As a high school student in Southern California, I feel that gun violence is something I have to be consciously aware of wherever I go. I think to myself, “Where are my nearest safety exits? Is my phone charged enough to make a 911 call in case of emergency? What spot in this room is least susceptible to a gun’s aim?”
These are becoming common practices in our generation that’s experienced more and more mass shootings since Columbine. In 2016, I began to realize how important an issue this is. Every year, my town of Fillmore celebrates Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, by throwing a celebration with Spanish music, food and altars to remember those who people in the community have lost.
Two years ago, the youth from the organization I work with, One Step a la Vez, decided we wanted to create an alter commemorating the lives that had been lost at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, which had occurred earlier that year. At that time, the tragedy was the largest mass shooting that had taken place in the U.S.—it was surpassed by the Las Vegas shooting in 2017.
On a long table, we spread sugar skulls, marigolds, candles and rainbow ribbons to represent the LGTBQ identity of many of the victims. We also created 49 small individual gravestones with each victim’s name and years of life.
I remember standing by the altar with my friend, as people walked by at the celebration. When people arrived at our altar, we spoke about who these victims were, and how their LGTBQ identity had possibly contributed to why they were killed that night. These were real people, with future aspirations, who would never be able to achieve them because of someone who got access to gun—who never should have in the first place.
This made me realize that these tragedies aren’t some foreign event happening on the other side of the country. Gun violence is a real issue that affects all of us.
But, on a national level, it felt like these tragedies only resulted in our leaders “sending their thoughts and prayers.” I can’t speak for the adults, but I know that’s not cutting it for me. My generation won’t accept empty promises anymore.
Gun violence affects all of us, including, in my community: high school students, people of color, those in small towns and those who are low-income.
As a youth advocate, it’s my personal responsibility to help fix forms of injustice where I see them. I will be using my voice, along with other youth to stop gun violence, whether by participating in national walkouts to get Congress aware of our concerns or by badgering our representatives for comprehensive reform. If our representatives disregard us because of our age and supposed lack of knowledge, then we’ll know who to vote out when we turn 18.
Two months ago, I was able to attend the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., a student-led demonstration in response to the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting earlier this year. At the march, I watched my generation become a beacon of hope and change.
This is merely the beginning of a proactive era in which we, the youth, take matters into our own hands through advocacy. We will not be silenced. We will not let someone else handle the situation. We will not leave it to thoughts and prayers.
We will bring change to this nation because our lives matter, and we’re not going to let any politician tell us otherwise.
Anthony Palomera, 17, is a member of One Step a la Vez, a youth advocacy organization in Fillmore.