Commentary Violence

The NRA May Underestimate Young People. But We Don’t.

Alejandra Y. Castillo

The National Rifle Association can't handle the truth about gun violence in this country. But we at the YWCA are betting on the students and young people who won't ignore reality.

The survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, have inspired us with their determination, grit, and relentless courage. We owe those brave students more than awe and admiration; this moment of national outrage must become a moment of national action. Right now, powerful special interests are betting against them and cynically speculating that the urgency will pass and America will return to business as usual. The National Rifle Association (NRA) underestimates the power of young people. In doing so, they are fools.

Some may bet against student organizing and the power of young people. But we at the YWCA know better. We live it every day in our work to empower thousands of young women of color, including in our Girls First initiative, to compete in areas traditionally closed off to them by racial stereotypes and economic barriers.

For us, walking arm in arm with young people is part of our DNA. The YWCA was fighting to desegregate schools and lunch counters in America throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It was dangerous work, and so is this. Because Congress has long lacked the backbone to act on injustice, young people, women of color, and other change-makers have long organized neighborhood by neighborhood to bring some spine to Washington, D.C.

The long-term test is not whether we bring down the NRA, but whether we lift up millions around the country whose communities are coming apart due to gun violence. We know it won’t be easy, and we have the scars to show it: Having the fortitude to speak out against gun violence earned YWCA a spot on the NRA’s Enemies List in 2013. It has become clear that Congress is not just complacent, but complicit. For politicians, doing nothing on gun violence may have protected campaign contributions, but we must demand actions that protect lives.

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Our years of working on the ground in communities and fighting for change in state houses and on Capitol Hill has shown us the full mosaic of American society that the NRA ignores. We have worked to galvanize a diverse coalition—from Black Lives Matter and the National Domestic Workers Alliance to the Women’s March— fed up with the culture of gun violence that is tearing our country apart. We will continue to throw our collective power behind the student movement and organizers of color.

How many times must we repeat these painful statistics? We at the YWCA have spoken out loudly about the impact gun violence has on U.S. women, who are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed with a gun than women in any other developed country. We see it too often: When a domestic abuser has access to a gun, he is five to eight times more likely to murder his partner. In mass shootings, there is a similar trend. Mass shootings tend to occur where violence against women and white supremacy meet.

The violence is daily and overwhelming. But we must remain determined even as we experience recurring Columbines and unending Sandy Hooks, new crops of Dylan Roofs and droves of George Zimmermans. This isn’t the first time a dangerous person has been emboldened by firearms, but together we have the power to stop it. Everyone has a role to play, whether it’s patronizing those businesses that have taken a stance against gun violence and walking away from those who only care about their bottom line, or picking up the phone to call your legislator’s office directly.

In the midst of fresh and powerful activism, some may feel compelled to start from scratch. But with years of hard-fought battles over pressing social issues, we have the wisdom to know that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Parkland gave birth to new activists, some whom are finding their political voices for the first time, and they will find the mic still warm from those veterans of the work. In making space for young people, and in sharing what we have learned, we continue to build an unstoppable movement.

The NRA is free to bet that the United States can’t handle the truth of what’s happening. But the YWCA is betting on the students and young people who know we can’t afford to ignore reality. We will gladly pay the price of being on the NRA’s Enemies List, a price far lower than the 13,000 gun homicides each year in this country.

Student activism has kept the heart of the YWCA beating strong for 160 years, and that’s why we’re joining our voices with those of the students of Stoneman Douglas and student activists all across the country. You should too. Together, no bullet can stop us.

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