to show my support, since I recently relocated to the D.C. area from Florida and have a niece who goes to school in Broward County. My expectations were high. I knew that within days of the shooting in Parkland, survivors took to social media to make their voices heard in a way the world has never before seen. Young people who have grown up with a platform to speak took their pain and utilized it to amass a huge following and plan an even larger event. After following these kids on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, it was clear that this movement was different, that this event would be powerful, and that this might finally be the time for change.

As one would expect, the crowds were massive. The entrances were small and it took about an hour to get in via the Chinatown entrance. The event started with video footage of police cars rushing to Marjory Stoneman Douglas and audio of the 911 calls. The shift in energy in the audience from bustling excitement to shocked and somber was palatable. Every single person fell silent. A nearby teenage girl, holding a jarring sign that read “am I next?” started to tear up. I wondered if she was picturing these things happening in her own school. The entire event was parsed out by clips of this nature, some even showing ads featuring NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch back to back with a Parkland survivor echoing rebuttals, to which the audience responded with anger, sadness, or a mixture of both. These clips caused the viewers to mirror the emotions of survivors everywhere, a combination of rage and grief that sparks an intense passion to organize and make long-overdue change. If that’s what the Parkland teens were trying to achieve, the reactions from the audience suggested that they nailed it.

The speakers were even more poignant than the videos. Notably, the speaker list included equal representation of youth of color who had been affected by gun violence, a demographic that is routinely ignored. Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler, who had to stand on a step stool to reach the microphone, Edna Chavez, who lost her brother to gun violence in L.A. and became a youth leader, and Zion Kelly, a D.C. student who lost his twin brother only six months ago, were some of the most moving speakers. These kids relived heart-wrenching experiences of losing loved ones for the audience in the most genuine way. They pushed back on the narrative that children cannot understand political issues, that they cannot have valid feelings or opinions on matters of national importance by baring their souls to our nation. I saw a child vomit in front of 500,000+ people due to trauma and rise up to continue her speech. Most of all, I saw immensely brave young citizens who have been forced to grow up well before they should have to. They were articulate and educated in a way that I wasn’t at that age, mostly because I didn’t have to be. They made very clear to the audience the impact that gun violence has had on their young lives. We were reverently listening to children as if they were adults, because the content showed that mentally, they aren’t children in the same way that we once were. This was mixed with the support that one would normally give to a child. We cheered loudest for the youngest speakers and shouted words of encouragement when they seemed overwhelmed or scared. I’m still in awe of their hold on the crowd and the dynamic that resulted. One thing I’m sure of after attending this march is that this generation is effective, they’re determined, and they have the tools to create change.

By Marie Camino, Public Policy Associate