Meet the Students Organizing the NYC March for Our Lives
When Alex Clavering ’20 heard the horrific news about the mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, he immediately thought of the high school students he had taught in Malaysia as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. “We’ve all been living in this age of mass shootings and gun violence, but it was the first time where I’ve felt like, Oh, my students,” he recalls.
Four days after the shooting, the Parkland students announced plans for a major march, March for Our Lives, in Washington, D.C. on March 24. Clavering created a group on Facebook and invited about 30 friends to join, thinking they could join others planning to march in New York City. Within a day, the group had several thousand members. It turned out that Clavering's NYC March for Our Lives Facebook group was the first, and virtually overnight, he had become the de facto organizer and a public face of the New York City march (also scheduled for March 24). The Facebook’s event page currently indicates that 12,000 people are planning to attend the New York City march, and 25,000 more have expressed interest.
In the past few weeks, Clavering has participated in a press conference on the steps of New York’s City Hall, appeared on WNYC radio’s Brian Lehrer Show, and conferred with Norman Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Clavering is working side by side with Ankit Jain ’19, Olivia Shihn-Au Li ’19, and Julia Ghahramani ’20 as well as many high school students with whom they’ve connected on Facebook. “I’m probably the oldest person working on this right now,” says Clavering, 26, who is enrolled in the Law School’s Human Rights Institute 1L Advocates Program. “It’s especially great that so many young people are involved because they have limitless energy. And you need that.”
The Law School students have gotten moral support from their professors. “My teachers have been encouraging and excited to watch this happen and to watch students take part in it,” says Ghahramani, who came to Columbia to prepare for a career in public service and is part of a pro bono Suspension Representation Project. She says that organizing the march has reinforced “why I’m here getting this degree, the things that matter to me.”
Many established advocacy groups have partnered with their group, including Moms Demand Action - NY, Guns Down Life Up, Gays Against Guns, Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence, the leaders of the Women’s March on NYC, and Rock the Vote.
“It was only after Alex said Moms Demand Action contacted him and asked if they could support students in organizing this march that I realized that we were the ones who were organizing it,” says Jain, who, with Li, is leading the group’s diversity and outreach program.
“Gun violence primarily affects people of color, and I want to make sure that those communities are planning this march and that the march reflects their interests,” says Jain, who currently has an externship with the Bronx Defenders, where he works with communities that are affected by gun violence. “In addition, domestic violence is one of the most common forms of gun violence. Olivia and I are working with domestic-violence groups to get them involved in planning and participating in the march as well.”
Holding a march with potentially 30,000 participants is an expensive undertaking. The students estimated that insurance, staging, and AV equipment would cost more $100,000, so they set up a GoFundMe Campaign. It raised about $22,000 in the first week before Everytown for Gun Safety—the organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg—stepped in to fund what Clavering calls “the lion’s share of the support” for these expenses.
The Columbia organizers share the Parkland students’ passion and mission. “Our overall goal is to reduce the scourge of gun violence all across the country, wherever it happens, whether that’s in schools, on the streets, or in homes,” says Jain.
Posted on March 19, 2018