OLIVER HICKS, SLO High School

Hello all, my name is Oliver Hicks and I am a senior at San Luis Obispo High School. I am joined on stage by my fellow student organizers from schools across our county, all of whom you will be hearing speak today.

Before we get started, I’d like to make a few announcements: first off, I want to emphasize the importance of this event and the message that it sends to the rest of our nation. So, it is important to maintain that positive image by remaining peaceful with our words and our actions today. Please do not surge, and out of respect to each of the students who will be speaking, wait to march until we are finished. I also want to remind everyone that we are making demands of our Congress, the body of representatives that is meant to be of the people, by the people, for the people, and not attacking any single person or group–although I won’t say I’m not impressed by all the great signs I see here.

Furthermore, if you see anything at any point today please say something. We all know there could be people here who do not believe in this cause, and I encourage those who may disagree with us or are simply curious to stick around and hear what we have to say. But if anyone feels afraid for their safety, please notify a uniformed officer or one of our peace ambassadors wearing yellow vests. [maybe ask peace ambassadors to wave their hands?] We also have first aid available at our info table and a lost child area at the senior center parking lot.

I would like to thank everyone who helped make this event happen today. Thank you to everyone from the city of San Luis Obispo, including police, firemen, elected officials, and members of the Downtown Association who have allowed us to use this space and the downtown area to march. Also, thank you to all of the everyday citizens and businesses who have volunteered or donated to this cause, including Guerilla Gardeners, Harvey’s Honey Huts, Adept Sound, Katie Voice our sign language interpreter, Bike SLO County for the bike valet and the SLO Progressives and Got You Covered for all the chairs; most of all, we would like to thank every single person who helped us reach our $30,000 goal in less than four weeks! Because of this generosity, we are not only able to have this march but also donate any leftover funds to SLO County student activists promoting Women’s March SLO principles or working to end gun violence.

Thank you to the teachers, school boards, superintendents, parents, students, community members, and of course Women’s March SLO organizers who have supported this event and made it possible: Dawn Addis, Jen Ford, Terry Parry, Pat Harris, Andrea Chmelik, and Jennifer Bauer–we wouldn’t be here without you. What’s special about this movement is that it was sparked and sustained by students and victims themselves, and as students we intend to continue that movement in our own community. That being said, it is extremely gratifying to know that we have such an amazing community at our back.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone here for coming today, whether you are a student, teacher, parent, or simply a concerned and impassioned citizen.

What we seek to achieve is three fold:

First, we are here to stand in solidarity with our fellow students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who as survivors of such a terrible tragedy have transformed their grief into action and set an example for future leaders around the world. I applaud their efforts to be the change they wish to see in the world, and I hope that the deaths of their peers will not be in vain. Moreover, we want to stand in unity with the communities of minority students who are disproportionately affected by our gun epidemic and to remind everybody here that tragedies don’t always show up on the news, they don’t always get a hashtag, and they certainly don’t always get a march. But nonetheless, we must recognize their significance and stand with all victims of gun violence.

Second, we are here to advocate for a better future. Time and time again we have seen the atrophy of our nation’s politicians as gun violence continues to plague our streets, our homes, and our classrooms. What’s more, as students we deserve to feel safe at our schools and have the necessary mental health resources that encourage us to grow and succeed.

Lastly, we are here as ambassadors of a generation of new leaders. As a politically engaged teen, I can’t tell you the amount of times an adult has told me “man, I can’t wait until your generation gets to take over.” And my response to that, as well as my message to any student in the crowd today, is simple: why wait? Why wait until we are older when we can work on a congressional campaign this summer? Why wait until we are older when we can register or pre-register ourselves and our friends to vote now? Why wait until we are older when we can volunteer today to help make our community a better place?

As I’m sure our speakers today will show you, our generation is not going to be one of passive bystanders. We refuse to sit around until older generations pass us the baton because as made evident by current inaction, they’re taking too long. That being said, I would like to welcome our first student speaker to the stage, Rozella Apel, who is an 18 year old senior at Nipomo High School.

 

ROZELLA APEL, Nipomo High School

When I was fourteen years old, my cousin and uncle were both shot and killed. Their attacker had legally purchased the semi automatic firearm he used to take their lives despite having diagnosed mental instabilities. My family was rocked to the core, particularly my aunt who lost her husband and daughter in part due to inadequate gun laws and insufficient regulations.

