Student’s Demand Action holds vigil in remembrance of the Parkland shooting victims

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Students stand together to remember the victims of the Parkland shooting. JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

Feb. 14, students gathered in the cold at the Sir Christopher Wren Building’s courtyard for a vigil commemorating the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida that happened a year ago. The school shooting in Parkland claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty members, subsequently inspiring a national wave of anti-gun violence activism. 

The vigil was organized by the College of William and Mary’s Students Demand Action chapter, which is the student wing of Everytown for Gun Safety, which is a national advocacy group organized against gun violence.

Candles were placed on the steps of the Wren Building’s courtyard, illuminating the pictures of the Parkland shooting victims. Signs such as “1,200 children have been killed by guns since February 14, 2018” and “In Honor of the Everyday Victims of Gun Violence: 96 people a day.” sat on the steps. Students held candles and listened to speakers from the College’s Students Demand Action chapter as well as from other members of the Williamsburg community.   

“Though it is often mass shootings or school shootings that capture our attention, the reality is that gun violence affects hundreds of Americans every day,” Students Demand Action Membership Lead Jojo Di Scipio ’22 said. “Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for American children, and the first leading cause of death for black children and teens. This is an unacceptable reality, and it is our responsibility to change it.”

“Though it is often mass shootings or school shootings that capture our attention, the reality is that gun violence affects hundreds of Americans every day,” Students Demand Action Membership Lead Jojo di Scipio ’22 said. “Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for American children, and the first leading cause of death for black children and teens. This is an unacceptable reality, and it is our responsibility to change it.”

William and Mary Wesley Foundation campus minister Max Blalock spoke about his own personal experiences with gun violence during his time as a pastor. 

“The challenge for us is that with all the rhetoric, when you hear about guns, guns, guns, I hope that we are seeing people, people, people,” Blalock said. “What we stand for here is simply commonsense gun laws to prevent senseless violence and death, and I hope and pray that us gathered here don’t just stand together now but we continue to act to make this a reality…”

“The challenge for us is that with all the rhetoric, when you hear about guns, guns, guns, I hope that we are seeing people, people, people,” Blalock said. “What we stand for here is simply commonsense gun laws to prevent senseless violence and death, and I hope and pray that us gathered here don’t just stand together now but we continue to act to make this a reality…”

With the vigil, Chapter Leader Samyuktha Mahadevan ’19 said Students Demand Action wanted to pay homage to the victims of the Parkland mass shooting and raise awareness about gun violence on campus. 

“What we want to do as a group and as individuals is make sure that this issue of gun violence doesn’t just go away, the awareness around it doesn’t just fade,” Mahadevan said. “We wanted to show students that we remember and that we care, and that there are students who care, and give them a space to feel recognized and know that there are people who support them.” 

The College’s Students Demand Action chapter is unique among Students Demand Action organizations, as most of are largely organized at the high school level with few college level chapters, and some of their members, such as Maggie Herndon ’22, were involved in Students Demand Actions at their own high schools before coming to the College.

“Students Demand Action groups are primarily in high school, so it’s mostly minors,” Mahadevan ’19 said. “So, they require a faculty advisor and parent approval and other things. While we’re in college, we get a little more autonomy.”

Students Demand Action officially became an on-campus organization Oct. 29, 2018, but the chapter has been active on campus since spring 2018. Members of the Student Demand Action chapter were all passionate about ending gun violence in America, though they possessed diverse reasons for that zeal.

“The reason why I feel so closely connected to this is because I have a little sister,” Mahadevan said. “She’s 10 years old, and in 10 years, I’ve been able to mature and have these conversations but she’s been having them to but at a much younger age. She’s had multiple lockdown drills in elementary schools, and it’s terrifying because I’m not even home to be there and to comfort my parents, to talk about it. It’s easy to dismiss it as an ongoing thing, but it shouldn’t be that way.”

Event Lead Will Sambrook ’21 talked about his experience growing up in an atmosphere of gun violence that drove him towards activism. 

“Growing up in Vermont, Sandy Hook happened,” Sambrook said. “And, that was what shook me because I was in 7th grade at the time, and I was twelve years old. And somehow, kids that were five, six, seven years younger than me were getting killed, and that’s [kind of] when I realized that the same thing could happen to me.”

Students Demand Action participated in the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives, where students from the College joined campuses around the nation in walking out of their classes to protest gun violence. Student’s Demand Action has also led letter writing campaigns to elected representatives and lobbied on a state level for “common-sense gun legislation.” 

As an organization, Students Demand Action and the College’s chapter focus primarily on gun violence education and lobbying for the passage of gun legislation that could become law with bipartisan support. Mahadevan stressed the importance of rallying behind gun legislation that enjoys a large degree of support from the American public. 

“The reason why it’s important to be non-partisan is because gun violence isn’t an issue of policy,” Mahadevan said. “It’s really an issue of life and death, and that effects everyone. No matter who you represent or what your constituency looks like everyone’s life has been touched by gun violence to some extent.”

“The reason why it’s important to be non-partisan is because gun violence isn’t an issue of policy,” Mahadevan said. “It’s really an issue of life and death, and that effects everyone. No matter who you represent or what your constituency looks like everyone’s life has been touched by gun violence to some extent.”

Students Demand Action support measures such as universal background checks, and the “extreme risk protection ordinance” which allows for self-imposed gun ownership restrictions on individuals suffering from mental health issues, namely in the form of assault rifle bans and bans on bump stocks. Students Demand Action is primarily focused on lobbying on both a state and national level.

Moving forward, Students Demand Action are planning to continue organizing and building awareness about gun violence on campus. The organization is planning on hosting open mic nights and continuing their lobbying campaigns by meeting with representatives and leading more letter writing initiatives.

“After this vigil, I know that we want to encourage students here to come out and share their stories that could be through an open mic night to understand just how many people experience gun violence in their everyday lives,” Sambrook said. 

Students Demand Action is planning on initiating a week of gun violence awareness programming for the second gun violence prevention rally in Williamsburg March 23. Students Demand Action is organizing with members of the Peninsular Progressive Movement  such as Peninsular Mom’s Demand Action to make the March for Our Lives even larger than last year’s iteration. 

Mahadevan said a march, which is planned for March 23 from Gloucester Street to Merchant Square, aims to draw activists as well as high school and college students. 

“This year we really want to see a much larger turnout, not only William and Mary students but also high schoolers and middle schoolers because this was inspired by students and should be led by students.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this article attributed a quote to Jojo Di Scipio ’22. The correct spelling of her name is Jojo di Scipio. The article also stated that Students Demand Action will be holding a second March for Our Lives in Williamsburg on March 23. It has been corrected to clarify that the group will actually be hosting a gun violence prevention rally on March 23.