To the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, creators of the #NEVERAGAIN Initiative, 17-year-olds, fighting for our lives:
by Alyssa Sileo
When language eclipses emotion, we turn to examples and action. When thinking about it does nothing good for the source, I have to expose whatever it is. I’ve got too acute a sense of response for both these feelings.
I know you do too.
I don’t know how to say THANK YOU loud enough. I’m a Jersey girl. I know loud. Sometimes I think I should try, maybe it’ll make it all the way to Florida, maybe it’ll find its way to your hearts the way our ears burn when someone is talking about us in another room. I keep arriving at metaphors and crashing at their shores in the inadequacy of its expression of gratitude. I’m going to lay out as much as I can to build a document of my sincerity and admiration and applause.
I perform my advocacy in the name of souls that have touched me and that I know are present in my life. When things like money and time don’t always compute in your brain as viable benchmarks, only progress and impact, I need to check in with the sources of my work, what made me mad enough to get creative. I advocate in the name of Matthew Shepard and the Pulse 49. I wear a bracelet that benefits the Matthew Shepard Foundation that I found one month after I came out.
Whenever I am upset, whenever I feel unsafe in this queerness, the bracelet feels warmer on my wrist.
I advocate in the name of the theatre educators that first came into my life six years ago. At my last meeting with them, one of them gave me a ring that read “You Are My Sunshine” that he wore throughout scores of performances, because he told me my advocacy meant something to him. I haven’t taken the ring off since, and won’t until I pass it off to someone, after its been with me onstage as many times as it can.
Whenever I am lost, whenever I feel my art is not achieving what it needs, the ring feels tighter on my finger.
These devotions are the entities that built me. These are my values, my reasons to get up in the morning, why I don’t let my daily to-do-list go unattended, why my daily did-list is a joyful one.
And now I work in the name of every 17 year old who ever opened their mouth, because that inspiration can never ever run dry.
When I was 17 years old I began an international theatre advocacy initiative that connects worldwide theatrical performances to honor hate crime victims. It was a responsibility and love letter to my beloved communities and recently-synonymous identities, theatre artist and queer, and I felt I was earning my keep. The history and possibility of both of those families kept the earth below my feet, and every day logging into that Project email I feel as though I am lucky enough to contribute to the legacy.
And now I find another heritage just as fulfilling and just as fierce and just as talent-rich: having 17 years behind you and with you. I read once in drama class how it’s a culture and an ancestry that makes your work even comprehendible. I’m going to be using this 17 birthright super often now.
When you’re 17 years old, to become an activist is oftentimes a given.
I miss my former age so much, I always said I’d much prefer to be 17 years old rather than 18. Registering to vote snapped me back into my system and now I am enamored with 18. All before my birthday last Christmas Eve, I took time to remind myself that age is something that’s always with you, and I can tap back into any era of my life just by request.
#NEVERAGAIN Movement Warriors, Every time I see you tweet I am living 17 years old again. I’m living my life to the melody of every womyn rock song, to the text of every radical play, to the rhythm of seventeen’s fire again. And I am working so that every kid can live to 17 years old. I am retweeting so everyone knows where I stand. I want to share your brilliance because I want to be as loud as I can with my proof exhibition of how magnificent 17 year olds are.
Sometimes I get a little heated about it. I was unlucky enough to read over one of the worst tweets I have ever seen, spewed out by Jack Kingston, former GOP Rep:
“O Really? ‘Students’ are planning a nationwide rally? Not left wing gun control activists using 17yr old kids in the wake of a horrible tragedy? #soros #Resistance #antifa #DNC”
I was very very close to tweeting him back and stating my gross level of offense. I had just heard him speak on CNN radio, I had just braved the worst traffic, I had just gotten to school I didn’t tweet him back. I figured I state my case in a lengthier piece for a wider audience.
He better thank his God that these 17 year olds are saving his life.
The fact is these 17 year olds are gun control activists planning a nationwide rally in the wake of a horrible tragedy because legal adults cannot get their money out of their mouth because 17 year olds value lives more than greed, lives more than NRA grade ratings, lives more than ancient amends written in a time of principles most of us reject with a fervency. I tolerate most things, as a femme queer woman and artist who prefers to smile more than anything. I don’t stand with slander against 17 year old advocates. I was a 17 year old advocate. I fight for myself and I fight for my siblings.
I never advocated because someone felt I would be a valuable face of the movement. It’s because I knew I had to be a face of the movement. It was because someone needing advocating for and I was 17 years old and I was capable.
#NEVERAGAIN, you are 17 years old and you are overwhelmingly capable.
I will forever be slow to looking down at a 17 year old because they’re looking up for the rest of us. Every step of theirs is in an active direction for the rest of us.
#NEVERAGAIN Movement Makers: you’re looking up, you’re working in the name of your friends. You’re doing this, no matter how much society fails you. Society fails you but when one loves something, one see its potential, and thank you for loving us no matter how much we don’t listen or do listen. Love is an action and it’s your primary function.
The fact that most of you met in your theatre program, I cannot overstate my emotional response. The fact that you quote-tweet each other’s speeches and campaign statements with “Lookin’ good,” I cannot overstate my emotional response. The fact that you are smart enough to know a living room isn’t a living room, but is a room where it happens, I feel more than companionship and camaraderie, I feel that soul connection that only advocates get when they know other good hearts are on this earth.
And this is going to carry me forever. This is going to carry millions of people forever.
This is going to carry billions of people forever.
Whenever I feel terrified, whenever I’m struck to stillness in this 18 year old body, I feel my former age amplify within me.
I want to give you a gift, in addition to my subscription to Everytown and my personal vow to attend every local Moms Demand event I can, more than reaffirming my promise made at 15 to vote in every single election and adding my checking the NRA rating of every candidate. I wrote you this as that gift, in the hopes that I can do what I want to do with my life which is baring my heart with language, and I hope you see that it has been very long since my heart has wanted out of my chest so strongly that it comes to my fingers and makes me write like this. I wish I could write something better. I wish I could write the best thing ever for you and never reach that caliber again because I did for you.
When I read the articles. When I watch the interviews. When I watch the speeches. You are the feeling I got when I read about heroes in my fandoms that broke out of the fictional world and were my friends, my mentors, my creation of myself. You are the victory within me that sounds off at the end of movies and my favorite plays. You are the dedication that binds me to my warrior mode songs.
Your fortitude is enough that I stand a little taller when I see your pictures. Your fortitude is committing the greatest deed: spilling over into others.
So I say more than Godspeed一Teenspeed. You’re the ones getting it done.
And if I can offer more than donations, I can offer thisーevery piece of encouragement I can write and rewrite and rewrite.
There is nothing more than I want to be able to stand in front of you and say my thank you. I am not able to be there in DC in March.
#NEVERAGAIN Movement Founders, fellow 17 year olds, I have made my promise to walk beside you.
If you ever need anything else at all, you tell me.
And I’ll do it.
About the Author:
Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. She’s the proud Drama Mama of every student at her performing arts high school, Public Relations Officer of Thespian Troupe 5480, and self-proclaimed Spotify-playlist-queen. She is the leader of the international theatre advocacy and education initiative The Laramie Project Project, which unites and catalyzes productions and staged readings of the acclaimed play in honor of current hate crime victims. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation and Arts Ed Now. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the cannon.