Change the Ref: Manuel Oliver

I was truly honored to meet Manuel Oliver from Change the Ref on Thursday as I went to support students from @50milesmore who were marching from Worcester to Springfield to protest at Smith & Wesson for gun reform. Oliver lost his son, Joaquin, in the Parkland tragedy, and turned to his art as a form of activism. Founded in the memory of their son Joaquin who was one of the 17 victims, Manuel and Patricia Oliver are committed to making sure that their son’s life and the lives of the other 16 victims are never forgotten and that real change happens to prevent future tragedies like this from happening ever again. Change the Ref uses urban art and nonviolent creative confrontation to expose the disastrous effects of the mass shooting pandemic and to help push for gun reform. IMG_8257

WALLS OF DEMAND is a nationwide art project, and a way for Manuel Oliver’s son, Joaquin, to have a voice. These murals have a very powerful image so it’s hard to look away, and hard to ignore. These walls trigger people to think about gun violence, and the need for change.

Follow their powerful work by visiting their website or on twitter at @changetheref

 

 

The Kids Are Alright

I have been a middle school Social Studies teacher for almost 20 years, and during that time I have not seen youth galvanized around an issue like that of gun reform. In fact, recently, after viewing Teaching Tolerance’s film A Children’s March with my students, I asked my students what issues they would personally take a stand for. While they held strong opinions on many topics, most of them struggled to find an issue that would propel them to action like the students they watched in the film, marching in the civil rights movement and creating social change where adults could not. They agreed that the issue would have to be really important and really impact their own lives for them to take an active stance.

Then came another school shooting, and now we see the youth of America rising up. And why wouldn’t these students want to become active in this issue? In 2018 alone (and it is only February), there have already been eight school shootings by some reports, and the nation’s youth (and teachers) have been the target. And suddenly, the vast social media communities that youth have created around themselves on twitter, snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, become the perfect fuel to spread this spark of social activism quickly. “How the Survivors of Parkland Began the #NeverAgain Movement” explores how the activism was ignited and has spread rapidly using the technology that the youth have mastered.

When Emma Gonzalez, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior whose face has since become a symbol for this quickly growing youth-led political campaign, screamed “We Call B.S”,  her words resounded like a rallying cry.  And clearly, the Parkland students are not going away. Cameron Kasky, another survivor of the shooting wrote My Generation Will Not Stand for This, and grilled Senator Marco Rubio in a recent CNN Town Hall on Gun Policy.  At the event where CNN hosted survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting along with law enforcement, congressmen, and a representative of the NRA in a town hall on gun policy in America, there were some very emotional moments, including Kasky asking Senator Rubio if he would stop taking donations from the NRA.

“Young people have helped lead all our great movements,” President Obama recently said on Twitter. “How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be.”

 

One of the biggest events these youth activists are planning is the March For Our Lives on March 24th in Washington DC and in cities and towns around the nation. The march’s website states that the mission and focus of March For Our Lives is “to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the event is that it is being coordinated by students themselves. The organizers state that the march is being “created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar. ” Activists Seek to Keep Gun Movement Student-Led explores how a movement started by youth can continue in this way, with adult support and funding, but with the control in the hands of youth activists.

As a classroom teacher, I will be marching behind and alongside these youth to demand that their lives (and my life) and safety become a priority. School safety  should not a political issue, it should be a guarantee. I am inspired by the activism I am witnessing, and also intrigued and excited by the use of social media to help spread their movement. #NeverAgain