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Youth Voices from the March for Our Lives

Web ExclusiveMarch 30, 2018
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During our special broadcast from the March for Our Lives, Democracy Now!’s youth correspondent Soledad Aguilar-Colon, a former reporter at IndyKids, interviewed other young people at the protest.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!’s youth correspondent Soledad Aguilar-Colón, from Beacon High School, a public high school here in New York, came with us to Washington, D.C., and interviewed other young people at the protest.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Hi. I’m Soledad. I’m with Democracy Now! Can you tell me your name?

ALANA WILLIAMSON: My name’s Alana Williamson.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Your age, please?

ALANA WILLIAMSON: I’m 13 years old.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Why did you guys decide to come here today?

ALANA WILLIAMSON: We decided to come here, because I don’t want to be scared walking into school. I want more gun reform laws. And I just want, all and all, just for people to be safe. And I want just people to live good lives. Like, this isn’t the—this isn’t the America that I wanted to grow up in. I wanted to grow up in an America with peace, not an America where kids are constantly getting killed by assault weapons.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: We’re known as the “mass shooting generation.” How do you think that this has affected our lives?

ALANA WILLIAMSON: I think that that’s—like, the fact that we’re even known as that generation is so disgusting. And I feel that the fact that people even can hold assault weapons in this day and time is just disgusting. They’re not made for—they’re not made for—they’re not made for hunting. They’re made for actual—that’s why they’re called “assault weapons.” They’re made for assaulting people.

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: My name is Emily Dohler Rodas. I’m 17. And I’m here to march for the victims of every single shooting that’s happened, and their families.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Are you with a—part of an organization or…?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: I’m co-vice president of MoCo for Gun Control, which was the organization that organized the March 14th walkout.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: How did that start?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: Well, like a week after the shooting at Parkland, we had a walkout. And after that, all of the leaders from the different schools that organized the walkouts within their own schools decided that we needed to come together and do something as a county, and not just—and so that we would unite stronger.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: How has gun violence influenced or affected your community?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: Well, last year, there was this kid from Einstein, from my school, who was shot in his home, I believe. And he died from gun violence. And it’s been—like he had graduated already. He was like on his way to college, and then his life was ended by a gun. So it really put—it really set a tone in our school that like nobody could really shake for a few months. But then, what really is, I guess—I don’t know how to say, but I guess—annoying is that everything that happens like that always kind of goes away after a while, and people kind of forget about it, and it doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What do you hope will come out of the march today?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: I hope awareness, on one part, and then, another, that Congress actually like does something, because the worst part about this is that Congress is choosing NRA money over our lives, when we’re the future. Like if we’re not here, then who’s going to—who’s going to be in Congress in a few years? Who’s going to lead this country in a few years?

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And how have you as—we are the “mass shooting generation,” as they call it. How has that affected you growing up?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: How has that affected my—just me, my life?

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Your—yeah.

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: Well, after the shooting in Parkland happened, it really opened my eyes, and I started to fear like for my life in school, because before—before all of this happened, my school had a tendency of leaving doors open and unlocked. And especially in the—like near the art classrooms, the doors were always open and unlocked, because we have portables in the background. And I spend most of my days there. So, I would like walk through the hallways like really quickly. And like every single classroom I would walk into, I was looking for somewhere where I can hide or where I can escape.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: So, do you have lockdowns at your school?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: We haven’t really had a lockdown drill. After the shooting happened, and I think it was after the—no, I think—I don’t remember if it was before or after the walkout, but we had a bomb threat to our school. And it was said that it was going to be like a replica of or like an imitation of the Parkland shooting, where they like would say like, “Oh, there’s a bomb threat,” so everybody would leave, and then like they would like shoot us up. And so, that was—it wasn’t a drill, but it was an actual lockdown. And we were on lockdown for a few hours.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And can you tell me what your sign says, and show it to the audience?

EMILY DOHLER RODAS: It says, “Women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun compared to those living in other high-income nations.” And then to “Get it together, America.”

DEVINE BATTLE: My name is Devine Battle. I’m 17. And I’m here today because I want to take action against gun violence and show that—exercise my voice.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Are you from a certain group? Or, I see you have a T-shirt.

DEVINE BATTLE: Yes. I go to Parkway Center City. I just came from Philly.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Wow.

DEVINE BATTLE: Yeah, we’re here today from Philadelphia.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: How has gun violence affected your community?

