In a way we have defied a great divide that exists in our country—the myth that gun violence is solely an urban problem and that suburban Americans are both unaffected and unconcerned. That our experiences would never allow us to understand the ground upon which the other walks. Yet, perhaps the simplest aspect of preventing gun violence together has been embracing our differences, learning from them, and guiding others in our generation to do the same.
The two of us are very different. We come from different neighborhoods and grew up in different family settings. One is a Chicagoan whose friend being shot and killed on a city bus opened his eyes to the genocide that was happening in his community’s backyard. The other was going to study film before her mother’s workplace, Sandy Hook Elementary School, was the setting of America’s second-worst school shooting. And we both vowed to never stop fighting for change so those lost would not be lost in vain.
About three months after we first met in Washington, D.C., we embarked on a project together with the goal of uniting our generation’s leaders and creating a network of young people working to reduce gun violence on campuses and in communities around the country. First, the project was simply a national conference call which featured policy experts, our partners in this initiative, and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) who helped to inspire the more than 100 students during a conference call. The response was so immense and so positive that we decided this needed to be bigger.
A few months after the call with Senator Booker and after weeks of countless conference calls and Google Docs, we stood side-by-side once again, this time at our #Fight4AFuture Youth Gun Violence Prevention Summit hosted by Generation Progress. We stood with more than 120 other Millennials from 32 states who were ready to take action.
We are advocates for our generation, but we are often here because our lives, too, have been ripped apart by gun violence. The summit came on the heels of a joint report from the Center for American Progress and Generation Progress. The report found that the next year, gun violence will be the number one cause of death among young people. Americans aged 15-30 are most likely to be shot, and we’re 65 times more likely to be killed with a gun than youth in the United Kingdom.
Millennials say all the time that, “we will change the world,” and on the weekend of February 21, we took concrete steps to do just that. Participants learned from experienced leaders representing the White House and more than 40 organizations how to organize and mobilize, and they prepared to go back to their own campuses or communities to continue this work.
#Fight4AFuture also inspired other Millennials to investigate the issue of gun violence deeper and engage more in the gun violence prevention movement. This summit was about taking the first step to prove that this issue is important to us because it’s a matter of life or death for our generation. This summit was about the power of youth to drive change.
It was about building bridges between urban, suburban, and rural communities to prove that although we come from different places and experience different types of gun violence, we are one voice when it comes to the change we must make to protect our friends.
The atmosphere that is gun violence in America is dark. It is vast. Gun violence doesn’t observe color or religion or zip code or gender. As the saying goes in our movement, gun violence doesn’t discriminate. But the atmosphere that is youth activism is the brightest light shining in that darkness. We have so much of our history as a generation left to write. And as advocates for our own future, we have a responsibility to force that light to shine even brighter.
The generation before us created a nation where it’s legal and acceptable to draw red lines around our urban centers and willingly neglect the issues there that so desperately need solutions. We see profit made from weapons proliferation and fear-mongering from the gun lobby deemed more important and useful than the lives of our peers. We see a nation where so many of our friend’s fates have teetered on the barrel of a gun, and we turn our backs each time. We see a nation where twenty students and six teachers can be gunned down in their classrooms with no real action on the federal level in response. And we see a nation where we too often wait for the voice of a loved one to be muted before we exercise our own.
We see the tears that our own mothers cry, the heartbreak that our neighbors carry each waking moment, whether in Newtown or in Atlanta, and it shakes us to the core. We don’t want to be the parents weeping at our children’s funerals or the parents who must think twice before sending our kids out on the street corner to play, or off to school to learn.
Each generation is burdened with the question of what they will accomplish in their time. What will they change so that an ongoing struggle is halted through tireless efforts and an undying resentment towards inequality, hatred, and suffering? We believe that our generation’s struggle, our question longing for an answer, is whether we can succeed in stopping gun violence, in making our communities safer for our own children. That’s why we fight for a future.