Lately, the gun violence prevention community has faced both important wins, especially in the legislative context, and intensely tragic events, such as the three devastating suicides in the past weeks. Two of these were survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Sydney Aiello and Calvin Desir. The other was Jeremy Richman, founder of the Avielle Foundation for violence prevention through neuroscience and community engagement, and the father of Avielle, a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Being from Sandy Hook, these past few weeks have been extremely emotionally taxing and disheartening. While the bipartisan H.R.8 (a bill focused on setting the requirement of universal background checks) passing Congress gave me hope, the recent suicides have made it hard to stay motivated. However, if being a member of the gun violence prevention community has taught me anything, it’s how to turn tragedy into action. This is one of the reasons that I attended the March For Our Lives anniversary event, an art instillation on the lawn of the Capitol
The Art Installation
After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, students mobilized to form March For Our Lives, a movement to make change, and organized the march that occurred in 2018. For the anniversary of the March, the group decided to take a different approach to getting Congress’s attention. They also wanted to honor the recent New Zealand shooting victims and the recent deaths by suicide of those impacted by gun violence. They held a day of lobbying on March 25, delivering letters and meeting with legislators to push S.42, which is the Senate version of the background check bill.
On Tuesday, March 26, the March For Our Lives activists began setting up their art installation at 4 AM. By 8 AM, the sun was up and the installation was complete. Giant letters that spelled out “Your Complacency Kills Us” were set up facing the Capitol Building, with the words “Kills Us” in red. Behind the letters was a heart made up of stakes with different religious symbols that had different words written on them such as “mother,” “sister,” “student,” or “best friend.” Inside the heart was a bulls eye made up of white and red roses spread on the ground. In the center of the bullseye was a mannequin sitting at a desk. The desk had school books in and on it, and teddy bears set up at the bottom to replicate a memorial. The mannequin was dressed in a sweatshirt that read “Am I Next?” On the face of the mannequin was a mirror, so that when you walk up to it, you see yourself. The installation was up until 5 PM and it was impossible to miss as legislators walked in and out of the Capitol and their offices on the Hill all day.
The art installation was powerful, meaningful, full of emotion, and inspirational. While it was moving and sad, standing in the center of it also felt extremely empowering. I looked up at the Capitol, knowing that legislators would have to look out onto this call to action all day, and felt hope for the first time in since Jeremy’s suicide.
Learning how to turn tragedy into action is extremely difficult, and I wouldn’t wish the circumstance on anyone. However, I’ve experiences so much love and inspiration in the gun violence prevention community and this year’s March For Our Lives anniversary event added to that.
Gun violence prevention is not a partisan cause. The safety of Americans shouldn’t be a discussion, it should be a priority for everyone. To help this become a reality, we need to keep pressuring our legislators to put bipartisan gun safety legislation on the agenda until we can all feel safe in our country. S. 42, the senate bill on universal background checks, is the next step, and community education and engagement is always important to spread awareness on the epidemic of gun violence and how we can create solutions.
What You Can Do
- Call 1-866-368-5630 to urge your senators to pass S. 42.
- Be there for yourself and the people around you.
- The suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255 is always available. You can also make an appointment at the Wellness Center or take advantage of drop-in hours. Seek help if you need it.
- Spread love and hope; everyone needs it sometimes.
Written by Sophie Ackert ’21, WGRC student worker