Monday, May 20, 2024

'End Gun Violence' protest joins lawmakers, community members

February 17, 2023
<p>Psychology junior Maya Manuel’s shakes hands with students at the End Gun Violence Spartan Strong Protest at the Michigan Capitol on Feb. 17, 2023.</p>

Psychology junior Maya Manuel’s shakes hands with students at the End Gun Violence Spartan Strong Protest at the Michigan Capitol on Feb. 17, 2023.

Comparative cultures and politics junior Amaya Aten brought the same protest sign she used in 2018 at a March for Our Lives rally for Parkland to the Capitol today for the End Gun Violence protest to speak for her own community five years later.

She said the feeling was “not good” to stand up for the same rights she did years ago that were ignored. 

Alumna Abby Frost and her best friend, political theory and constitutional democracy senior Ellie Baden, organized this protest to not only grieve as a community, but inspire change in state politics.

Working with U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, of the 7th Congressional District, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, they see at least small changes on the horizon with common sense gun reform in the state legislature. However, they hope to continue this fight for more.

“We do need help getting that passed and pushing for our state legislators to approve that,” Frost said. “At the state government level, I think that we have pretty good odds. At the federal government level, we have so much more work to do. I think if we keep moving to get this pushed at the state level, then we'll be able to have a better chance of getting federal changes.”

As an alumna, Frost is feeling guilty for feeling sad and hurt by these events that she wasn’t physically there to witness. But she said the thing about Spartans is that they love each other and are always there for one another.

“I saw something recently talking about how when we say 'go green,' everyone says 'go white' back,” Frost said. “It's like how if one Spartan calls out, the rest of us will respond. I think that is an alumni in my experience.”

Baden has always felt that MSU was her home. She said she met her best friends here, went to every sports game and cheered on the Spartans and felt strongly connected to the community even in the depths of the pandemic.

As she sat in anxiety and fear for four hours on Monday night, she still had that “mutual love and appreciation” for her friends on campus, as she held her roommate tight while the suspect was still at large and communication around campus was brief.

“Students were hunted and killed in our collective home,” Baden said in her speech. “No words can express grief, confusion and betrayal that I feel, and I'm sure many other students feel as well. I've always been aware of and terrified of the gun violence epidemic that plagues this country.”

Baden said in her speech that it pains her to say students are not safe in their spaces of learning, but that she was so proud of the community coming together in the way she has seen in the following days. She sent her thoughts and prayers to the ones we have lost, the ones in the hospital and the students who are too scared to return to campus at this time, but that fear shows that it’s time for change.

“We are already living in a country that we shouldn't be able to recognize,” Baden said in her speech. “Firearms are the largest killer of American youth today. I refuse to accept that I live in a country that has given up on its youth and I refuse to believe that nothing can be done. This is a country …governed by the people. And today, the people are demanding action.”

Aten said while she wants change, the goal of the event was having a collective voice heard.

“I think a lot of people are coming together and sitting with each other, which I think is really important in this time,” Aten said. “Just sitting and talking; It's most healthy for us right now.”

Comparative cultures and politics junior Jesse Estrada White said it felt good to see lawmakers trying to make a difference after Michigan's newly elected Democrat majority. He said it would be disappointing to see them fall politically anywhere else on the mission for gun control.

“I think there's more than just gun control that needs to happen,” Estrada White said. “We talk about gun violence so much, we don't talk about the underlying causes. It's not like the United States of America is a fundamentally violent country … We built our country with racism, colonialism, and patriarchy (and) fundamentally violent ideologies. We need to work to actually deconstruct those and move past them. I'd like to see gun legislation. Gun control is like a first step in moving towards a better world.”

The speakers at the march included students who were directly affected by the shooting and its fear-mongering consequences. Comparative cultures and politics sophomore Elizabeth Cadalzo-Lopez said she was in the classroom at Berkey Hall where the shooter stepped in. 

Even though Cadalzo-Lopez has been through lockdown drills growing up, she had no idea what to do when she watched her classmates break windows to get out, or ask her to take off clothes to apply pressure to gunshot wounds of her other classmates. She said that she didn’t think she would ever be able to see her loved ones again. She highlighted the pain of her two classmates that would never be able to. 

“Arielle Anderson and Alexandra Verner … will never be able to graduate from college, laugh at their friends or see their family ever again all because they were sitting in class, doing all the right things,” Cadalzo-Lopez said in her speech. “They deserve to be alive right now. I shouldn't even have to be up here begging politicians and policymakers to care about their students dying due to gun violence. Their lives mattered. They had goals…They had families that loved them and friends that adored them.”

Psychology sophomore Asha Denny was barricaded in her dorm, terrified of all she was hearing on the police scanner. Denny wrote a poem about the Parkland shooting when she was 15, never believing she would have to beg policymakers to believe that students should live.

“I'm tired of begging,” Denny said. “I'm tired of you guys saying 'Spartan Strong.' We shouldn't have to be strong – we're kids. We have to be strong because (policymakers) are being weak. I'm tired of that.”

One of the lawmakers participating in the protest was Senate Majority Floor Leader Sam Singh. Singh gave a speech at the rally, thanking students for “sharing their voice” and stories.

“I want to make sure that every single person is going to be held accountable as they hear the stories," Singh said in his speech. "They have to act, I cannot understand how they would not act.”

Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, also spoke at the rally. She said she was sorry that “we have failed you” and lawmakers were not going to fail again now.

“We can make meaningful action and it takes public pressure to get people to do things they don't want to do,” Brixie said in her speech. “But you are worth it. You and every other child is worth it and we should not allow our children to endure acts of violence in sacred places of learning. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”

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