DEVINE BATTLE: Well, in my community, it’s like guns—there’s a lot of gun violence. I lost my cousin to gun violence. And there’s a lot of people in my community who have died from gun violence. Gun violence is so normalized in my community that when this issue first was brought to me in school, it was like I’m so used to it that I didn’t have much of a reaction to it. And I don’t think that it should be that normalized, that we become desensitized to the effects of gun violence. And so I think that I should exercise my voice more for gun control, because it’s gotten out of hand.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you talk more about the incident with your cousin, like how did it happen?

DEVINE BATTLE: My cousin was actually just an innocent bystander, and he was shot because he knew somebody who the person was looking for, so he was killed, just because he didn’t tell them where the person they were looking for was. And he had a whole future ahead of him. He was about to start his own business and everything. And it’s happening to a lot of our youth. They’re dying, when they have a whole future, and they’re dying so young. He was only 20. And I don’t think they deserve to die. I think something should be done, and something should—laws should be enforced.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What are you hoping will come out of the march today?

DEVINE BATTLE: I’m hoping that it will get enough attention, and that people in Congress, at least somebody in Congress, will feel pressured enough to do something about what’s happening in our country.

AMAYA: I’m Amaya, and I’m 10 years old. And we’re here because if adults don’t make a change, then kids will.

PAYTON: I’m Payton, and I’m 12 years old. And I’m here because adults haven’t taken a stand. And if they don’t, we will.

NICOLE BATES: My name is Nicole Bates, and I’m here because I’m a teacher in Florida, and we need a change.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What do you think about the NRA saying that they want teachers to be armed with guns?

NICOLE BATES: I can’t imagine a worse scenario. As a teacher, we shouldn’t have to put ourselves in a position where we feel like we need to run towards gun violence. We need to protect the kids. We really shouldn’t even have to do that. It’s a really hard situation, but we need a change in what’s happening. Instead of arming us, we need to take the arms away from everyone else.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Thank you. And how have you been affected by gun violence?

PAYTON: I’ve been evacuated this year, and I’ve had like four lockdowns already. It’s not a good experience.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you tell me more what the experience is like of the lockdowns?

PAYTON: They come on the intercom, and we get put into a corner, where there’s—we get put into a corner where the—our teacher stands right next to the door. And the blinds, we have to close them, but you can still see through them. And we’re in the dark. And we have two stories and everything. And it’s scary, because we were in them for like an hour. And we just have to sit there and wait. And it’s not what you want to be in.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Thank you, guys. What are you hoping will come out of this march?

NICOLE BATES: I hope that people will actually start to pay attention, and we will see some change. Not anybody should be able to get a gun. And if they actually did something, then I think we would stop seeing the violence. It’s happened in other countries, and when they put in laws, it stopped happening. And that’s what we want to see happen here, too.

UNIDENTIFIED: When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian, not a victim.

PAYTON: Our lives matter. Begin to end—”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK.

AMAYA: “Why do you care more about guns than kids?”

ZUHOUR ALBAWNI: I’m Zuhour Albawni from—and my age is 21 year old. I’m a teacher in the Noor School. I come today with my students, to support them in the event.

ROHAN BECKETT: Rohan Beckett [phon.]. I come from Al-Noor School. And I’m here because I want to end gun violence.

ZOBEIDA: My name is Zobeida [phon.]. I’m from Al-Noor School. I’m 18 years old, and I’m here to fight for the lives of the people that can’t anymore, and also for the people that are still alive and at risk of gun violence.

PARAPAR: My name is Parapar [phon.]. I’m 18 years old. I’m from Brooklyn College, so Brooklyn, New York. And I’m here because I want better gun reforms, and I want to ensure that children will not go to school in fear, because they should be worried about their next test, not about if there’s a gun like present in their—

ZOBEIDA: School.

PARAPAR: It’s their school, yeah.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you guys show me your signs and talk about them a little bit?

ZOBEIDA: OK. My sign, I was originally going to do something from online, but then I was looking at the statistics, and one thing in common that I found was that after every shooting, almost every news outlet tries to fight to have the most like eye-catching headline, and it would either be “the deadliest,” “the bloodiest.” And I found it very inconsiderate that these lives are just turned into numbers. They’re just a part of this bigger like scheme of America where we’re just lives that were taken, and we’re not people anymore. And a lot of the time, people are like—people are like, “This time, many more people died, so we should we care.” Why should we care if it’s 10 people? We should care before it’s even one. So, yeah, and we stayed up ’til like 2:30 doing this, in the a.m.