My aunt, however, is far from alone in having been failed by the systems in place. According to studies published by both the Center for Disease Control and the FBI, on average there are over 13,000 gun homicides in the US each year, a percentage 25 times higher than the average rate of of other countries categorized as “highly developed.” In 2017 alone, there were 317 mass shootings, and since 2013 there have been nearly 300 school shootings nationwide. To put that number into context, that averages about one school shooting per week. And so we must ask ourselves from what does this violence stem? Is it a mental health issue? A gun law issue? A security issue?

Through careful consideration, it seems clear to me it is all these things and more. The gun violence epidemic which has overtaken our country is a product of a culture which is, in part, complicit with violence. It does a disservice to our family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors who have perished at the hands of misused firearms to focus on only one facet of the issue. It is so much easier to ignore the fact that the systems we have in place do little to teach people that no matter how deep the pain they experience, violence is not the solution. The
transformation that will be necessary to soften our societal bent towards brutality must come from all sides. We, as activists and people who care deeply about the sanctity of life, must protect it, not only through laws but through behavior and action. Cesar Chavez once said that in some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence. In effect, we must want peace and safety just as much as others want to guard against infringements on their freedoms. If we can show that violence is not OK in our schools because it is not OK in our streets or our prisons, not OK in our international relationships or our personal interactions with one another, we begin
to challenge that widespread societal apathy towards something inherently devoid of morality, the act of taking of another human’s life.

And the task ahead is daunting. The enormity of the task we face may even feel at times unachievable. But in moments of uncertainty it is important to remember how much of the impossible we have already achieved. There were times in this country when it was perfectly legal to own slaves, when women were denied the vote, when identifying as LGBTQ was a crime and both Native American and Japanese internment camps were supported by the majority of the American public and the law. These atrocities did not dissipate simply because time passed. It took the persistent and dedicated work of average people listening to their consciences and taking action against what was so clearly an injustice.

So each of us, as we vow to bear our responsibility in the creation of history, must do more than just grieve, grow angry, or feel helpless. We must facilitate dialogues with those with whom we disagree. We must participate in and organize demonstrations not only alongside thousands, but wherever we feel something that encourages violence is taking place. We must cast votes for candidates who support effective and comprehensive policy change and protest those who don’t.

It will take a concerted struggle to not only change laws, but in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, to change hearts and minds. But together, we the students, alongside the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of this nation, will make this change together. Thank you.

 

ELENA COTA, SLO High School

I think I speak for all of the kids here today when I say that the thought of somebody robbing one of my classmates or teachers of their life leaves me incapacitated.

The truth is that in a civilized country, this problem would have been solved nearly 20 years ago after Columbine. Today, in 2018, we still get shot at with weapons of war from coast to coast, not only in schools, but in movie theaters, restaurants, concerts, nightclubs, and places of worship over and over again.

I’m embarrassed to say we’ve let these shootings slide, but that is exactly what we’ve done. We wait for the headlines to die down, and we allow these truly abhorrent tragedies to fade from our memories because that’s what makes it easier to sleep at night. But I realize now, this is infinitely and grossly unfair to the victims because they do not have the luxury of forgetting about this.

Each time Congress is granted the opportunity to enact gun control and fails to do so, they prove that, in their eyes, some of us are expendable. In a shameless display of lack of sympathy and compassion, they are telling students all over the country that they are willing to take the chance of one of us getting murdered inside of a classroom again. Because our government has proved after Columbine, Orlando, Aurora, Las Vegas, New Haven, and now Parkland that they do not care, the next generation of voters is left with no choice but to make them care.

I now speak directly to the members of Congress who opt to take millions of dollars from the NRA. You do this because you are money and power hungry, because you prioritize yourselves over the constituents you claim to work for. A few days ago, my AP Government teacher told us that 18-year-olds hate voting, but I promise that if you do not enact sensible gun control legislation, my generation will be the one to organize and to vote you out, and you will no longer have the money and power you desperately yearn for.

Everybody here should feel hope for the future when you look at my classmates because we have the endurance to stay informed and to stay outraged. We are endlessly proud to stand in solidarity with the kids from Parkland, and we are going to make sure the next generation of kids will not have to know what a school shooter drill is. I think it’s important to end with the sentiment of Emma Gonzalez, and that’s “the right to own a gun does not outweigh a student’s right to live.”

