When Alex Clavering, a student at Columbia University’s Law School, saw students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl. deliver speeches for gun control after the Feb.14 school shooting that left 17 dead, he turned to Facebook.
The Florida students had already come up with a date and a place (Washington, D.C., March 24) for a national protest for against unlimited guns only a few days after the shooting. Clavering wanted to know if a New York group was organizing a local equivalent.
There was no group. So he started one.
Almost immediately, Clavering said, gun control advocacy groups started to get in touch with him through Facebook to co-organize a march in New York City. And when he created a Facebook event for a New York demonstration on March 24, high schoolers from the tri-state area started pouring in—not just to participate in the event, but to help organize it. They wanted to be involved.
“It’s been insanity,” Clavering said of last week, when the Facebook group was taking off and requests from high schoolers to get involved kept coming in. The division of tasks was pretty organic, said Clavering, with students volunteering for different positions, like outreach or social media. Established groups like Moms Demand Action and Gays Against Gun Violence also jumped in to offer help on different fronts, like permits for the demonstration. “It’s amazing,” Clavering said.
Just like the national demonstration in D.C., the New York march will happen on March 24. High school and college students, but also members of gun control organizations and the general public, will likely attend. Students all over the country are organizing a school walkout on March 14, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would support the walkout in New York City schools.
But the march and the walkout are not all the students seem to be thinking about. In the wake of the Florida shooting, many of them are expressing deeper reflections on the kind of impact they want to make on a cause they care about. For some, it is as if they have found their cause.
“I’ve always been really passionate about politics and civil rights. After Parkland I knew I couldn’t stay silent any more,” said Jessica Moskowitz, a Sophomore at Yorktown Central High School in Yorktown Heights, Westchester. Jessica is her school’s liaison with the main group, as well as the president of the sophomore class, and one of the Facebook group’s administrators.
The group—named “March for Our Lives, New York City” – so far counts almost 7,000 members among high school and college students, and some teachers mostly from New York City, Long Island, and Westchester.
Like Jessica, students in many other high schools in New York City and nearby areas are campaigning with their own peers and lobbying with their principals to get people to join the protest and to make sure that school rules don’t get in the way of the cause.
Each school that is involved has a liaison like Jessica, and every school liaison then reports back to a central group chat where all information is shared.
Jahnavi Kirtane, a 15-year-old student from the Ethical Culture School in the Bronx, said that she and her schoolmates are organizing roundtables in the school on March 14, and that she is working to get a permit from the principal for the walk-out. John Papanier, a 17-year-old from Wagner High School in Staten Island, said he is also going to sit down with the school principal to discuss details of the walk-out.
Some students in the growing New York City movement take care of social media, others are fundraising to rent a bus for those who will travel to D.C. on March 24. The NYC March for Our Lives Instagram page has more than 1,000 followers so far and volunteer opportunities are advertised on its Stories section.
Some of the high schoolers interviewed pointed to the non-partisan nature of the young movement. “We have plenty of moderates and some conservatives who just want action on this,” said Alex Clavering, the Columbia Law student. “There are a lot of people in my school who are, I think, pretty conservative,” said Jessica Moskowitz from Westchester. “It was hard to talk to some of them, but many came up to me. A lot of people are on board to make change.”
Jessica expressed the bottom line of the movement’s cause with a reference to the economic interests of those who sell guns: “We are marching for future generations and we want people to know that our lives are more important than money,” she said.
High school students from New York City and surrounding communities will have their first in-person meeting in the next few days, according to the students and their Facebook group, after more than a week of online contacts.