Aug. 14 power rally aims to organize youth fight for gun control

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Students are demanding action – in schools, in the streets of their communities and in government office. And the next big step of their mission will be taking place soon.

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence will host a Student Power Rally Tuesday, Aug. 14 on the State House lawn at 3 p.m.

Featuring student speakers from the RICAGV’s Youth Committee, the rally will aim to unite student activists in Rhode Island and educate them on their rights as students. The event is open and free to all who express an interest in learning about the rights of students to protest in their schools, and who wish to convey their belief that action must be taken in order to reduce the harm caused by gun violence in America. The event has been planned and organized entirely by members of the Youth Committee, overseen by Katherine Kerwin. The committee has more than 50 members from across the state at both the high school and college levels.

The centerpiece of the event will be the unveiling of a student rights handbook, a booklet composed by members of the RICAGV Youth Committee in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island. The handbook’s purpose is to educate students on what their rights are when they make political statements in a school environment.

Featuring colorful illustrations and descriptions of both state and national laws pertaining to the rights of students, the handbook will serve as an accessible and simple-to-understand introduction for students to learn about rights that aren’t always made clear to them in school-issued student manuals.

Members of the Youth Committee have been working hard to secure performers and donations from local restaurants for the event in the meantime. Insomnia Cookies, Chipotle and Granny Squibb’s will be donating food and refreshments for the event, and additional caterers are currently being sought out. Several local music groups are also having their presence requested; a few musically experienced students of the committee will also be performing their own music, though the official lineup has not yet been finalized.

“We want to get students engaged in the long run, and we want them to learn and exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Grace Reed, a volunteer with RICAGV since the past winter in an interview last week. "A healthy democracy can only exist when everyone stays engaged and informed. I'm hoping that this rally and our other youth engagement initiatives will help activate the 18- to 24-year-old age range that had the lowest voter turnout in the 2016 election, as well as younger students who are getting ready to vote."

A recent graduate of Toll Gate High School, Reed was a founding member of her school’s Civic Action Coalition, an after-school group for students seeking political change and activism. As one of the youth helping to compose the handbook, one important right she hopes to convey is that a school that permits any sort of after-school student organizations must also allow organizations with explicitly religious or political motives to form as well.

Silas Gibbins, a sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, is one of the committee members assisting with the graphic design of the handbook. Simple graphics will be used to more clearly illustrate the points mentioned in the handbook for quick and easy understanding. The handbook is intended to be used as a reference for students who are unsure of their rights, and to be presented as a defense if their rights are challenged by school authorities.

Tinker vs. Des Moines is an important decision mentioned within the booklet. The Supreme Court case, ruled in 1969, decided that the freedom of students to express political opinions in school buildings is protected under the First Amendment.

The handbook also mentions that, while students can be disciplined for leaving class for a walkout, the consequences cannot go beyond the typical punishment issued to students who skip class. Students cannot receive a more severe punishment just because of the political nature of the walkout.

“Just because schools can punish students [for walkouts],” affirmed Reed, “doesn’t mean they should.”

Knowing what rights they have is crucial for students making political statements in a school setting; for example, the March 14 walkouts held by high school students across the nation in response to the Parkland shooting in February. After 17 students were killed by a gunman at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students across America expressed their outrage and desire for change by walking out of school. They remained outside the building for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim, and talked about the need for increased gun control in America.

Reed explained that students across Rhode Island had vastly different experiences when they attempted walkouts in March. While Toll Gate and High School permitted students to step outside and allowed members of the school’s Civic Action Coalition to speak their minds, other high schools in the state were not as lenient when it came to allowing student voices to be heard. Several students were barred from walking out or threatened with suspensions if they left the building to protest gun violence. Many students voiced frustration that their school administration attempted to redirect the discussion to school safety procedures rather than gun violence, thereby erasing the inherently political message students were trying to convey.

