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‘We must feel safe’: ABQ students join DC march

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They left at dawn Friday for the revolution, armed with coats, comfortable shoes and plenty of conviction.

They meant business.

This time, they say, the country will listen. This time, the politicians will act. This time, the hundreds of thousands of students who march in Washington, D.C., will not stop marching, not stop speaking out, not stop demanding that the bloodshed in schools and streets across the nation be stemmed, the guns – some of them for some people, anyway – be put down.

“This is something we have grabbed hold of and must not let go,” said Katelyn Alam, 16 and a junior from Manzano High School. “We must feel safe again.”

Alam is one of four students chosen from Albuquerque public high schools to attend the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., today courtesy of scholarships provided by Indivisible Nob Hill, a local chapter of the national grass-roots resistance movement. Alam, along with fellow Manzano student Faith Lopez and La Cueva High School students Caroline Heitman and Elizabeth Mather, left for Washington early Friday.

They plan to meet with members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, and they are expected to march with students from Aztec High School, where a gunman killed two students in December. Other high school students from Albuquerque also traveled to Washington for the march.

“I’ve always been passionate about the issue, and this gives me a chance to speak up and participate, because we know now that change is going to come from my generation,” said Mather, 18 and a senior. “No one else has done what needs to be done. My generation will do it.”

It’s the first big test for a movement inspired and organized by her generation, specifically the students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who began the #NeverAgain movement after 17 of their classmates and teachers were killed Feb. 14 by a former student with an AR-15 in one of the deadliest school shootings in history.

The students have become ubiquitous advocates against gun violence and for common-sense gun laws and planned today’s March for Our Lives in the nation’s capital and nationwide – about 800 demonstrations in all 50 states and on six continents. Albuquerque is holding one of the “sibling” marches, also organized by students.

“There are a few adult advisers, but the kids are totally in control,” said Rayellen Smith, president of Indivisible Nob Hill, which will be on hand today at the Albuquerque march to register voters. “I don’t know how they know what to do, but they know what to do.”

That the movement is student-led adds a certain authenticity and urgency to the call for the country to do something about its gun problem. This is the generation that has grown up with mass shootings. This is the generation of kids who go to school or the movies or church and are never sure whether they will return alive. In Albuquerque, it is the generation growing up with record numbers of homicides, almost all committed by guns. In the past week, five people were slain in six days in the city, bringing the total to 15 dead so far this year – on par with last year, in which Albuquerque recorded the highest number of homicides in recent history.

This is the generation that is finally fed up.

“It’s easy to become desensitized to all the killings when you grow up in a climate of violence,” said Heitman, 18 and a senior. “We’re so used to it that it’s easy to brush aside. But we can’t let ourselves be numb to these deaths. Each life matters, and each life lost means another family is grieving.”

We adults have been marching for years, arguing for something to be done to slow down the slaughter rate. In 2000, the Million Mom March, which advocated for sensible gun control, attracted 750,000 participants to Washington.

Groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and, locally, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence have galvanized. Black Lives Matter has led the way in protests and marches since the shooter who killed Trayvon Martin walked free.

But the bloodshed continues. And little changes.

Now there are new voices, a new age, uncompromising, energetic, unwilling to sit back because it’s “too soon” to talk about the problem.

“It’s been an issue for such a long time,” said Lopez, 16 and a junior. “I made a list of the victims who died in school shootings. There were hundreds and hundreds of names. They were people who cared about things, people like me. And we are just sick of it. Nothing is changing, and people keep dying, and we are done with thoughts and prayers. So it’s time for us to do something.”

It’s too soon to know how successful they will be in their demands to make this world better, safer. But already I’m encouraged.

So they march – and one thing more. They are at or near voting age, and they plan to vote. Expect them. It’s their world now.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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