On February 14, the day of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., my school 50 miles away paused for a moment of silence. It unfortunately isn’t the first that we’ve observed. Along with lesson plans, active shooter drills are becoming frequent enough that this generation will mistake them as normal.
When I saw students in our first drill being instructed to stay still, to secure and get away from the door, I was reminded of another exercise I’ve had to practice in my life.
On the inside of the entrance to my home there is a handwritten note that says, “Do not open this door.” It’s been there since Donald Trump took office last year.
It’s meant to protect us from his deportation agents, and it’s an instruction to my little sister. She’s not allowed to answer the door if there’s a knock or the bell rings because she might not know to check through the window to see if there’s danger on the other side.
There’s no comparing the two experiences. I’m aware because I know people who lost someone in the Parkland shooting and I know people whose close family has been deported. They are not the same, but they are both terrible. And when I arrive in the school where I work, with several students like me, we carry the stress and fear of both into its halls.
When I saw the Parkland students speak out, I got chills. To see their bravery and their determination gave me hope. I’m someone who has been organizing with my mom for immigrant rights for the past six years. I’m someone who has watched Sen. Marco Rubio and other politicians make promises they haven’t kept and offer progress only to turn around and block it. So when Parkland survivor and activist Emma Gonzalez said, “We call BS,” I felt a deep cheer and echo inside of me.
I grew up almost all my life in Miami, but in 2012, when I wanted to go to college, I found my entry into activism, because Florida treated students like me as out-of-state, making it impossible for me to afford.
Friends of mine and I started to organize. We lobbied politicians and held protests, much like the students currently demonstrating for gun control. And at the same time, we had to do personal campaigns when one of our parents was taken by ICE agents. We did it all not knowing if we’d be pulled over ourselves or if our family members would return home each day.
And we did it knowing that if we were to get politicians to actually care about us, we were going to have to make them care through organizing.
I want to tell the students fighting for their lives now to keep going. Organizing does work. They’re already proving it, and I’ve seen it in my own life. In just the five years I’ve been active, we won deferred action that gave Dreamers the ability to study, work and live with less fear. We won in-state tuition that lets someone like me pursue my career to be a kindergarten teacher. And if our efforts were combined, we could achieve so much more.
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Demonstrators, the majority of them students, staged a "lie-in" protest outside the White House yesterday calling for urgent gun reform after last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Over the weekend students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school led the call for action, publicly mourning their classmates and demanding regulation of the powerful NRA. Photos: Evan Vucci
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My little sister may only be 12, but she has already learned a lot from my mom and I dragging her to our meetings over the years and as part of advocating for our family. Like the other students who are mobilizing now, she has worries that no kid should have to carry and she sees the opportunity for change. She’s using the skills she has learned organizing for immigrant rights to now start a walk-out at her school and hopefully send students to Washington, DC, for the March for Our Lives.
If politicians were wise, they’d be stepping away from their NRA donations and be moving to stand with these young people. They are giving us all a civics lesson. My mom taught me to never make a promise I couldn’t keep, and it’s time the people elected learn it, too. We’re not stopping until we have the safety that every human being and young child deserves. That means taking away the threat of gun violence and addressing all the threats that we face in our lives — not adding to them. They can either vote for us or be prepared to be voted out.
I have faith that the students will make it happen, and I’ve been in it long enough to be ready to help.
Christell Cayaso is a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s We Belong Together Campaign, which mobilizes women in support of common-sense immigration reform that will keep families together and empower women.