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Cassidy: Young Vermonters

At least 30 years ago, when a student brought a gun into the middle school where I was teaching, I realized with a shock how vulnerable we were.

But even after the massacres at Columbine and Sandy Hook, most states refused to pass gun-safety laws... and then came Parkland. Suddenly – in a few weeks - Florida, widely known as “The Gunshine State” for its gun-friendly culture, had passed laws regulating access to weapons. And Vermont, also reluctant to regulate guns, is apparently following suit.

Young people using social media have powered this sudden change. Surviving students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School simply decided to act, refusing to accept that nothing could be done to slow the proliferation of deadly weapons. In just a few days they changed the conversation about guns, as the hashtag #No More spread like a prairie fire through Twitter, and that was just the beginning.

The students went to Tallahassee to watch their legislators from the balconies, and politicians got the message: last week the solidly Republican Florida legislature passed, and the Republican governor signed, a law imposing waiting periods on some gun purchases, raising the age for purchase of long guns to 21, and banning bump stocks.

The Parkman students are organizing a national March for Our Lives on March 24, and young Vermonters are joining the nationwide movement. Many have already traveled to Montpelier to lobby for gun-safety laws that the Vermont legislature is considering; many more are planning to take part in a 17-minute school walkout to commemorate the shooting in Parkland and students are using social media to plan a March for Our Lives in Montpelier, and another in Rutland, to coordinate with the marches in Washington and across the country.

Many of these students are engaging in politics for the first time as they take the actions they believe will make their schools and their communities safer, and I find that encouraging. For decades young Vermonters have been leaving the state; but perhaps discovering their own political power, and learning the skills to wield it, may give many a reason to stay here. We need their idealism and energy, and I hope that by stepping up and getting involved in the messy and essential process of government, they will feel empowered to make their lives, and make a difference, here.

Maggie Brown Cassidy recently retired from teaching French at Brattleboro Union High School. She was also a teacher trainer and founder of the BUHS Swiss Exchange, which provided homestays and immersion experiences for hundreds of students in Vermont and Geneva. She continues to teach adults and has written many features for the Brattleboro Reformer.
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