By Lindsay Schawelson, NFTY-Southwest
Gun violence in America is more real and prevalent than ever. Sandy Hook happened when I was 12 years old and I remember exactly where I was when I found out that 26 children were murdered in cold blood. The scarier part was that NOTHING happened after the shooting. Thoughts and prayers were given throughout the country, the news cycle ran for about two weeks, and all of America, including myself moved on. Until the next one happened. This cycle of shootings, thoughts and prayers, and moving on invoked no change in our government- no matter who was in power. How can you make a change if no one seems to care for more than a few weeks?
Parkland was different. The shooting happened in a school where kids are politically active and the media paid a little more attention than usual. It sparked a movement. Adults wondered why all of the sudden, teens cared about guns and politics. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I can tell you my response as to why I and all the organizers felt such a passion for this cause. It’s because it’s personal. We walk into school every day unprotected. In Arizona there are no universal background checks and the gun show loophole further demolishes our gun regulation. Fire drills used to be a fun excuse to miss class but now they are haunted by fear, not of a fire, but of a shooter on the roof or in the crowd of a school of 2,000 kids. I should not be afraid to go to school, yet the day of our walkout, there was a fire drill two hours before. We paused and looked around at each other, weighing the risks of going outside. We were scared a shooter pulled the alarm. My teacher looked in the hallway to make sure he didn’t see a gunman before he let us out. This is personal and it’s real and it’s scary.
Following the announcement of a nationwide March, I knew I wanted get involved. I had been in Washington DC in the beginning of March where I was able to talk to Senator Nelson from Florida about how the tragedy struck me so personally. Coming home, I was contacted about helping to organize the Day of Action at the capitol that took place on March 14th. I went to a meeting in Phoenix where I thought we would be going over the logistics for that day, and while we did, I also found out that this meeting would be about organizing the March For Our Lives. I jumped at the opportunity to help out and I was quickly put in charge of about 400 volunteers and logistics of the March. I have loved programming ever since I became PVP of BITY in 2016 and those skills directly translated into my organization for the March. I worked with another girl and we had 2-hour meetings almost every night of my spring break and the following week in preparation for the March. I was also put on the Press team, which meant that three others and I were in charge of going to different news stations to talk about the March in order to attract attention to it. I also helped to write an article for the local newspaper and helped with other logistics including the timeline of the actual March. On top of all of this, there were only about 10 main organizers and we were meeting in person twice a week for 2-3 hours each session in order to get everything done. Needless to say, it was a big job. We all became quick friends and kept each other motivated and happy by knowing we were all in the same boat of stress for the March, which was quickly approaching.
Saturday, March 24th. 4am wake up time and the only thing I’m worried about is if anyone would show up. We get to the capitol at 5:30am to start set up and by 8am thousands are already filling the Capitol lawn. I am on headset speaking with the rest of the organizers about logistics and our stage is playing music for everyone to hear. By 10am speeches are beginning and I am offered to share a speaking slot. I accept and step onto the stage. I am usually a nervous speaker, and maybe it was the fact that I had been up so early, but I went on the stage and looked out to thousands of eyes looking right at me. I spoke slowly (for a change) and got off the stage relieved. I then ran all the way to the opposite side of the Capitol because I needed to actually start the March. The March starts and I walk the 2 mile route feeling more empowered than I ever had before. The day ends and I go home and revel in the success of the March.
It wasn’t over though. While the March was highly successful, nothing changed after that day. The AZ state legislature has not passed any gun regulatory laws and Governor Ducey’s plan is a weak insult to everything we have worked so hard for. The fight continues and we are still pushing hard. Want to get involved and help? You can help organize your school walkout or help register your school’s juniors and seniors to vote by signing up on MarchForOurLivesAZ.org. Being an organizer for this March was on of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. It is the easiest thing in the world to get involved and make a change. You are powerful! As a senior graduating in two months the best thing NFTY has left me with is leadership skills that I know we all have. Use them and get involved with a cause that you are passionate about!