Not long after the Parkland shooting, I attended a meeting at my high school in Elmhurst, Illinois to help plan our walkout. My town is pretty politically mixed — if we did a walkout here, I wasn’t sure how it would go. To keep a close eye on the situation, a vice principal had joined the meeting to listen in as we discussed our feelings of safety in the face of school shootings. The all-important question finally came up: Do you feel safe in school?
I want to laugh and cry at the ridiculousness of that moment. I want to scream. So much had come to mind: Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine — and so many shootings in between that get less attention than they deserve, both on the streets and in schools. How in the world could I feel safe? The only situation that had been running through my mind in the hallways was the potential of an active shooter. I always felt helpless once the bell rang — in crowded hallways, it is difficult to protect everyone. After voicing my fears, the vice principal tried his best to make me feel safe, but it was clear that there was little he thought he could do. Besides, it hadn’t happened in Elmhurst yet, despite multiple threats.
I would like to have sympathy for those who don’t care about gun violence in my area because there hasn’t been a mass shooting yet in Elmhurst. Yet we’ve had serious threats at my high school. And many students have stayed home because of threats of violence. Still, they haven’t had the courage to walk out of school to stand up for their right to not be afraid in the first place. I cannot empathize with their choice. Inaction, in my mind, is a sure path to the collapse of the fundamental principles of our rights as human beings to mutual well-being and free speech.
If there is one thing I have learned as an activist, it is that there is no such thing as a safe community. But for so many other students my age, school might be the safest place they have. According to Everytown for Gun Safety research, gun homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men between 15 and 24. The potential for growth that every young person has is stifled when they have to fear for their life every day. How are we supposed to grow up when we live in fear of being shot? And gun violence is preventable, but not without the passage of stronger gun laws.
The sheer amount of meetings and political rallies that I have been at in the past few months has been overwhelming. Sometimes it is difficult to see if we are making change, but I have faith and keep attending. I wish more people would.
I know I’m not alone. The most amazing part of activism is meeting so many other students who feel like I do. There is always someone with a story to share that keeps me going. I am hoping to organize a Town Hall for Our Lives to hear more of those voices, and to keep the pressure on lawmakers who may hope that we stop watching the action they take. We’re getting organized, and so many of us are committing to vote.
And even if you aren’t old enough to register, you can make sure others are. I’m working with Students Demand Action to register as many other students to vote as possible and help get people to the polls this fall, too. Across the country, Students Demand Action groups have committed to registering 10,000 voters this summer — because we know that voting is how we win. I hope every single voter registered will decide to stand for our safety and against gun violence.
I know my voice is not the most important. Yet, I am at the meetings, the rallies, and the summits for a reason. It is to hear the survivors, and it is to expand on my perspective. The world won’t change if we don’t listen to each other, if we don’t have tough conversations, and if we don’t vote. Don’t wait until it’s your school, family, or neighborhood to fight this fight. Too many have.
Ava Uditsky is a rising junior at York Community High School in Elmhurst, Illinois and a volunteer with Students Demand Action.