Following the mass shooting on February 14 that killed seventeen students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the nation has been captivated by young survivors who are calling on lawmakers to do something about gun control and the availability of mental health resources.
Not only did a group of Parkland students travel to Florida’s capital to pressure lawmakers to instate an assault-weapons ban (which House lawmakers refused to consider even as Parkland students watched from a visitors' gallery), but students across the nation have been staging walkouts at schools over gun control and school safety.
One of the emerging calls to action is a large demonstration in Washington, D.C., called March for Our Lives. It’s being planned by students — including survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting — and will take place on March 24.
A march in Denver is being planned in solidarity with the main event in D.C. An event page on Facebook for Denver’s march has 4,000 people listed as attending and an additional 16,000 who are “interested.” The local March for Our Lives is being organized by Tay Anderson, a nineteen-year-old activist who has emerged in recent months as a prominent voice in the Mile High City. Last year, Anderson was the youngest candidate to ever run for a seat on the Denver Board of Education (he placed third in his district). He was also a lead organizer of the November 25 protest at Ink! Coffee over gentrification in Denver, and is now working as a legislative aide to state representative Jovan Melton.
We interviewed Anderson about next month’s march.
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Westword: How did you get the idea to organize this march, and what can you tell us about it?
Tay Anderson: I have been personally inspired by the Parkland students. When you see a world where young people aren't always involved, I am grateful that these students are stepping up, utilizing their voices and getting out there. I've listened to all of their speeches, and I'm just in awe.
The Parkland students said March 24 is a day for action, and I wanted to honor the date they set forth. We have secured a permit for the State Capitol that day. We have Americans being gunned down in schools, and schools should not be places where students have to wear bulletproof vests. As someone who wants to be involved with politics in the future, I don't want to stand by and watch these situations without taking action to do something. That's why I was so adamant about getting this ball rolling. We will stand together in a collective way and say, “We do not stand for the rhetoric that is coming out of certain politicians — that it's time for thoughts and prayers.” We have to stand up and say it's our time for action.
Versions of this march are being organized around the country, including the main event in D.C. with the Parkland survivors. Is there anything about Denver's march that will be unique?
We will have young people and survivors speaking. We have Arapahoe High School shooting survivors. We have survivors from university shootings. We're looking for Columbine survivors to speak. And we'll have a gentleman from the Aurora theater shooting.
We'll also have younger kids who aren't even in high school speaking to the crowd because they need be able to have their voices heard. They don't want to have to go to high school in fear of not hearing the last bell ring at the end of the day. Schools are made to protect our children and educate them, not to inflict fear.
So will you be calling on lawmakers in Colorado for anything like an assault-weapons ban?
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There's going to be an organizing summit this Saturday [February 24] from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Manual High School. About 300 people have already said they're interested in attending. That's going to be where we’ll hear ideas from all groups and different students that come together. There will be a student group that comes out of that who will be the lead organizers so that we can push the agenda forward with calls to action even after the event [on March 24].
And what I can tell you is that we will definitely be registering people to vote, we'll be writing our senators, we'll be writing to those who have taken money from the NRA. But the official message will be crafted at this Saturday's summit.
Do you see this as a moment that could create real change? There's a lot of apathy and pessimism, going as far back as Columbine, but also with plenty of other shootings like Sandy Hook in which elementary schoolers were gunned down, because there were no sweeping gun-law changes made after those massacres. Is there anything going on now that you see as different?
The thing that gives me hope is that there are so many young people invested in this movement. All over the nation, people are walking out of schools and are demanding action. I think this movement is going to be extraordinary because young people are at the forefront, standing up and saying “Enough is enough.” It's not banning guns. It's not about taking away the Second Amendment. This is about making sure that there should be no one individual able to walk into a school with an assault rifle and murder kids and teachers. We have to stand up for the Parkland survivors and say, “This will be the last mass shooting, because we're doing something about it.'"