By Khalida Sarwari
You’ll see it tweeted and retweeted on Twitter, snapped on Snapchat, posted on Instagram and shared on Facebook. The youth of America are rising up on Saturday to send a loud message to Congress: they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
At Saturday’s March for Our Lives event, thousands of young people across the country are planning to take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and to call upon lawmakers to tighten gun laws. Organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the main event takes place in Washington, D.C., but local rallies are planned all over.
The big event here in the South Bay takes place in downtown San Jose and, at least on Facebook, 3,000 people had committed to going just days leading up to the event.
Among them will be Sarah Sotoudeh, a 16-year-old sophomore at Lynbrook High School who is confident that her and her peers’ efforts will have an impact on politicians.
“We are constituents and we are the people who are going to be voting in two or three years, so I think (the march) sends a strong message to listen to the youth,” she said. “I think it’s a problem across America; it’s the way we handle guns, it’s the way we promote guns, and the way we discuss guns. America has a really awful gun problem and I don’t think it’s limited to the stereotypical south or to Chicago.”
Sarah was one of the organizers of the National School Walkout at Lynbrook on March 14. She and a few other members of her school’s social justice club, Intersections, rallied more than 400 students to leave their class and assemble in the quad for a 20-minute program where they’d invited students as well as representatives from Assemblymen Evan Low and Ash Kalra’s offices to speak. She and her fellow organizers also had a computer set up where students could pre-register to vote.
The day before the Feb. 14 school shooting that claimed 17 lives, students at Lynbrook participated in a “Run, Hide, Defend” drill, a countywide annual procedure that prepares students for an active-shooter-on-campus situation. For many, the significance of the drill didn’t really set in until after the Florida shooting, Sarah said.
Every student processed the events of that day in their own way. Amber Lee, a senior at Lynbrook and president of Intersections, said while she was pleased with the turnout the walkout received, especially for a school that typically prioritizes academics above all else, she finds herself feeling not as invested in the gun control issue as her peers. Still, she felt the repercussions of it in her own way.
“From a student’s point of view, I think it’s pretty ridiculous and I hate seeing my friends tear up or cry over this,” the 17-year-old said. “I don’t want to have my teachers to feel like they have to risk their lives to save my life, so in that sense it is upsetting.”
Selena Jeong, a junior at Lynbrook who helped Amber and Sarah plan their school’s walkout, said she too found herself desensitized by the Florida shooting at first. Later, the 16-year-old said it dawned on her that blocking out the news was a defense mechanism.
“Once I started to really put my time into (the walkout) and organize it and realize the grand scope of the lives lost—they’re not just 17 people; they all had lives—just realizing that and going from totally not caring to really being impacted personally by the stories, I realized how meaningful and powerful this should be and is,” she said.
Naisha Agarwal, an eighth-grader at Redwood Middle School, chose to sit out the walkout because she was scared of getting in trouble, even though the Redwood administration assured the students it supported the initiative. However, the 13-year-old does plan on taking part in the march, because it’s a chance to send a message to politicians, she said.
“I think the reason why kids are really standing up for this shooting… I mean 17 people their own age were shot,” she said. Their lives were ended and it was all because a 19-year-old had access to a military weapon. Because of our gun laws, he got access to it and shot 17 teenagers who are all their own age, so I think kids are really connecting to that.”
And now that they have, Naisha and her friends are reflecting on what changes they’d like to see in order to feel safer in school.
“I think we should make the background checks more rigorous,” Naisha said. “I think we should make a curriculum for proper certification of firearms. I was also thinking to create a license which owners need to have and renew every couple of years.”
Ruchi Maheshwari, a junior at Saratoga High School, wondered if the changes would have to happen at the grassroots level.
“Something that would really get at the foundation of the issue, some sort of education,” the 17-year-old said. “There has to be an implementation of safety, some kind of insight into consequences. Of course, there’s a lot of talk about mental health treatment which is also definitely a smart choice and background checks, expanding that… offering training and education into what gun safety is and why it’s important.”
Ruchi said she plans to participate in the march along with her friends and will pre-register to vote at the event while she’s there.
“Every single person can make a difference. We have to make sure this topic stays in the news for as long as possible,” she said.