#NeverAgain in Athens

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On February 14th, 2018, 17 lives were lost in a high school in Parkland, Florida to an active shooter with an assault rifle. As ripples of grief passed through the United States the following weeks, Americans were crudely reminded that over 30,000 people die each year due to gun violence. Since the  shooting, several activist events have taken place to raise awareness about gun control. But something is different this time, and it has people saying “never again”.

It’s Saturday, March 24th. The sky is gloomy and the wind is harsh, still a large group of people have gathered on College Green. Ohio University students, teachers, families, and Athens community members stand bundled up. Some hold signs and posters, others simply wait for the March for Our Lives to begin. The protesters in Athens joined people across the nation, telling lawmakers that gun control is needed now. Chants included sentiments such as, “Hey hey! Ho ho! The NRA has got to go!”

In the crowd is Masa Al-Azm, a student at Athens High School. She is one of many local students who are becoming activists to fight for their lives. “It could happen to any student. And when I see victims of gun violence like those Parkland kids, I see my friends, I see my teachers, and I just think it’s personal for all students and for everyone because that could be us, that could be me,” Masa shared.

Masa isn’t the only high schooler who feels passionately about the political climate. She started a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Club at Athens High School so she and her peers can have a safe space to voice their concerns about the community. “Just you know little things at school like trying to educate my peers is the most important part, because this isn’t a partisan issue, or it shouldn’t be,” Masa explained.

High schoolers are not alone in this movement. Bailey Williams is the membership director of the Ohio University College Democrats. He believes that high school students are at the root of change in the never again movement. Bailey explained, “This is totally through them. This is their movement. They started it. We’re tagging along to their movement to push for gun control that will eventually help everybody”

Bailey organized the March for Our Lives event on campus, bringing together a chorus of voices to speak on gun violence. Masa believes that it’s time for high schoolers to stand up for their rights. “When politicians start acting like kids, kids have to start acting like politicians,” she insists.

Activists like Bailey and Masa are stepping up and calling for action, even though it’s not their job. They’re missing important life events, opportunities to hang out with friends, and even classes just to fight for their right to feel safe in school. “I was cold,” she recalls. “That’s probably my number one memory, that it was cold and I was pissed off that I had to be out here in the cold and my feet hurt. I like don’t think I’ll ever forget my teacher stopped English class like ten minutes before class ended and had to explain to us what would happen if a shooter came in and she had to you know like her voice was shaking and she basically told us that she would not hesitate to protect us and get shot if someone came in.”

After each mass shooting that we experience, it seems that we gradually forget, but students feel something was different about this attack. “I think it’s just. Enough is enough. You know I think that we’re gonna keep going hopefully until some kind of gun reform happens, some gun control, anything happens,” says Masa.

Masa continues to work with the WGSS club at Athens High School, promoting positive change in both the school and the Athens community. Other people have faith in these high school students, too. “I think their willingness, their courage and their ability to convey a message that really resonates with a lot of Americans, I think that’s the difference between prior mass shootings,” comments Bailey.

For Bailey and the OU College Democrats, the next steps of the movement are clear. “Be involved,” he says. “Make sure you stay educated on issues, especially gun violence. Like I said, it impacts everybody. And register to vote. Turn out. Primaries are coming up, primaries are just as important as every other election.”

Masa and Bailey are both adamant when saying never again, but they also stress that is takes everyone working together to create real change. That means listening to the young voices in America, registering yourself and others to vote, and most of all, actually going to vote.