 

KEANU LYDAY, Central Coast New Tech High School

When I wrote this speech, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach this issue: do I talk about our collective grief and sorrow for the families of the 2,500 victims of gun violence in the 3 months of 2018 alone, do I talk about the NRA, or about the creation of new policies? After weeks of debating with myself, I decided I wanted to offer you all a challenge: a crucial challenge, for students, for adults, our lawmakers, and every single person listening.

I challenge you to weigh the value of a human life.

Now, I ask you to do this, because beyond all of our opinions, beyond partisan politics and gun control, we all have one common interest…we want to live.

WE WANT TO LIVE!

Our Declaration of our Independence states that our inalienable rights are – in order – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to life is the first and foremost concern. And I believe that this right is being neglected by the adults who are making the decisions, writing and implementing and enforcing the policies of the world that we all live and dream in.

I think about the dreams of the children – children – who were taken too soon. Needlessly. These children were the ones bound to cure cancer, land on Mars, and find sustainable ways for us to continue living our dreams. They dreamt of adventures and families of their own; those dreams will never be realized.

I think about the dreams of my peers. They envision a world where school doesn’t feel like prison, and prison doesn’t feel like hell.They see a world where love is love is love is love. They believe in freedom and equality and justice in a way that adults have forgotten. We are all standing here today as proof that these dreams are not lost. We stand here today as an unforgettable force of hope and love and light and we will not be silenced! We are calling on the adults who run this world of ours to WAKE UP.

Children are being slaughtered in school houses.

Children are being slaughtered in school houses. This is NOT normal. And this is NOT inevitable. We the Children of the United States of America, DEMAND a change in ACTION.

That action comes in a variety of ways and they all begin with our legislators. Pass common sense gun reform – mandatory, comprehensive background checks, mental health requirements and limited civilian access to militarized weapons whose sole purpose it to kill as many people as quickly as possible. Provide wide-spread mental health counseling to teenagers, be prepared to realize that the culture of stress indoctrinated in schools plays a big role and that the lack of teaching parenting skills and providing parental support plays another huge role. And that the ways we teach boys about masculinity are toxic and need to be intentionally untaught. Restructure the role that money plays in campaigns and policy creation so that we do not have to question whether a politicians lack of action is due to payouts from private investors. Have the NRA pay for metal detectors and bullet-proof windows on all school campuses in America.

And to the nay-sayers who do not believe this will solve all the problems…I agree with you. So help us do it better. Help us generate new ideas. We are the ONLY nation that regularly has mass shootings so the answer is clearly not “Do Nothing.”

We have done nothing for 19 years – that’s my entire life. We were born into a world that normalized gun violence and we are here to say ENOUGH. ENOUGH!!!!!
We plan to live our lives. ENOUGH!
Nothing should be of higher value than our very lives themselves. ENOUGH!
Legislators, where do your priorities lie? ENOUGH!
Is the value of my life outweighed by your desire to possess a military-grade weapon? ENOUGH!
We may not be able to vote, but this democracy belongs to us. ENOUGH!
I will not wait for your permission to live my life; it is too precious for anyone else to control. ENOUGH!
We are more than your future, we are here in this present. Do not abandon us. ENOUGH!

I have weighed the value of my human life and the lives of our fallen peers. It is a heavy weight. A weight that we will not forget to carry with us today and every day after.

That is the challenge I pose to you. Can you carry this weight and not grow weary? Can you value these lives and not forget? Can you turn this march into a movement? Today and every day from now on, we march for our lives.

The issue of gun violence is rooted in the mistake of placing things of no importance above the one thing we all want.

I’m not here because I want our government to take everyone’s guns away from them. I’m here because I have plans, I have a long life and successful career ahead of me. I want to be a congressman and pass legislation that changes our country for the better.

I want to be President.

And I fear that the current climate will not allow me to do that. Because we neglect to see the one thing we all have in common – the want to live.

So, I have a challenge, look at the value of life. Ask yourself, “is the selling of weapons of mass destruction worth more than your life?” What about my life? Is it worth more than the life of the person next to you? Of your kids? Your parents? Your grandparents?

