J.J. Williams believes gun violence has gotten out of hand. The 15-year-old City High School student took to Twitter on the day of the Uvalde school shooting. A 14-tweet thread that received more 14,000 impressions targeted the lunacy of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s solution to school shootings by arming teachers. “This means that if there is a kid with mental health problems that’s having a horrible day, they can walk up to the teachers desk and grab the fucking gun,” Williams said, “I should not have to go to school, wondering w[h]ether or not I’ll make it home that afternoon.”
Williams is one of several other local teens who are organizing this weekend’s second-ever March For Our Lives protest this Saturday, June 11, at 5 p.m. His father, Justin Williams, helped organize the 2018 march here in Tucson.
“I got started after I made this really long tweet,” Williams said. Both J.J. and his parents decided to create the Tucson rally after noticing the city’s listing missing after the announcement was made by the national organization.
Ellie Dorland, a rising junior at City High School, heard about March For Our Lives from J.J. and his father. She is working on creating a “changemaker” club at their school, to teach students step by step, how to enact change.
“I think a lot of people have a lot of really strong opinions and really think that there needs to be change in the world but don’t know how to do that,” Dorland said.
Mallika Sunder, a rising senior from Catalina Foothills High School, is the state director for March For Our Lives and a movement organizer. She started as communications director in 2020 and was drawn to the movement’s intersectional approach toward gun reform.
“It is very different than a lot of gun violence prevention movements in Arizona in the way that it talks about gun violence, in the way that it considers factors like race, gender, sexuality in the context of gun violence and who’s most at risk,” Sunder said, “And it is very youth led.”
March For Our Lives’ focus on inclusivity as a youth-led organization is a culmination of diverse experiences, Sunder said. One of its attributes for its success is the way it utilizes social media as a platform for organizing young people.
As a way to reach “followers,” Williams has sent direct messages via Instagram from the March For Our Lives Tucson account.
“If it were during the school [year], word of mouth would have been a great thing,” Williams said.
Dorland created a poster and send it to everyone she knew.
“I think just talking to people personally and being like, ‘Hey, this is something I’m doing and I think it’s great’ has been the best way to get people to actually see it,” Dorland said.
Sunder, who started a March For Our Lives club at her high school, said she believes that students are tired of being talked over, ignored or being thought of as naive.
“I think that once we create this space where everyone has a place to shine and everyone has a space to talk, that is what makes people a lot more comfortable,” Sunder said. “I think that once you show people that they will have support, that we’re all a team and that there are so many different, amazing youth activists in Tucson alone, they suddenly get that confidence.”
March For Our Lives is a nonpartisan organization but the students recognize the weight of specific keynote speakers.
Saturday, June 4, both J.J. and his dad, Justin, went to Sen. Mark Kelly’s Mission for Arizona campaign office opening in Tucson, hoping to speak with Kelly and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
The students recognize the influence the two would have for the rally as survivors of gun violence and well-known figures of advocacy for gun violence prevention.
The students are in conversation with different community partners such as the people who planned the recent school walk-out in support of Roe v. Wade, the Women’s March and other local gun violence activists.
“We are the executive team but it’s not just us,” Sunder said.
The student organizers have been meeting almost everyday and at times twice a day, in preparation for this upcoming weekend, from making posters and hanging them up on Fourth Avenue, to community outreach on social media.
“Gun violence is an epidemic, there’s no denying it at this point,” Williams said, “Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.”
The March For Our Lives rally is 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 11, at the Jan. 8 Memorial & El Presidio Plaza, 165 W. Alameda St.