PARAPAR: She’s my best friend. We were doing this like together. But I decided to just go for something simple: “No more silence, end gun violence.” I thought it was a good catchy phrase that would like stick with people. If they were to see it, they’d want to know. And, I mean, I did it in red so it would catch eyes. But I thought that the message was simple and straightforward, so I thought that it would like stick.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Have you guys been affected by the lockdown in schools? Have you experienced them?

ZOBEIDA: We had a lockdown when we were in middle school, and at that time you don’t really understand why, and I guess our teachers didn’t want to explain it because we’d get scared. So, we didn’t take it seriously. But recently, after what happened in Florida, I had to speak to my principal about lockdown, about having an event, about the walkout, about participating in this march. And me and a couple of other students organized this together, for our school to come together. And I just found out, when I was talking about how we’d have to hide in our classrooms, hide behind desks, and not even call our parents, it just—I couldn’t explain the feeling. I was scared. And I was just talking to him about it, and I can’t imagine the students who have to actually face it, how they’re feeling right now.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: How has it made you feel to grow up with mass shootings surrounding you?

ZOBEIDA: It’s made me feel like our government doesn’t really give a [bleep] about our lives. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. But I feel like, to them, money is important, and their own citizens aren’t. And we’re the ones that elect them. And come what may, these kids that you see here today, some may—some aren’t even teenagers, but soon they will be, and we’ll be able to vote. Well, I can vote. But we’re going to vote them out. So either they hear us or they don’t, but we’re going to make them.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And did you guys participate in the walkout last Wednesday?

ZOBEIDA: Yes, we did. We had to talk to our principal about precautions to take, because we’re a Muslim school, a private school. So we had to take Islamophobia into account. But we did talk to our principal about it. And it was amazing, because you do have those one or two people who—like one guy pointed a gun at us with his fingers, and then someone gave the middle finger. But then you have those multiple people honking their cars. They’re screaming. They’re proud of you. And they agree with you. And it was just an amazing feeling to be a part of this big movement.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you talk more about Islamophobia and gun violence and how they’re correlated?

ZOBEIDA: I feel like people think that a lot of things are a race issue, and they’re not. Specifically for this, this is not a race issue. It includes everybody. But Islamophobia and gun violence, I feel like when I’m specifically talking about something, I’m more at a risk because I’m Muslim, and I feel like I could be targeted easily. And because I know how it feels like to be a victim, I don’t want to make anyone else feel that way, especially kids.

LEO PRENGA: My name’s Leo Prenga. I’m 16. I’m from Albania. I go to Roosevelt High School, from Yonkers Public Schools.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you tell me why you’re here today?

LEO PRENGA: We’re here to march together and show our presence to the country and show our movement marching together for gun control.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: How has gun violence affected your community?

LEO PRENGA: Well, it really scares us, most of us, because we have had a threat to our school. And it really scared a lot of us. It scared us to the point where a lot of us didn’t come, and a lot of classes were empty. So, to have this march, it shows that we’re not scared. We’re here to stand together and show that we need change. We need change in our community. We need to be together and show our presence to our country and our president.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And what will you hope will come out of this march today?

LEO PRENGA: I hope—I hope the awareness will come to people who are very ignorant and unable to see how we feel. And I hope that every single one of us here are able to see each single poster that every person has written down and created by their own hands, and take in their feelings and their opinions.

HASEY: Hi. I’m Hasey. I’m also from Riverside High School in Yonkers, and I’m 18 years old. And the reason why I’m here today, I’m here to show that one person can make a big change. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to represent every single person that couldn’t be here today. I’m here to make a change, to make a difference in the country.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What are you hoping will come out of the march today?

HASEY: I’m hoping that the government will become more aware, that this is going to be the last shooting that is going to ever happen in schools or anywhere, and to just be more like—to help us more and to help the students, to help the teachers. Like I feel like gun violence isn’t needed, you know? Everyone just needs to learn how to understand each other.

DIANA STEWART-PERKINS: My name is Diana Stewart-Perkins. I come from Montclair, New Jersey. And I’m here because I’m a public school teacher.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you talk about the NRA saying that teachers should be armed with guns?

