A few weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, where 17 students were killed on February 14, 2018, I was babysitting a local first grade girl, Katie. Katie asked if we could read one more book before bedtime. I suggested we call it a night, because she had school the next morning. As I was about to walk out of her room, she asked, “Hey, do you practice hiding under your desk at college too?” I looked at her, stunned, and I stumbled to find the right words to answer. In actuality, yes; Muhlenberg had a lockdown drill earlier this semester. But the causality of this six-year-old’s question was chilling. And as I thought more about it, it shouldn’t have shocked me. This is an everyday part of life for young people, even more than it was for me and my peers in high school.
Katie’s question continued to repeat in my head as I stood with another Muhlenberg student and an alum at the Allentown March For Our Lives on March 24, 2018. The Allentown rally was organized by Lehigh Valley for All in partnership with Allentown City Democratic Committee and the gun control organization CeaseFire PA. Organizers lined up several speakers, including local students and politicians. The speakers advocated for two main gun policies: that there should be a ban on assault riffle sales, and that teachers should not be armed. Hundreds of people came to the Allentown rally, advocating for tighter gun control for a variety of reasons. An Allentown gun owner, Maggie, stood at the rally with a sign that read “Voting with the NRA? We’re voting the NRA out.” Maggie stated that in Pennsylvania, the big argument is hunting. “No hunter hunts with assault riffles. There’s no reason for it. No civilian needs a machine gun. It’s about responsible gun legislation.” Several political candidates and elected officials stood in front of the hundreds of Lehigh Valley locals, pledging to support universal background checks and not support arming teachers. They also vowed not to take NRA money.
Numerous research has shown that a high percentage of the national population is pro-gun control. The idea that NRA money is more powerful than a high percent of the population means that we are not simply in a fight for tighter gun control; we are in a fight for democracy. One of the speakers at the rally was Reverend Becca Mideke-Conlin, a pastor at a church near Sandy Hook Elementary, where 26 children and staff were killed in 2012.
Middeke-Conlin shared that one of her congregation members lost a grandson, Chris Hixon, in the Parkland shooting. “A lot of people are talking about thoughts and prayers. A lot of politicians say, after these mass shootings, that they are sending thoughts and prayers. I am here as a pastor to say that we need more than thoughts and prayers after a mass shooting.” Middeke-Conlin said, before leading us in a cheer of “Policy and change, not thoughts and prayers!”
Many local high school students spoke. In their speeches, they acknowledged that the issue of gun violence is not secular to schools. Gun violence happens in our streets and in our homes, especially in communities of color. The Parkland teenagers have acknowledged the hypocrisy of how black youth are treated when they protest gun violence in their communities versus how the Parkland teenagers, who are primarily white, have been treated in their advocacy. Parkland activists, such as Emma González, have met with young people of color across the country, such as the student advocates of color from Chicago. Just like in all of our movements, intersectionality is vital. We have a responsibility to pay attention to violence when it happens to white children, to black children, to immigrant children, and to native children across our nation. We must march — and then we must vote. We must show up for the victims of gun violence nationally, and the victims of gun violence in the Lehigh Valley. We must make sure we are supporting the conversations happening on and off campus.
Four ways to show up, speak up, and stand up:
POWER Northeast, an organization committed to interrupting oppressive and inequitable systems that have historically, negatively impacted communities of color and poor white communities in the Lehigh Valley, holds weekly resistance meetings every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. at 916 W Turner St. in Allentown.
Subscribe to the Lehigh Valley Progressive Events Calendar, sent out every month with ways to get involved in local activism. Email email@example.com to get the update.
Go to Tuesdays With Toomey in Allentown, which occur every Tuesday at noon at 1150 S. Cedar Crest Blvd.
Vote in national and local elections. The midterm elec- tions are May 15. Go to usa.gov/ register-to-vote if you are not yet registered.