“SWAT got me.”
This is the text I received from one of my best friends on the afternoon of Feb. 14, a 16-year old girl texting me from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, saying that SWAT had gotten her after she was hiding in the media center storage room for two and one-half hours [during the mass shooting that killed 17 people].
Texts like that should not ever have to be sent, especially from a school. My friends shared stories with me from their experiences earlier that day. Videos were shared from inside the school when the shooter was on campus. These stories and videos were what got to me.
My friends who attend Stoneman Douglas are my friends from summer camp. Summer camp gives you friends that are closer than family, and knowing that they were in this situation was more than scary and heartbreaking. I got one text saying, “there is an active shooter at our school,” and didn’t hear back for a little while. I was terrified but felt like I needed to conceal my feelings, still being at school.
That evening all I could think about is what could’ve happened to my friends. But then I realized I should be feeling thankful. Thankful that it wasn’t them who were injured. Thankful that theirs were not one of the lives that turned into a single statistic so quickly. Later that night I knew I wanted to do something. I wanted to take action. I knew we could never let something so horrible and terrifying ever happen again.
So, on Feb. 21, I attended the Georgia Advocacy Day at the State Capitol in Atlanta. I decided to go with my mom that day because I knew that once I did one thing, I would be eager to keep attending events like the rally. I was also angry, and I’m still angry, and I will always be angry with what happened in Parkland. This day was to rally and to advocate for common sense gun laws, laws that will make it harder for people to obtain weapons such as AR-15 guns, the one used in the Parkland, Florida, shooting on Valentine’s Day.
This day was setup by the Moms Demand Action group, and I was excited to see a second T-shirt that said, Students Demand Action. When I walked into Liberty Plaza in front of the State Capitol building, all I could see was red. Everywhere. Women, men, and children, all wearing their red T-shirts. And I started think: Why are they here? What makes them want to come and advocate?
I knew why I was there. I was there to advocate in support of the friends who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I was there because I am a student and it could’ve been me, and it can be my school. I was there because I want school to stay somewhere I feel safe. I was there because I want to come home each day after school. I was there because I want change.
I was there to start change.
Two speakers gave me hope: one was a student at the University of Georgia and the other was a senior at Chamblee High School. They showed me that young people can make a change. They also gave me hope for the future because — let’s be honest — the current generation has failed us and our safety, but my generation can make a difference, and we’ve already started.
I didn’t speak in front of a large group of people that day, but my presence at the rally spoke way louder than my voice could have. Although, one day, the other high schoolers present and I will be the ones speaking and inspiring. I can feel it.
At the rally, no one was ever saying anything alone. If one person began to chant, so did the person next to them, until the whole sea of red protesters was in unison. The chants and sayings, like “We call B.S.” and “Not one more” will resonate with me forever.
This year at the Georgia Advocacy Day, 1,846 people signed in at the capitol, according to the organizer’s Facebook page, and I was glad to be one of them. Last year, only 150 signed in. People are angered and turning that anger into action, which is just what we need for change to really happen. In just over one week, 8,000 students reached out to Moms Demand Action, becoming the first volunteers of the new Students Demand Action group. Though not everyone had to show up that day to begin change. Almost 1.2 million people signed up to learn about gun violence and the gun violence prevention movement. The #NEVERAGAIN and #NotOneMore movements are not about right or left political views, but about right or wrong.
No one is saying everyone needs to give away their guns; we are just for asking more common sense gun laws making it harder to obtain such destructive weapons. It IS possible to be pro second amendment and pro-gun reform, and that’s what I think people need to realize.
Right now, it seems to be common for people to say that guns aren’t the problem and that it is all on the person. I read something that really explained how the situation should be looked at. It said: “When a kid hits another kid with a stick, we don’t blame the stick, but we still take the stick away.”
In the upcoming weeks, schools across the entire nation, including my own, are planning a school walkout on March 14 at 10 a.m. in every time zone. We will walk out for 17 minutes in honor of each of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Students are the ones putting together this event at their schools. I see teenagers acting more for reform than adults right now, and that says a lot about our generation. We are the ones voting in a couple years, and the events and meetings that have occurred when talking to lawmakers will be remembered by everyone.
Haley Stav, a friend of mine and a sophomore from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went to the Florida state capitol building in Tallahassee to speak up and said: “We are the future. We’re the future America. We are the future voters. So legislators out there, if you guys don’t make a change, you’re not going to stay in office. And that’s a promise.”
All that we students ask is that people work toward making a change and that we gain our safety so that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is the last shooting. The last lives lost from a school shooting. And the last grief caused by a school shooting. That is all we ask to be worked for.
Feb. 21, 2018, on Liberty Plaza and inside the Capitol building, change was not made. I am not going to lie and say that it was. But it was started. It was the also the day that I went out and took action for my first time because I am passionate about the fact that there needs to be change, and I want to help make it happen.
Anna, 16, is sophomore at Pope High School.
Sign photo by Anna Wynne