February 14, 2018, changed my world. Once again, I had to text my friends. This time texting friends who go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. I was asking if they were alive after yet another school shooting. I sat in my house fearing for my friends’ lives and praying. I finally got a response from them indicating they were safe and alive. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I had to text my friends asking if they were alive after a mass shooting. The Jewish community, specifically USY, has connected me with friends from across the country. I never thought these friendships would bring a whole new world of fear into my life.
When approached with the opportunity to march on Washington in the global movement of March For Our Lives, I immediately hopped on board. My Jewish community, that I hold nearest to my heart, is listening to me as a student and supporting our interest and backing our fights. This trip formed and evolved into more than what would’ve ever been imagined when this idea first popped into picture.
This trip began with a treacherous endeavor that I’d argue embodied all of the trips participant’s dedication to the cause: a 21-hour bus ride. We loaded on the bus as wide-eyed teens. My head telling me I was insane for doing this, but my heart knew it wasn’t a choice, I had to do this. The minutes turned into hours and the hours somehow went by with a sunset and a sunrise somewhere along the way. We finally pulled into Washington, D.C. and my stomach bubbled with excitement. I was here, I was going to be heard, I was going to foster change. As we celebrated Shabbat and slept on the squash courts of the Edalvitch JCC in the heart of D.C., everything felt right. Expressing to others why this issue was not only important but personal came easily to me.
As Saturday morning approached, I have been waiting for this day for weeks. We daaven to start off the day and then proceed to head to the march. Sign in hand, fire in my heart, and a desire for change in the air, I turn the corner onto a street off-shooting Pennsylvania Avenue. My heart stops as I see the thousands of people demanding change. My friends and I break into a sprint, we can no longer wait to be a part of the march, we want to be in the heart of it. We manage to weave ourselves twelve blocks forward and are roughly only three blocks from the main stage. Chanting cheers such as “This is what democracy looks like”, “Grades up gun down”, and “Enough is enough”. Getting compliments on our shirts that say “#DAYENU” from others who understand what dayenu means. People compliment us on signs and passion and join in on our cheers. We talk with some people about our journey to get here, and why this is important to us as students.
We stand for hours on end, packed like sardines on Pennsylvania Avenue, and experience things I couldn’t have imagined. I am surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds – but with one common goal in mind: change. I hear speeches from the students that have inspired me to take action and aspire to embody one day. Performers are on stage singing their songs that embody the messages of the march, but I wasn’t there for them. I was there for the mom next to me that broke down in tears when we sang happy birthday to the late Nicholas Dworet, who was taken from us in the Parkland shooting and his 18th birthday was the same day as the march. I was there for the kids who had to hide for hours in their classrooms closets not knowing if they would make it home from school that day. I was there for the students everywhere who fear going to school. I was there for my right to live.
In awe of the people who surrounded me at the march, I left a changed person.
I left empowered: Empowered with the determination that the march in Washington was only the beginning.
I left angry: Angry that I had to be there in the first place.
I left hopeful. Hopeful for the future since I am sure it will be brighter.
Most importantly I left changed: Changed by the speeches that showed me the power of my voice.
I left awakened to the struggles of different communities, specifically in communities of color and their daily fears. I had stepped outside of myself, my upbringing, my perception of the world and just took it all in. I left aware of my privilege, but more importantly how I can utilize my privilege to help those whose circumstances are not the same. I had to keep reminding myself that this entire movement was created by students. Kids my age led something that swept the world by storm. I kept asking myself, “If kids my age can do this, what can I do? How can I use my voice to do more and to do better?“