Wash. U. students take action against gun violence

| Senior Scene Editor

Millions of people around the world—including right here in St. Louis—are set to “March for [Their] Lives” Saturday March 24, taking part in a local-turned-global movement to protest gun violence. The day before, Friday March 23, Washington University students will lead an event to prepare for the march and inspire fellow students to other forms of action.

The event, titled “Wash. U. March For Our Lives Rally and Art Build,” will take place in Tisch Commons this Friday from 3-5 p.m. According to one of the student organizers, senior Allie Liss, the first hour of the event will be free-form: Students can take advantage of materials to make posts for the next day’s march and resources to contact their legislators. The second hour features a shortlist of high-impact speakers, including Risa Zwerling Wrighton and her husband, Chancellor Mark Wrighton, who were instrumental in establishing the university’s Gun Violence Initiative.

“The unifying goals [of the event] are to inform and empower. Gun violence is an issue that is both incredibly emotional and personal and deeply affects communities—and in order to fight for gun violence prevention, we also need to understand what causes those problems in order to help try and fix them,” Liss said. “As student activists, and even just as students, what are the things that we should be doing or [that] we can be doing to help prevent gun violence?”

The lethal Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. was a catalyst for the recent surge in action that spawned the March For Our Lives movement. According to Liss, this incident in particular has caused such an impact in part because it feels unusually close to home.

“A lot of Wash. U. students can look at schools like Stoneman Douglas, and can look at communities like Parkland, and see themselves in them. And that’s when people say ‘Oh, my gosh, this could happen to me. This could happen anywhere,’” said Liss.

For one Washington University student, the impact was especially, heart-wrenchingly personal. Sophomore Amanda Weinstein is from Parkland, and her family lives in the public school district for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“It turned my world upside down,” Weinstein said. The sophomore explained that she returned to Parkland over spring break, and “being home felt very different.”

“I went to a school about 15 minutes away from Douglas, and if I’d gone to public school, I would have gone to Douglas. And actually, the following day, my brother’s school—the one that I went to; he’s a high school senior now—was on lockdown because somebody thought they had heard gunshots. That’s what really ended up getting to me, and that’s the reason why I wanted to get as involved as possible,” Weinstein said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to advocate for, but I’ve never felt such a personal connection to an issue, and so I felt even more inclined to act than I already had…I spent my whole life in Parkland, and now coming home is all completely different.”

Both Weinstein and Liss agreed that the most powerful force to come out of this tragedy are the teenagers of Parkland themselves, students turned survivors turned activists.

“I think that students in general are absolutely the driving force behind this. Because it’s one thing to have political leaders to speak out out gun violence prevention…but hearing these people who were there, and people who can relate, who are in high school and to have live in fear that something like this could happen to them—they speak from a more emotional standpoint,” Weinstein said. “And I think that emotion appeals to a lot of people, and that’s been kind of the driving force behind everything that’s been going on. All these marches that are happening, they’re all primarily student planned, which is absolutely incredible. So, this would not have been possible without the efforts of all of these kids.”

Liss emphasized that these students have taken advantage of the media spotlight to call out everyone from politicians to the press to the general public and especially to highlight other aspects of gun violence.

“A lot of the times, [media attention] leaves out the consistent everyday violence we see in communities, disproportionately communities of low socioeconomic status and communities of color,” Liss said. “What’s been really incredible about this movement is that the Parkland activists specifically are making a point to use their privilege and to use this media coverage, and really call out the media, and call out the country for paying attention to Parkland and leaving out the gun violence that affects other communities.”

Weinstein met with high school students in St. Louis who harnessed the powers of social media and “coordinated walkouts and coordinated panels with teachers and political leaders, which they probably would not know how to do a couple of years ago. But now I think it’s easier to share best practices and resources and things like that online,” she explained.

As for Wash. U. students who aren’t able to attend the march or want to extend their participation beyond it, Liss offered advice on how to get involved—gleaned from her time working on the University’s gun violence initiative.

“My old boss used to say, ‘vote, voice your opinions, and volunteer,’” she said.

Weinstein is optimistic about the outcome for her group’s rally and art build. “I hope [the event] will make students feel like there’s power involved in this, and that there are lots of other people—in the community, political leaders, Wash. U. leaders—that also hold the same opinions that we do. It really does help to feel like we can actually make a change, to see a lot of people in the same room with the same goal.”

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