After the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which resulted in 17 deaths, a new wave of grass-roots activism from teenagers and young adults advocating for changes to gun laws has spread across the country — and it has now arrived in the Upstate.
Twenty students — 18 high schoolers and two college students — have come together to organize under March For Our Lives Greenville, described in a news release as “a sister movement of the national March For Our Lives created by survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.”
The group is planning a march in downtown Greenville at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at the corner of North and Beattie streets. The event is scheduled on the same day as the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
Greenville is one of dozens of cities across the country that will hold a march to show solidarity and support for those traveling to the nation’s capital.
A Facebook page for the Greenville event contains an excerpt identical to the mission statement found on marchforourlives.com, which states in part that “students across the country … will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass shootings that has become all too familiar.”
The demands for changes to the nation’s gun laws from some Stoneman Douglas students in the immediate aftermath of the shooting at their high school was the call to action for many other students across the country, including Avi Goldstein-Mittag, a 20-year-old Princeton University student from Spartanburg.
On Feb. 19, Goldstein-Mittag, who is living in the Upstate during a gap year, created a Facebook event for a local March For Our Lives. “Like magic, people said they were interested in attending,” he says.
Three days later, Goldstein-Mittag posted on the page asking if any students were interested in joining an organizing committee. Soon after, the 20-person March For Our Lives Greenville group was formed.
Lizzie Diaz, Bella Kitsos, and Maxine Blech are three of the committee’s members.
“When I saw on TV the students walking outside of the Parkland school, and I looked around my school and saw it wasn’t really hitting anyone, it made me really sad,” says Diaz, a senior at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and the committee’s communications chair. “It made me realize we shouldn’t be numb to this and something needed to happen.”
“I felt I needed to be part of the change being made,” she adds. “It’s one of those things when you realize your own mortality, and you realize it could’ve been you.”
“I wanted to make a difference in my own community,” says Maxine Blech, a senior at Christ Church Episcopal School and the committee’s volunteer chair. “My mother’s a big advocate and is in a lot of groups in this community. She found the Facebook page where this was originally created and mentioned it to me. … I wanted to make a difference, because I really believe in the safety of our schools and not having our voices get squashed.”
For Kitsos, a senior at Wade Hampton High School, watching live coverage the day of the shooting was when the reality of the tragedy began to sink in.
“I don’t really know how to say it; it just felt different to me. All the school shootings have been really sad, but this one really hit home,” she said.
For Goldstein-Mittag — who is now the organizing committee’s chairman — that students are the ones leading the charge is what makes the nascent movement so powerful. “It’s sort of showing that students’ lives are the ones being affected by these shootings,” he says. “Lawmakers and adults don’t have to sit in the classrooms and be in the schools and be directly involved. … It’s led by students, and I want that communicated to the community: that if lawmakers aren’t going to take responsibility, students will advocate for themselves.”
That advocacy does involve speaking out in favor of more restrictive gun laws. For instance, Goldstein-Mittag cites his support for H. 4975, a piece of legislation recently introduced in the S.C. House of Representatives by Rep. Wendy C. Brawley, D-Richland, that would ban the possession and sale of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks in the state.
When asked what measures she believes could be taken to reduce gun violence in schools, Diaz says she supports “more in-depth background checks,” a bump-stock ban, and limiting gun sales to individuals ages 21 and older. She also adds, “No one in the world needs any semi-automatic weapon, for any reason. … That belongs to the military and SWAT teams.”
“I understand there are ways to get these things outside of regulation; however, they need to be regulated, because they need to make it harder [to obtain],” Diaz says.
“There should be restrictions, like raising the age limit of who can purchase guns and more expansive background checks, restricting the military form of weapons out there — that kind of thing,” Blech says.
Kitsos states that she is “not a gun person,” even though her father “sells bullets at gun shows,” and she received a gun as a birthday gift years ago.
“I’d be completely fine if we got rid of them, but I know that’s not going to happen,” she says. Implementing universal background checks is one measure she supports.
While the aforementioned proposals are closely associated with advocacy from the left of the political spectrum, Goldstein-Mittag says he hopes to communicate that “this isn’t a partisan issue.”
“It’s the safety of our schools and students,” he says. “We shouldn’t have to politicize it. We are pushing for some measures of gun reform as actual policy. We are reaching out to all legislatures of any party. We’re not just inviting one party.”
March For Our Lives Greenville
Saturday, March 24, 2-4 p.m.
Corner of North and Beattie streets