AU students join calls to end gun violence at March for Our Lives
AU College Democrats, Fossil Free AU led groups to march Saturday
As hundreds of thousands gathered outside the U.S. Capitol Saturday to call for an end to gun violence, American University student organizations protested in the March for Our Lives. The march was largely organized by survivors of February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people and wounded 17 others.
AU College Democrats (AU Dems) and Fossil Free AU both organized groups of students who marched together Saturday morning. The Eagle followed the groups to capture their reactions to the protest and the changes they would like to see in gun regulation policies.
AU Dems said they participated in the March for Our Lives because they hope elected officials consider gun violence as a public health issue, not just a Second Amendment issue. They hope to see assault rifles banned from the general public in the near future, said Eric Perless, who serves as the director of activism for AU Dems.
“Gun violence hits everyone in this country in their own way, no matter the situation or scenario,” said Alex Russo, who serves as chief of staff for AU Dems. “It’s really important to show that this isn’t a school shooting issue, but a gun violence issue.”
Fossil Free AU, a student-led organization committed to pushing the University to divest from fossil fuel companies, also wanted to support the movement against gun violence. In the past, Fossil Free has organized protests regarding other issues, including a demonstration against President Trump’s speech at the Department of Homeland Security in 2017.
“This is just a really important fight,” said senior Lauren Peressini, a student organizer for Fossil Free. “All of our fights are connected.”
What motivated students to march
For Tom Lebert, a freshman in SPA and the AU Dems treasurer, the March for Our Lives hit close to home. He went to high school one town over from Newtown, Connecticut, the location of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, and saw a group of students from Newtown walk by him during the march.
“I remember the day it happened,” Lebert said. “And seeing it on the news, my mother freaking out because she knew people who were there, who were in that town when 26 people were murdered there. So I’m out here today because I’ve seen what gun violence is like and I’ve seen what it does.”
— Maria Carrasco (@mariaspov) March 24, 2018
Perless, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, grew up 10 minutes away from Parkland, Florida. As director of activism, Perless played a large role in making sure that members of the organization came to the Capitol to march. He said organizing the march group was the biggest event that AU Dems has had this academic year.
“We’re marching because we don’t want this to happen again,” Perless said. “It’s as simple as that.”
— Maria Carrasco (@mariaspov) March 24, 2018
Peressini and another senior with the Fossil Free AU group, Kim Szarmach, said they wanted to march to see students empowered and uplift their voices. Szarmach said she was also going because of the power in numbers.
“I think that it is going to take an uprising of as many people as possible to convince our lawmakers that we need gun control, and I want to be a part of that,” Szarmach said.
High school senior Jeremy Anderson drove from New Jersey to participate in the march and is staying on campus this weekend. Anderson, who came with the AU Dems group, will be attending the University in the fall as a freshman in the School of International Service, he said.
“I’m marching because this issue affects us all, and it really hits close to home because if we’re not safe in our schools, then how can we learn?” Anderson said. “We’re really out here to protect our rights and protect our lives, really.”
Dispatch from #MarchForOurLives: Jeremy Anderson from New Jersey, pictured here, will attend @AmericanU in the fall.
“I’m marching because this issue affects us all and it really hits close to home," Anderson said. pic.twitter.com/CH3O8VmvQF
— The Eagle (@TheEagleOnline) March 24, 2018
Freshman Miranda Dotson, who attended the march with the Fossil Free group, said one of her main reasons for participating in the protest was to address the fact that gun violence has historically affected communities of color. Dotson’s sign at the march read: “Remember that people of color have been subjected to gun violence long before it came to our classrooms.”
The issue came up several times during the protest, as students from schools in Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles and New York all took to the stage to speak about their own experiences with gun violence and the family members and friends they lost as a result.
After hearing activist and Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez speak, the crowd began chanting, “Vote her in.” This was in reference to earlier chants of “Vote them out” for the members of Congress that have not taken action since the shooting.
“I think she was really able to command the crowd,” Peressini said. “People know her and she’s recognizable.”
What students hope comes after the march
Russo said he felt glad that politicians were not involved with the event at all, but instead, all of the event’s content came from young people. He said that having students lead the event was crucial.
“This event was against Democrats and Republicans, and it was especially against those who are against saving lives,” Russo said.
Freshman Harrison Ferachi, who came with the AU Dems group, said he looks forward to what will happen after the march.
“It was very inspiring to see people younger than me step forward for people who could be leading our country,” Ferachi said. “I can’t wait to see what gets accomplished because of this.”
Like Russo, Emily Hamm, the president of AU Dems, appreciated that the event gave power to youth affected by gun violence.
“I’m glad that this became a celebration of the movement,” Hamm said. “ The Women’s March made everyone feel empowered, but with this, 17 [people] died, and that’s why we’re here. This should hopefully show that real change is coming.”
— Kimberly Cataudella (@kcataudella) March 24, 2018
After the march, Anderson, the high school senior, said he thought the event unified people behind a common cause.
“We came together and we really need to push for action, and it made me feel like we can do something,” Anderson said. “And it starts now.”
Gracie Brett, a Fossil Free AU member, said actions like the march are “empowering.” But she was skeptical about whether the protest would lead to a change in gun safety laws because she believes that not much came of the Women’s March.
However, Brett said that she still thinks “it’s important to do just for the community.”
Freshman Dietrich Shuping, who attended with AU Dems, said he hopes the demonstration will lead to real change in gun regulations in the U.S.
“Of course, I hope this isn’t just one march and that it actually contributes to positive change down the road and in the long term,” Shuping said. “Nothing’s going to change tomorrow but months, years -- that’s how you look at those things.”