We are demanding action, and we will continue to use our voice, our vote, and our size to fight for what we need to see

Today, I march for my life.

 

FRANKO JIRA, Atascadero High School

Hello, my name is Franko Jira and I am a senior at Atascadero High School. I was born in a war torn African Country where the sound of Gunshots was a natural occurrence, not because of hunting, but rather because of murder. I am not here today to speak about what specific measures we need to take to solve the issue of gun violence in this country. I am here today, as a fellow American citizen, to ask the nation why this conversation isn’t our top priority.

As Americans, we have always prided ourselves of doing the right thing, leading the world in the fight  for what is right, especially when lives are at stake. However, when it comes to the topic of gun violence we seem to do a lot arguing, but not taking any actions. See we have this trend where, after every mass shooting, we proceed to have a national argument for the next few weeks about the gun violence where politicians are asked tough questions followed by their false promises and the far left and the far right are butting heads here and there and this and that and we get so fed up about the topic of guns that we forget that it really isn’t even about guns, it’s about the protection of American Lives.But eventually it quiets down after 3 weeks or so and we wait for the next school/festival/concert shooting for us to start all over again with the arguing as we’re watching children die.

And this is how it has been for over 20 years, but not anymore. What is different this time is that we have a new demographic of people that are rising up to make a change. Him, and her, and me, and all the teenagers and youth in this country that are sick and tired of having to live in fear that one day the name of our high school will be displayed on national news. We don’t want more arguing, we want protection. We want change.

See my family escaped Ethiopia because of the violence that, 18 years later, is still ever so present, but now I’m asking myself if I have to raise my kids in a country where they don’t want to go to school not because of the homework, but because there might be a shooting? See there is something inherently when we call ourselves the greatest nation, yet this fear of mine is very relatable for many of you. It is time to make change, time to make American Lives our top priority again.

See the world is a dangerous place to live, not because of evil people, but because of people that don’t do anything about it. Lets finally make a change, we’re Americans, after all.

 

MASON SEDEN-HANSEN, Paso Robles High School

Today we march for the seventeen dead in Parkland, Florida.
Today we march for the fifteen dead in Columbine.
Today we march for the twenty seven dead at Sandy Hook elementary school.
Today we march for the families who mourn their murdered children.
Today we march because we are not safe in our communities and our schools.
Today we march because other brave students have taken a stand.
Today we march because ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

This can never be the new normal! Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, over 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings.

Our  nation’s Congress, at the beck and call of the NRA, has failed us. Too many of OUR representatives are living in fear – and not in fear of people losing lives to gun violence. They live  in fear of losing the financial support of a lobby group that DOES NOT reflect the people’s values. Time after time, they have the chance to use their power to protect us and they do nothing!

So where they have failed, we must succeed! Where they have fallen down, we must rise up!

There was a time when parents could send their children to school, thinking, knowing they would be safe. Their greatest worry was of a bloody nose. There was a time when children believed they were safe. Because of these politicians’ inaction, that time is not today.

My generation has lived our whole lives being afraid of school shootings. And now, finally, we’re old enough to stand up and do something about it. We look at Congress and we are not impressed. We can do better. WE MUST DO BETTER!

It is obvious, it is so obvious, that weapons of war have no place in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, or in our society. We are not supposed to be at war; we are supposed to be living in a civilized society, working hard, pursuing our happiness without fear of one another. Weapons designed solely to kill as many people in as short of a time as possible have no place in a civilized society.

Our representatives lie paralyzed by their own corruption, unable to act. They have failed the basic test of leadership. They are serving their own interests, not ours.

So, then, WE need to take action!

WE need to call our representatives and show up at their offices, and let them know we’re not going to back down. WE will fight to oust those false representatives, who only represent their donors in the NRA. WE need to work to elect courageous leaders across the nation. And WE the people, once we have the seats of these false representatives, need to fight for gun reform! The will of the people has always been on the side of reasonable gun control. But when the people’s anger fades, the NRA never stops. The gun lobby keeps pounding at the doors of Congress and their passion for fire power is strangling any attempt to make our communities safer!

So now we need to wash away the gun lobby, not just today, not just tomorrow, but every day! All politicians need to know:
Until we have an assault weapons ban;
Until we have Universal Background Checks;
Until we know that our brothers and sisters and friends and our communities are safe;
We will never stop fighting!

 

 

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