The RICAGV Youth Committee partnered with the Providence Student Union, Young Voices RI, Moms Demand Action and the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non-Violence, is comprised of middle and high school students from across Rhode Island that work to find ways to influence government action at both the state and national level. Under the mission of the Youth Empowerment Strategy, a project coordinated by RICAGV, students will be trained with the proper public speaking and civic engagement skills needed to advocate for stricter gun control.

Among the legislation the Youth Committee seeks to support are the Safe Schools Act and the Assault Weapons Ban. The Safe Schools Act would prevent concealed carry permit holders from bringing firearms into K-12 schools in Rhode Island, while the Assault Weapons Ban would restrict the possession and sale of semiautomatic assault weapons.

The Youth Committee itself is divided into four subcommittees, each with a separate focus. During monthly Youth Committee meetings, students can spend time with the Urban Gun Violence Committee, the Youth Power and Students’ Rights Committee, the Voter Registration Committee, or the Electoral Committee. Voter registration is considered a particularly important issue among youth, as the 18-24 age group regularly sees the lowest voter turnout in the state during elections.

For more information, or to get involved with RICAGV projects and volunteer opportunities, interested parties can visit www.ricagv.org.

Comments

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davebarry109

Why do you have to walk out of school to voice your opinion? You can't do it after school? The anti-gun crowd is brainwashing the young to do their bidding. And what is an 'assault weapon'? You don't know. You can't because it's a made up term and arbitrary but the Moms Demand Action didn't tell you that, did they. Before you step out, educate yourself. What is an 'assault weapon'? What is the difference between semi-automatic and automatic?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
BeaconCommenter

Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. How's that working out for them?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
ConcernedCitizen9

I believe the children are our future... Let them lead the way.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
rremington

Proud of these kids. Someone has to do something, and our so-called leaders are sitting on their hands.

Why must the protests occur during school? First, because it’s a protest (duh!), not an extracurricular activity. Second, the sad sick persons who attack our children don’t wait until after school. Lastly, these kids might actually learn something by actively participating in a civic lesson rather than the usual rote memorization routine. Show up, pitch in, quiz them if you like. But watch out local do-nothing legislators, because these kids are going to be informed voters.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
ActiveResident

I'm impressed these young citizens are organizing during their summer vacation! It shows that their commitment to the gun violence issues extends beyond the walk-outs that happened during school. I think they're invested because they've been exposed to the threat of school shootings for a good portion of their lives...some of them have been practicing "lock-down drills" since kindergarten. Stay the course! Thank you for your activism.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
PaulHuff

Strange to hear these clueless kids talk about a “healthy democracy” when the focus of their efforts is to curtail people’s civil rights.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Cat2222

I find it funny that people disagree with walkouts. The same methods were used in the 60's as a more direct democracy. Marches, picketing, sit-ins, rallies, petition drives, etc. are how women got to vote, Black people gained freedoms, end to the Vietnam war.......

Who in the world disagrees with peaceful protesting? It is everyone's right to protest just as it is a right to bear arms. You don't like people trying to tell you how you should be a gun owner so why would you think protesters want to hear how you think they shouldn't have walk outs? It is always do as I say, not as I do and it is hypocrisy.

Let the youth figure out their way in the world just like everyone else. If it isn't harming anyone or directly affecting you, why should it bother you?

Thursday, August 9, 2018
Katfrye

Why do people continuously dsparage youth who are engaged and civicly active? When the walkouts happened it was they just want to get out of class (wrong as shown by what they are doing on summer vacation). People hear working for common sense gun control and state they just want to take away rights and have nothing to say about the vast majority of the article explaining the work being put in to 1) inform students of their civil rights no matter what their stance is politicaly 2 ) work to register youth to vote no matter what their political affiliation is.

May the youth continue to be so engaged and full of leaders. Lord knows the current leadership has left them with an environment both physically and civicly that is a disgraceful mess to clean up.

The kids are alright with me.

Saturday, August 11, 2018