“How To: Survive A Mass Shooting,” was the first thing I read when I opened my computer’s browser this morning. My heart sank into my stomach when I finally wrapped my head around what I had just read.
Like many of you, I’m inspired by America’s youth, or should I say Generation Z, and the action they’ve taken in recent weeks by marching, campaigning, and petitioning for a crucial change in America so that mass casualties such as Sandy Hook and Parkland never happen again.
I wanted to better understand where their thoughts lie in a time where mass shootings have become so common that “tips” and “tricks” on how to survive these situations go viral. I wanted to learn what fears they bring with them to their desks every day and what exactly they believe needs to be done to erase them.
So, I reached out to a few of the student organizers of Chicago’s March For Our Lives, and listened. I listened and learned what inspires them, what hopes and concerns they have, and what pushes them to keep, literally and figuratively, marching on and standing up for what they believe in.
“I’m motivated by the fact that gun violence in Chicago and across the nation is the status quo. That shouldn’t be the way it is, and that’s how it is,” Jeremy Liskar, a senior at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, said.
Growing up in Detroit and coming from a place where my biggest worries in my middle and high school classrooms ranged somewhere between figuring out what was for lunch that day, and how I was going to ace my Spanish test, I wanted to hear their stories and at least try to comprehend what’s going on in their minds during a time where losing classmates, friends, and family members to gun violence is tragically becoming the norm.
“I saw a tweet the other day where a parent was talking about how his 6-year-old daughter was crying because she has light-up shoes and she said ‘Dad, if there was a shooter in the school, they would be able to see me because of my shoes,’” Sabrina Bitre, a senior at Hoffman Estates High School, said. “It broke my heart that this is the generation we’re growing.”
Isn’t the point of having light-up shoes to make a statement and stand out from all the rest? Not anymore. Not when they increase your chances of being the target for a 19-year-old active shooter who purchased an AR-15 legally. Not here in today’s America.
“The one word that I thought was, ‘again,’” Lauren Flowers a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School said upon hearing the news that 17 people lost their lives in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL on February 14th. “This has happened, again?”
According to a recent report by CNN, there have been at least 12 school shootings in the year 2018 already. It’s only March… that’s an average of four per month. Another report by Chicago’s ABC 7 News states that there have been 344 shooting victims in the city of Chicago alone this year… that’s over three people per day injured by guns.
“I think of people I see in the hallway, I think of my friends, I think of my teachers, and there’s just a pit in my stomach that somebody can be here one moment, and not be there the next. That’s not supposed to be the case when you’re at school. You’re supposed to be protected, you’re supposed to be there to get an education, and the only thing you should have to worry about is getting an education,” Bitre said.
Although some of these organizers aren’t even old enough to vote, their intellect stretches far beyond their years, and their concerns regarding gun violence stem from other societal problems. They hope this movement also sheds light and creates conversation on other issues including intersectionality, poverty, and lack of funding for education, which in turn will decrease gun violence not just in schools, but on the streets as well.
“We have to realize that this doesn’t just happen in affluent white communities. This has been happening in inner cities and marginalized groups since the beginning of time, and they’ve been taking to the streets but have been shut down by the government and the media,” Bitre said. “I feel like this march is so important because we’re taking that platform that those Parkland students created and saying, ‘Let’s also not forget about these people.’ Being the voice of the people that people don’t listen to.”
According to a Mother Jones database of U.S. mass shootings since 1982, black males are responsible for 16 percent of mass shootings, which is less than one-third of the 54 percent that are white males, yet America more times than none, portrays people of color in a different light.
“I really want us to start treating shooters of every race, the same way. I don’t understand why we put so much blame on people of color. We put so many negative stereotypes on them and we make them out to be monsters, but when a white man shoots up a school, people say they’re mentally ill and we have every reason in the world for why they did what they did,” Flowers said. “I feel like our lives are just not treated the same way, and I really hope that this movement will help people to see that gun violence, no matter where it is, it’s still important. No matter who is affected by it.”
With Chicago having stricter gun laws than other states, Juan Reyes, a senior at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, and a member of the Chicago Students Union, which focuses on giving Chicago Public School students a voice on local issues, has hopes this movement will extend beyond issues with the National Rifle Association.
“We want to mimic the [students] in Parkland in terms of how they are pressuring politicians. But we want to pressure them by saying, ‘We want more resources in the city for food and education to improve these impoverished communities,’ instead of just not taking money from the NRA and [issuing] tighter background checks, because that’s not really a problem here. It’s more giving to these underfunded schools, giving more resources to these communities.”
Just a few days after Parkland’s tragedy, President Trump suggested arming teachers, a proposal that according to The Washington Post, would cost anywhere from $251 million to an upward of $1 billion dollars depending on training and firearm costs.
“It’s not a coincidence that the communities most affected by gun violence in the United States are communities that are low income where people are living in poverty and are communities that have the worst education systems in America,” Bitre said. “The levels of resources that are being given to these schools are so poor, and the amount that these teachers are getting paid is so little. I think the millions of dollars that they want to put into a program for teachers to be armed should be going into the schools, because once we start seeing a better education system, the violence will start to deteriorate, little by little.”
With the amount of “thoughts and prayers” spoken outweighing the amount of action being taken to decrease gun violence, these student organizers are looking for bills with new laws to be passed, not tweets with condolences to be sent.
“Thoughts and prayers are fine, if you are [also] actively doing something to eradicate the problem, thoughts and prayers aren’t fine if you’re talking money from the NRA, and just voicing your “thoughts and prayers,” Bitre said.
Our country’s Second Amendment, which many believe solidifies citizens’ rights to own guns including semi-automatic weapons, has been a topic of debate for years, especially regarding the advancement of weapons since the creation of the Bill of Rights.
“The Second Amendment was created when they couldn’t even fathom the type of weapons that we have now,” Bitre said. “Isn’t it my right to live? Isn’t it my right to feel safe at school?”
In a report by The Washington Post, the Second Amendment was first written in 1791, when a standard revolutionary-style musket held just one round, and had an effective rate of fire of three rounds per minute. Today a standard AR-15 can hold 30 rounds and has an effective rate of fire of 45 rounds per minute, not to mention a maximum range of up to 550 feet… 500 feet further than a revolutionary-style musket.
“I hope by the end of this movement, we’re able to look back at the Second Amendment and say, ‘We’ve successfully applied this to the 21st century, and what it should look like in modern times.’” Liskar said. “Because right now I think the interpretation is so outdated.”
Generation Z has banded together and shown us there’s a lot more to them than just the latest social media fad, or coolest fashion trend. From Parkland to Chicago to Los Angeles to Baltimore, students are reaching out for funding, making t-shirts, designing posters, all to help make America safe again.
“It was a kick in the face, the idea that teenagers can’t do anything, that teenagers need adults to get things done, that we’re lazy, and that we don’t care enough about anything to really make progress,” Flowers said. “Just seeing what myself and so many others are capable of is really amazing to me, and it just makes me so happy.”
From the nationwide student walkout that took place on March 14th, to marches to sit-ins to rallies, all organized for the upcoming weeks, America’s youth shows no signs of backing down when it comes to the demand for change in our country.
“I’m really proud that this event has been able to sustain beyond the typical press cycle, and that people aren’t just saying, ‘Okay, we’re ready for gun reform,’” Liskar said. “No. We’re demanding gun reform. We’re going to march on the 24th, and there’s another walkout on April 20th. This isn’t going away.”
March For Our Lives Chicago is set to take place on March 24th at Union Park at 11:00am. For more information on where March For Our Lives is happening in your city, visit their website.