DIANA STEWART-PERKINS: I think the NRA should visit a school during a practice lockdown and see what it’s like, how the kids cower in a corner, how we’re supposed to be their protectors, teachers. We’re also cowering. We place ourselves closest to the front doors, the doors of our classroom, to protect our kids. And having a gun would not help. It would not help at all. Just like the NRA, those people cannot teach. I don’t know why they would expect us to all of a sudden become experts protecting children with arms.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And can you read your sign for us?

DIANA STEWART-PERKINS: Yes. I have a two-sided sign. One is: “I’m an English teacher, not a gun-slinger.” And the other is—says at the top, we have a little post-it with a message from one of my students, Lucy. It reads, “Arms are for hugging,” and then she signs her name. My poster says, “A message from Lucy,” and, underneath, “I’m marching for my students like Lucy.” Lucy is one of the students in my school that walked out on Wednesday, last Wednesday, to protest.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you talk about how gun violence—or, especially, our generation is known as the “mass shooting generation.” Can you tell me how this has affected your kids? Or have you seen [inaudible]?

DIANA STEWART-PERKINS: Well, I can tell you that I have two sons, 30 and 27, and this was normal for them to have—depending on what school it is, to have this hide, this practice of preparing for a shooter. And I didn’t know until a couple years ago. And again, I have a son who’s 30, who told me it was normal. And he told me that in the context of me describing how I am hiding with these students, and I have nothing to protect them, that we are sitting ducks in any given room where we are. So, it is normal for at least people who are 30 and the students in my school. I’m new to this particular school I’m teaching this year.

And to watch the anxiety come up in their faces, for me to have to tell them, “Shut off your phones,” just so that we would not signal an active shooter to come in here. The information is minimal, and I’m supposed to save lives. And I’m good to protect younger students, but I’m completely ill-equipped. But having a gun will not equip me. Making sure people don’t get guns, that equips me to be a teacher and to not see these students go into this shellshock mode, this PTSD just from having grown up having to shelter from an active shooter as a practice.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you talk about the schools in New Jersey that were penalizing students for walking out last Wednesday?

DIANA STEWART-PERKINS: I can talk about that, because in my school the administration made it possible for our students to walk out. Now, some students stayed out beyond the allotted time, but there was no punishment.

CAROLINE GRAF: I’m Caroline Graf, and I’m here because, as a mother of four, I have had enough of the gun violence.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And where are you from? Where are you coming from?

CAROLINE GRAF: Annapolis, Maryland.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Wow. And with the gun shooting that just happened in Annapolis, how has that affected you?

CAROLINE GRAF: It was in southern Maryland. And, you know, the one thing—my main thought on it was, we were lucky it was just a handgun, versus a semiautomatic. And that was why the death toll was low compared to the mass shootings with the mass casualties that we’ve seen elsewhere. So, for better or worse, it seems like, you know, at least if they only have access to a handgun, versus semiautomatics, we’re not losing as many people. Which is common sense.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What are you hoping will come out of the march today?

CAROLINE GRAF: Just that it will motivate more people to vote in the midterm elections, and hopefully make a major change for the midterms, as well as 2020.

CLAUDIA PAIVA: Hi. My name is Claudia Paiva. I’m originally from Peru, but I come from Wheaton, Maryland, Wheaton High School.

LUCIA: Yeah, Lucia, from Argentina originally, but we both teach in Wheaton High School, MCPS.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Why are you guys here today?

LUCIA: What was that?

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Why are you guys here today?

LUCIA: Because we don’t want to fear for our lives when we go to work. We want to teach without thinking that we may not go back home. Yes.

CLAUDIA PAIVA: I’m here because I love, I am passionate about education, passionate about teaching, not carrying a gun, not being fearful, like my colleague said, fearful about not coming back to school—back home. And it’s a reality, sadly.

LUCIA: Yeah, and we definitely don’t want to carry guns in our schools.

CLAUDIA PAIVA: No guns. No, we shouldn’t.

LUCIA: We don’t want to be armed.

CLAUDIA PAIVA: Fix the clock here first. And then—yeah, no, no, no.

LUCIA: No, no.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Great.

LUCIA: And would not.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And what are you guys hoping will come out of the march today?

