Why This March For Our Lives Chapter is Organizing Intergenerationally to End Gun Violence
Today marks one year since the March For Our Lives. The mission of the March For Our Lives movement is to “end gun violence, elect morally just leaders into office and remind the world that young people have the power to drive real change”. I recently sat down with a few of the young activists of the March for Our Lives chapter in Georgia. “I’ve grown up constantly hearing about mass shootings and other instances of gun violence in the news. In this country it’s normalized,” said Royce Mann, a 17-year-old Co-Legislative Coordinator of March For Our Lives Georgia. “So many things that can be done to confront it, so many measures have been taken in other countries, and even in different parts of the U.S that have been successful in reducing gun violence.”
Nurah Abdulhaqq, the 15-year-old Outreach Director of March For Our Lives Georgia shared that she became involved because she has personally lost people to gun violence and has been affected by it. She states, “As a Black female Muslim, I am constantly affected by gun violence and I saw this movement as an opportunity for youth to speak out across the country because it wasn’t just Parkland that was activated, it was youth across the globe.”
In the face of such strong opposition, the young advocates maintain resilience by seeing both sides of the argument and being reminded that gun violence is a prevalent issue which won’t change unless they continue marching and lobbying. “There are a lot of people who are really working to move the state in a positive direction and a lot of young progressive legislators,” said Isabelle Balaban, another 18-year-old Co-Legislative Coordinator. “They keep me motivated. If they can work in the face of strong opposition everyday, it makes me believe I can do that as well.”
The March For Our Lives Georgia chapter also uses its platform to raise our country’s social consciousness to the plight of the communities that are most affected by gun violence. It is critical to amplify the voices of Black and Brown youth, who have been speaking out against gun violence for generations. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black children, who are also 14 times more likely than White children to lose their lives to gun violence.
“It’s about deliberate outreach and going to those communities and making sure they’re heard, because Black and Brown communities are more affected by gun violence than White upper middle-class communities. It’s about making sure that those communities have a place in your organizations,” Nurah told me. “Listen to the voices of those affected by it to make a change by taking the idea and making them a reality because the people most affected by it know how to fix it.”
To these teens, other March For Our Lives chapters can uplift Black and Brown voices in a way that speaks with them, is mindful of the fact that different communities are impacted by gun violence in different ways, and doesn’t perpetuate tokenization. “We have to make sure that we are fighting for solutions that address gun violence in the communities that are most affected by gun violence and not necessarily where gun violence gets the most attention,” said Royce.
In an educational system that disproportionately targets Black and Brown students, alternatives to increased police presence to promote school safety are important to these teens. These activists believe that implementing counselors, restorative justice programs that bring students together and mental health professionals is needed. “Making sure that students have a direct accessibility to a mental health professional and a resource they can outlet themselves to is needed,” said Nurah.
These activists say the President, politicians and other adults can support them in exercising their first amendment right by making the legislative process more transparent and accessible, donating to youth activists, increasing educational equity and providing them with their wisdom. “If adults were more willing to work with young people in an equal partnership, it would be even more effective than we already are in the work we’re doing,” said Royce. Isabelle’s message to adults who don’t support students is to not selectively apply the constitution to fit your agenda. “It shouldn’t be something that’s met with discipline or any negative repercussions because if we criticize students for using their first amendment right, then we’re just creating an apathetic generation, and if students are reaching out in solidarity with each other, we should let that happen.”
Intergenerational activism and organizing is vital to the Georgia chapter of March For Our Lives, who has collaborated with Representative John Lewis and other Civil Rights leaders. “We should be treated as equals because children as young as 14 are tried as adults in court, but they’re not treated as adults in the legislative process,” explains Isabelle. “We probably wouldn’t have to put up such a big fight. We’d probably have more support on bills, get a lot of stuff done and gun violence wouldn’t be such a big issue if we had the support of every adult, but we don’t, so we have to keep fighting,” said Nurah. To these activists, a world in which adults supported young folks in this fight would be a world in which they would work together to be the change they want to see.