What motivates young people to take action on their beliefs? Human rights learning, and the DC Human Rights project in particular, might be an important piece of the puzzle.
On March 28, 2013—a National Day to Demand Action on Gun Violence—Andy Bloom and Diana Chicas, 17-year-old students from Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., came to City Hall to speak with Councilwoman Mary Cheh about gun violence.
“Hearing about guns in schools has become almost a normal occurrence,” Diana said. When asked what their ideal world might look like, Andy said that he wanted to be able to look back at this period of all too frequent incidents of gun violence as simply a bad time in our history; one that has been corrected through sensible gun policies.
Diana and Andy delivered a petition signed by more than 60 Wilson High students and faculty members to Councilwoman Cheh and urged her and her fellow council members to take a long, hard look at gun violence.
The Wilson High School students are not alone in their desire to do something about the alarmingly high incidences of gun violence in the U.S. A recent poll by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 89 percent of likely voters in 42 key Congressional districts across the nation are in favor of requiring background checks for all gun sales. The same is true for gun owners: a 2012 survey (conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz) showed that 82 percent of gun owners, including 74 percent of National Rifle Association members, endorsed mandatory criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun.
Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana, the Program Director of AFSC’s DC Peace and Economic Justice Program, was proud. He’s been working with Diana and Andy for over a year as part of the DC Program’s Human Rights project, which reaches more than 150 students annually, supporting students as they take action on issues they care about.
After the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, which left 20 children and six others dead, students participating in the DC project expressed their desire to take on the issue of gun violence. The students were aware of D.C.’s existing strict gun laws, but still felt a similar tragedy was possible. They decided they didn’t want to wait to take action, and the idea for the petition and the City Hall visit emerged.
While Diana and others were collecting petition signatures at Wilson High School, most of the students they approached agreed with the need to take action, but some expressed reluctance to sign the petition.
Diana said some of her peers simply “didn’t feel like one signature would matter, that their voice wouldn’t matter.” Both Diana and Andy feel differently. They agree that everyone’s voice, regardless of age, does matter. “Youth really are the future,” Andy said. “One day people my age will be councilpeople, even future presidents.”
Jean-Louis has seen young people doubt the power of their voice to affect change. “It’s very important for young people to engage. But they believe elected officials and those in power don’t listen to them, so they don’t get involved.” But AFSC is working with young people to find their voices and to utilize their power.
Councilwoman Cheh expressed strong support of Andy and Diana’s efforts, and vowed to use her connections to deliver the Wilson High School petition to a D.C. organization working on gun violence issues. The Councilwoman said their petition would be a valuable tool for ongoing organizing efforts. “I’m proud of you both for what you’re doing,” she said.