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Sitting on the ground with both legs folded, Ruby Brayton, 18, is focused on cutting out perfectly shaped hearts. She stacks them up one on top of another as several other students follow her lead. These students, better known as the organization MoCo Students for Change, plan on placing 1,000 hearts on a banner that they will ultimately mail out to schools affected by gun violence.
This is not the only assignment the students have planned this week.
On Thursday, they will lead a walkout against gun violence throughout the D.C. area. Students will walk out of their schools, march to their nearest Metro station (some schools have buses which will pick them up and drive them to the nearest station), rally in front of the White House at 10 a.m., and then march to the Capitol in an effort to spread their message.
“Honestly, last year was testament to how powerful students are and how much power we have in this movement,” says Brayton, a senior at Blake High School and a founding member of MoCo Students for Change. “And how much people are willing to fight for what they believe in despite the older generation telling us that we’re just kids.”
MoCo Students for Change started last year as a small, student-run grassroots organization with a plan to conduct a walkout. After thousands of students participated in the first walkout, the organization realized there was a need to continue their message. From that day until now, the organization has grown to change their original name, MoCo for Gun Control; welcome more student members; lobby on Capitol Hill; host voter registration drives in all 25 Montgomery County public high schools; register 2,500 new voters; conduct two sits-in in front of Rep. Paul’s Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) office, which lead to members being arrested; and partner with the organization called Change the Ref to open an art exhibition in D.C.’s Chinatown about ending gun violence.
“I think this time around our message is we are still in D.C., we haven’t left, mass shootings are still happening, and things aren’t going to change unless we do something about it,” says Simon Debesai, 16 and a Junior at Spring Brook High School. “We are just reinforcing this idea because if we don’t do it then someone else will.”
And although MoCo Students for Change are the organizers of the walkout, this year they have invited D.C.-based Pathways 2 Power, another student organization, to share their platform. Pathways 2 Power started after two classmates at Thurgood Marshall Academy were shot and killed last year. The group is made up of students from Thurgood Marshall, a Southeast D.C. Public Charter High School, but is growing in hopes of reaching more students from around the District.
“I feel like there is a lot of attention on national shootings and that is important but we are fighting for our community,” says Trinity Brown, 17, a senior at Thurgood Marshall. “Shootings are something that have become normal to us, and I feel like it tends to go unnoticed in the media, especially in urban neighborhoods in D.C.”
Brown, along with Pathways 2 Power member Jayla Holdip, also 17, plan on walking out with about 40 others students and are set to speak on Thursday. “People should expect a strong presence from [Pathways 2 Power] on Thursday, although we are small and just starting. We go through gun violence so much,” says Holdip. “I feel like people have the tendency to forget the urban communities and what we go through every day, and on Thursday, we are going to remind them.”
Along with reinforcing the message of ending gun violence, MoCo Students for Change does plan on having a few different twists compared to last year. First, more people from D.C. are speaking—speakers who have been directly affected by gun violence. And political figures such as Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Rep.Ted Deutch, D-Fl., are set to speak. Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., have been sent an invitation to speak.
“I am speaking on Thursday because my cousin Sabika Sheikh, who was a foreign exchange student as I am, was murder during the Santa Fe school shooting last May,” says Shaheera Jalil Albasit, 26, a graduate student at The George Washington University studying public administration. “She was killed because of the gun laws in Texas and over the past 9 months, I’ve seen the lack of action which has absolutely shocked me,” said Jalil Albasit. “I come from Pakistan. I’m a foreign exchange student. My benchmark for American legislators was high,” she says. “This has been very disappointing to see that after such huge tragedies and everyday gun violence, they did not take radical action. … And that is why I am speaking on Thursday.”