A few days after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, Samyuktha and I (Matt) got together for dinner to catch up on life and all of a sudden, our conversation centered on how we felt so distraught by the tragedy that had occurred. We then began to speak about how inspiring it was to see students take to the streets and demand the status quo be changed for the better. It was in this moment that we decided to get off the sidelines and try to unite our community with a message of hope and humanity. Later that week, we created a Facebook event with the expectation that only a handful of strong activists on campus would attend, but we knew we had to do something. About five minutes after making the event, we decided to walk through Swem to get a coffee. As we walked, we noticed that our event was already on the computer screens of students throughout the library. This is when it hit us that something special could happen.
The next few weeks we spent advertising our event — sharing it on Facebook and interviewing with The Flat Hat. We also reached out to various on-campus groups to help spread the word. We were in for a pleasant surprise when we returned from spring break to see that almost 300 people had said they were “going” on our event page. Two days later, the number had reached almost 400. The day of the event, we hung up our banner that said “Enough” and laid out another banner that served as a letter to the Parkland community that students at the College of William and Mary could write messages of hope and support on. When the clock struck 10 a.m. that Wednesday morning, there was already a line forming on the Sunken Garden. Five minutes later, there was a line that stretched across the entire Sunken Garden. I remember looking up at one point and being in disbelief — it was a moment that truly inspired me and told me that what we were doing was not only important but also had the potential to continue.
The beauty about this day was that it was an event centered around bringing our community together. There were no speakers, big name organizations or news crews. It was a day where we could all unite, no matter our political beliefs, to show that this community stands together with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the other communities that have been affected by gun violence. This event’s purpose was not to energize a political movement, but to remind our students that we can enact change when we stand together.
There has never been a more promising time in our lives. Students are leading a movement that will change how this country is shaped. It only makes sense to bring this movement to the nation’s alma mater. We have received a lot of interest in this group and believe that by the end of this semester, it will be an established organization here at the College. We were represented well at Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally in Colonial Williamsburg as Samyuktha Mahadevan gave an empowering speech that challenged the crowd to focus not just on ending school shootings, but all gun violence in every zip code. The march was inspiring for the same reason our walkout was — students were at the forefront.
Our primary goal in forming a Students Demand Action chapter at the College is to educate our peers and our community on the issue of gun violence in America. Our organization is a proponent for common sense gun laws that protect those who live in our country. Especially in a state like Virginia, where guns are integral to many households, it is crucial that we are aware of safe gun practices and that we keep weapons that don’t belong in civilian hands out of our communities. We will continue to promote our nonpartisanship, as gun violence is an issue that knows no political boundaries.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be reaching out to student organizations about giving presentations on gun safety. The hope is that groups and individuals can engage with those in their spheres in order to spread knowledge about the scope of this issue. Everyone is capable of participating in this movement, and we want to provide them with ample opportunities for advocacy, whether that is calling representatives, presenting to the community, holding forums or simply having open discussions with their peers. We ask that all students, no matter their political ideology, consider joining our club to bring about true, effective change within our community, Richmond, and D.C. Most importantly, we ask that all students who care about this issue educate themselves on the candidates running in their districts and vote for gun safety in November this year.