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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Youth Anger Transfroms Into Positive Resistance

“In the fall, my friends and I will be of legal age to vote, and if you do not take precautionary measures to protect our lives, and you keep taking money from the NRA, I will vote you out and you will lose your jobs.”

Annabette Vellines, a junior at a local Atlanta high school, was one of several stu- dent speakers at the National Stop School Shootings (NSSSN) March 14 in Atlanta outside the Capitol building. Founded by Atlanta mother Clare Schexnyder, NSSSN organized a 17-minute long—one minute for each of the 17 Parkland, Florida, high school shooting victims—school and work walkout that culminated in the rally.

“I’m furious and I’m mad and sad, and I don’t want to see my friends die,” said Vellines, echoing the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting who have spoken up for gun control.

Vellines said she was speaking not only for her fellow students but also for her “teachers and administrators that told me that they would take a bullet for me.” “ ey have a family. ey cannot, they shouldn’t have to tell me that they should take a bullet for me.”

Ainsley Brown, a Cobb County high school sophomore, was also galvanized by the recent Parkland shooting. She joined the newly minted social organization March For Our Lives (MFOL), formed to advocate “common sense” gun laws, and attended the rally.

“Many days I walk into school think- ing, ‘What if I don’t go home today?’ It’s tiring,” said Brown. “And we’re tired of not seeing action from our elected officials.

“I had multiple friends from camp that attended Stoneman Douglas High School and were a ected by this shooting, and it really made me put things in perspective and it made me angry.”

Antwon Stephens is a liated with MFOL, which is organizing hundreds of marches across the nation to take place March 24. Stephens plans on taking part in the Atlanta rally.

An Athens mayoral candidate, Stephens could become the rst gay and the rst black mayor for Athens-Clarke County. At 21 years old, he would also be the youngest.

“I believe we’ve nally reached a breaking point” said Stephens. “ is move- ment is the strongest we’ve ever seen in the country for gun control, and it is youth led. e youth today are very involved and con- nected on social media, so this movement is using social media like crazy.”

Brown said she got her position as a community outreach liaison and spokesper- son for MFOL by signing up on Facebook. Schexnyder was also motivated by social media, saying “For me, watching the video of guns going o in the classroom and kids screaming and SWAT teams swarming in— that was unbelievable to me.”

The day after the shooting, even before hearing about the outspoken Parkland students, Schexnyder got to work. She started the National Stop School Shootings Now Facebook page with the intent of meeting the following day to discuss a potential school walk out in Decatur. “When I woke up the next morning, I had twenty- ve hundred members in my group,” says Schexnyder. Both MFOL and NSSSN organizations support what their spokespeople refer to as “common sense gun control.” Brown, Stephens and Schexnyder all stressed that their groups aren’t trying to restrict the purchase or ownership of, or “take away” handguns, shotguns or hunting ri es.

Rather, they seek to ban certain military-style rifles such as the AR-15 and certain attachments such as bump stocks, which cheaply increase the rate certain guns re, and high-capacity magazines.

Everyone interviewed agreed that something has changed since Parkland. America’s youths are organizing. Companies such as Delta are severing ties with the NRA.

“We’ve reached a tipping point,” says Schexnyder. “I think shooting up a school full of super-smart high school kids who are this close to being able to vote is what did it. ese kids have absolutely led the way and it has caught on re across the na- tion. And not only have they inspired other kids to stand up and see that they can make a di erence, but they have inspired adults who may feel dejected and powerless.”

Brown said she was hopeful for the future, citing Florida’s recent gun control bill banning bump stocks as proof that they are being heard. She had a message to those who remain on the sidelines.

“Teenagers have done so much by standing up and using their voices and speaking out,” she said. “If you want to see change, you need to speak up.”

Writer Noah Chen can be reached at [email protected].

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