By Bethlehem Zerihun
Once again we turn on our TVs or scroll through our feed and see there has been yet another school shooting. The Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was the eighth this year that has resulted in death or injury.
And once again we see news segment after news segment of paid correspondents having screaming matches and a barrage of tweets sending thoughts and prayers, only to have to lug our backpacks back to school, hoping it won’t be the next hashtag or news clip.
It’s scary to think that your school could be next. Or that one day you’ll come home and find out it was your cousin’s or sibling’s or even just any school, anywhere.
Dan Hodge, a newspaper columnist, tweeted: “In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
This statement proves to be increasingly true with every additional shooting.
The difference we’ve seen so far with the Parkland shooting is that for maybe the first time we are seeing a rise of teenage students who are demanding change.
They are utilizing social media to pressure legislators and organizing nationwide calls to action, such as boycotts and walkouts. It is the survivors of this mass shooting and those who insist they won’t have to become survivors who are piloting this movement.
So far there are three marches and/or walkouts being organized: on March 14, March 24 and April 20.
They all have the same general aim of insisting immediate government action to pass legislation addressing the current gun issues in the nation, but they have slightly different reasons for their existence and ways to participate in them.
The March 14 walkout is the National School Walkout led by the same group who organized the Women’s March. It starts at 10 a.m. in every time zone and encourages students, teachers, administrators, parents and allies to walk out for 17 minutes — one minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Some student organizers at various schools are choosing to organize a rally or an action day in conjunction with the march and walkout, while others are simply walking out then back in.
On the day of, and in the days leading up to, the walkout you can connect with other students, groups, or interested individuals using the hashtags: #enough #neveragain and #nationalschoolwalkout.
The March 24 event is organized by March for Our Lives — a group made up of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and other national organizers such as Planned Parenthood and Giffords.
According to the March for Our Lives website, their mission is to “demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”
This march also starts at 10 a.m., but unlike the National School Walkout, it will take place at the nation’s Capitol, Washington D.C. The are many sister marches that are being planned around the nation, however, that you can easily participate in. The one in Atlanta will take place at the Georgia Capitol building starting at 11 a.m.
Their website includes more information about other sister marches around the state and nation. Lyft is offering free rides to the marches across the country (with the caveat that anyone riding under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult).
March for Our Lives also has also organized Vote for Our Lives, a two-minute form you can fill out that registers you to vote.
The April 20 event is the National High School Walkout. It will also be the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting (which is now second in fatalities to the one that happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School). This march calls for students to walk out at 10 a.m. until the end of the school day.
The organizers encourage students to stay in a common space for 17 minutes in silence then participate in an open mic afterward.
Whether you choose to do something on the day of all three march/walkout days or just participate in one, it is important to help pick one for your school to get involved in.
Whichever day you pick, make sure you spread the word to all the students. It might be best to involve administration in the planning of the march, but their support or involvement isn’t vital, as long as it is safe.
Some schools and districts have reportedly threatened to punish students who speak out. In reality, schools cannot punish you any more than they would if you were to skip school.
Many universities have since sent mass emails to prospective students or made public announcements that they will disregard suspensions that may arise as a result of these walkouts. The ACLU is also making a point of defending students and their rights with respect to these walkouts.
No matter what you believe causes mass shootings or what you believe the solution to gun violence is, it is crucial that you get involved. Participating in these marches is an incredible way to do that, but it does not end there.
You should call and write to your representatives, which is much easier and much less intimidating than it might sound. If you are not sure what to say, you can look for sample letter formats or calling scripts online to get a better idea.
As soon as you turn 18, or if you will be 18 before the next election, you should register to vote in the presidential and midterm elections. You can easily do that through Vote for Our Lives or by texting HelloVote at (844) 344-3556.
You can also text “NRA” to 50409 to see who your representatives are and see how much money they have received from the National Rifle Association.
Despite what you may be led to believe, teens are not the future, they are the present.
Change isn’t waiting three or four years for us to become adults, it is here now. Teens have power and influence, and we need to use it to support the actions of students such as those in Parkland.
Given the inaction of adult legislators, we as teens also have the responsibility to make schools safer for ourselves and for future generations. Choosing not to vote or not to talk to your representatives is a decision to be complicit with the current state.
However you feel about this issue, it is important that you make it known to those who have the power to change it, such as your representatives, and there is no better time to do it than now.
Bethlehem, 17, is a senior at Paideia School.
NOTE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (on March 1) on local school districts’ statements about the March 14 National School Walkout. Check with your school or school system for how they will react to school absences, leaving or returning to school so you can be prepared if you participate.
This story was published at VOXAtl.com, Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression. For more about the nonprofit VOX, visit www.voxatl.org.