CLAUDIA PAIVA: Really, commonsense gun reform. I mean, it should—this talk should have happened years ago, centuries ago. We shouldn’t—it’s sad that it’s come into this point. But I hope that with this, that with donations, that with people speaking out, with artists coming out, with politicians being on the right side, that I wouldn’t be scared, that my kids are not going to be scared, that teaching is fun and not fearful.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: I see you guys have signs. Can you read them for me?

LUCIA: Sure. This one says, “Fear has no place in school.” A student did this yesterday, so this is his work.

CLAUDIA PAIVA: Yeah, mine says, “Books instead of bullets.”

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What are the lockdown practices that you guys have done in your schools?

LUCIA: The lockdown practices? We do it often. Sometimes we know that they’re real—that they’re fake. And sometimes we don’t know. And it’s a nerve-racking moment. And then, after that, you have to continue teaching. So—

CLAUDIA PAIVA: It’s hard.

LUCIA: It is, yeah.

CLAUDIA PAIVA: It’s hard to have to, you know, put yourself together again, after not knowing if it was an actual lockdown or it was just a practice one. But we shouldn’t—I shouldn’t feel like that at my workplace, doing something that I love so much, you know?

LUCIA: And the last lockdown that we had, it was 10 minutes taken away from instruction. And that shouldn’t be the case. Those 10 minutes should be precious for the kids to keep learning, not trying to hide from bullets.

CAPE: My name is Cape, and I’m 13. And I signed that I march because I want change. I think it’s really important that we not only acknowledge that this is happening, but that we do something about it, because if we just stand around being bystanders, nothing is going to change, and history will keep repeating itself, and more people will keep dying. So I think that we need to change the fact that people’s lives are being lost, and that we should have more restrictions, more laws, that will protect us from happening—like protect us, yeah.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: And how have you been affected by gun violence?

CAPE: Well, we had this UPS driver who would always come to our door. And he loved my dog. He would always bring treats. There was a UPS shooting, I think, last year. And he was one of the people who got shot. Yeah, and he had been our deliverer for many years.

NADIRAH MORELAND: I’m Nadirah. You know, we have family who have lost their lives. We have students who have lost their lives. We are here for Parkland. We are here for Chicago. We’re here for Oakland. We’re here for our lives. We’re here for black lives. We’re here for Parkland lives.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What do you hope will come out of this march?

NADIRAH MORELAND: You know, I think, honestly, when enough—I hope that when enough white people are involved in the conversation and willing to stand up and be heard, that politicians will pay attention, because, clearly, like a lot of the speakers have said, when Chicago kids, when D.C. kids, when urban kids die, it’s just—you know, it’s our problem. But hopefully there’s enough attention and motivation to know that it’s time to reactivate the assault weapons ban and to look into gun legislation, in general, that kills kids all over the country, and adults, for that matter, and women.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: What do you think about the NRA saying that teachers should be armed with guns?

NADIRAH MORELAND: You know, I think arming people means that you have the risk of killing young people, particularly young people of color. So, arms is not going to solve the challenges we have. Maybe that will solve the one in whatever million chance that a teacher is trained enough not to hurt somebody, not to hurt one of their students. We know where there’s more guns, there’s more senseless death. So we can’t have that in the—I don’t believe that that would serve to protect particularly black and brown children. Maybe some other kids, but not our children.

SIMON DEBESAI: My name is Simon Debesai. I’m a 10th grader at Springbrook High School. I’m 15. And I’m here protesting with the rest of my organization, MoCo, Montgomery County, Students for Gun Control. We’re here to make sure we can let legislators know that our voices matter and that we exist and that we will demand change in the upcoming midterm election.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you tell me more about the organization MoCo that you started?

SIMON DEBESAI: So, we originally wanted to have a county-wide walkout that was going to go from schools across the county and converge at a single point and end up in a rally at the Capitol. And we were successful. We brought out over 3,000 students on March 14th of just last week. And we also held 17 minutes of silence at the White House in solidarity with the victims from Parkland. So, from then on, it’s just spiraled into—we started to try to broaden our horizons and try to lobby sit-ins at Senate offices. And we’re going to continue protesting until change comes.

SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN: Can you read your sign for us?

SIMON DEBESAI: So, the irony of my sign is how we’re the students, and yet we’re the ones giving Congress the grades. So, bribes, A+. Inaction, A+. Thoughts and prayers, A+. But gun reform and common sense is definitely an F-. And their next test is definitely going to be in the upcoming election, something I’m looking forward to.

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