Pod for the Cause host Ashley Allison welcomes David Hogg, activist and co-founder of March For Our Lives and Zion Kelly, activist and student at Florida A&M University, to discuss their tragic experiences with gun-related violence — and the urgent need for reform on all levels.
S01 E09: Gun Violence – Thoughts, Prayers, Action & Reform
[Music 00:00 – 00:13]
Ashley: Welcome to Pod for the Cause – the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights challenges of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington, D.C. Like we start off every show, we got the Pod Squad, where we discuss pop culture and social justice topics while bringing our issue areas into the conversation.
Today I have some amazing guests for the Pod Squad: Monica Barrera, Director of Strategic Partnerships at The Immigration Hub and Jamal Watkins, Vice President of Civic Engagement for the NAACP. Today we are talking about gun-related violence and the need for reform, but also everything else because this is the Pod Squad. Welcome to the show everybody!
Jamal: Thank you for having us.
Monica: Thank you so much, happy to be here.
Ashley: I’m happy to be here, but we got some serious stuff to talk about today. We just remembered the anniversary of Charlottesville, and then a week before that, we woke up to mass shootings in El Paso that was directly targeting Latinos, and then in Dayton where we’re still trying to figure out, but seven black people out of the nine folks were killed and murdered. What the hell is happening in our country? We have workplace raids, 650 people are getting ripped from their kids in Mississippi – let’s start with El Paso. You wake up, you go about your day on Saturday – Monica, you hear about the shooting. What do you think?
Monica: It’s a sad day for not just the Latino community, but also for Americans. I think about the families that are separated. I think about the cruelty, the hatred that this administration is driving as their top agenda. I think about just the deadly consequences of Trump’s rhetoric, and the need to hold him accountable, and about how many of these attacks have been racially motivated, have been motivated by bias, by hatred, that Trump espouses as part of his everyday M.O.
Ashley: Jamal, you work for an organization – the oldest civil rights organization – that is focused on black people. What did you think when you heard the news of El Paso, and then the next day of Dayton?
Jamal: What bothers me about this conversation is that it’s not a new conversation. It’s not a new reality. This is my birthday month, and there have already been seven mass shootings just this month alone, and so when we think about what happened in El Paso and what we’re seeing, it’s not just Trump’s rhetoric, but it’s almost as if he’s giving direction to folks who are troubled –
Jamal: To target people of color and vulnerable communities, and so the connection of his rhetoric with the issues of guns in our communities, period, is actually what’s most troubling because whether it’s Trump or someone else, we know that these shootings are part of the culture in the United States in terms of mass shootings. I was looking at a number like 250 mass shootings alone this year. We’ve created a system, and a culture, and an infrastructure that allows for this to happen, and then you have someone sitting in the White House, stoking the flames of the fire. That, to me, is what’s most heartbreaking, is that the top leadership position in this country should be actually trying to solve these problems, not adding fuel to the fire.
Ashley: On Sunday when I woke up, I saw the shootings. I used to work in the White House, and those shootings used to, a lot of times, fall in the portfolio that I helped oversee, and I just was like, “We have no leader.” In that moment, under Obama, where I have spent most of my adult life watching as a leader, his words would not make the death go away, but they would make you feel stable in the morning. I was just like, “I don’t wanna hear him. He’s gonna say something crazy.” And then he visits El Paso and he’s like thumbs up with the baby whose parent was murdered. I’m like, “Dude.”
Jamal: What he represents, in my opinion – and this is not about just Trump – but he represents a reality television, reality culture moment. I think that’s what gave birth to his stardom at the end of the day, and that’s where he lives, but the sad part is that the reality is being cultivated by folks like him, by folks like the NRA, by folks who wanna say, we don’t have a crisis with guns and gun control, we have a crisis with people. At the end of the day, if the guns weren’t there, if they weren’t free-flowing, if you didn’t have all of the loopholes that allow for these things to hit the market in different ways unchecked, then you wouldn’t have this crisis that continues. No offense to leaders like President Obama and former leaders who have occupied the White House – no one has actually fixed the problem. That’s actually what bothers me the most is that I’m waiting for the next mass shooting because I know it’s coming.
Monica: I don’t think that Trump should’ve even gone to El Paso to begin with. The community was in mourning. Leaders on the ground specifically asked him not to come. It wasn’t about the community; it was about him, and without the accountability attached. For me, when we saw that Trump had used the word “invasion,” and “predator,” and “criminal” 500 times over the past several months, and then those words are within the first line of the manifesto that the gunman wrote 20 minutes before the shooting. The connection is very, very clear, and it’s not just Trump. It’s Republicans. It’s talking heads. It’s Tucker Carlson.
Monica: It goes beyond Trump, and that needs to be addressed.
Jamal: And the sad part is, we know what happens in Washington, D.C. We know what happens when elected officials are pandering to their base, and are trying to stay in power. The fact that no notable gun control has passed in the last three, four years really demonstrates that there’s not a commitment by either side to really fight on this issue, take it seriously, and to really make the words that they speak when it comes to a tragedy turn into policy solutions that we can actually measure, and that to me is actually the sticking point at the end of the day.
I actually blame both sides of the aisle. I’m not just looking at the Trumps and the Ann Coulters of the world, but where are the Democrats, if you will, who are saying, “You know what? I’m gonna throw down on this issue because guess what, 250 mass shootings so far this year is unacceptable. For every one that happens, it’s on my watch.”
Ashley: We do have an election coming up. How do we hold these candidates from the city council all the way up the ticket and down the ticket, all the way to the presidential accountable for something that has happened in August of 2019. People forget, unfortunately, when it comes to November 2020. How do we hold them accountable?
Jamal: What shocks me about this election cycle – and I’ll start with the top of the ticket, people running for president – is that there is a whole lotta talking heads, and there’s a lot of great leaders, and the reality is that the majority of them are gonna lose. They have to go back to their day jobs, and the majority of those folks going back to their day jobs happen to be senators and congressmen, and actually elected officials.
My theory of the case – and this is not just representing the NAACP. I think this is what most people are hoping for is that we get these leaders to actually go on record, and to come up with policy solutions that are gonna address these critical issues like gun control, issues of healthcare, issues around immigration – all of the commonsense things that we need to solve so that when some of the folks who lose go back to their day jobs, we can actually hold them accountable, and hopefully lift them up as champions of the things that they said they would do if they became president because guess what, being a senator is not a shabby job. Actually you have a leadership platform, and so for us –
Ashley: There’s only 100 of them out there.
Jamal: Yeah. We have to actually leverage this moment, that if you’re gonna raise all this money, make all this noise, commit yourself to finding solutions that we have not actually seen over the past three years, 10 years, the last decade, and then lead from wherever you are. If we don’t get that, even if we don’t win the presidency if you will, whoever the we is, we have a lotta folks who should be accountable at other layers and levels, who need to make a difference. The fact that one in four judges is gonna be a Trump appointee at this point – that’s a crisis that could’ve been avoided from a different strategy.
In my head, we have to make sure that we’re thinking about how to make sure that the elected officials at every level are being held accountable, whether or not they become the next president of the United States, when they go back to their normal day jobs as senators or congressional leaders, or hell, even wealthy business leaders who are investing money into all types of lobbying activities. For me, I think, that’s where the sweet spot is.
Monica: I think we also need to change the political climate to allow for real reform to happen. Right now, we’ll keep the House, hopefully we’ll flip the White House, but we need to also flip the Senate. I know that that’s a long shot, but we need to continue to work, and mobilize, and organize for that possibility. That impacts not just gun reform, but also immigration legalization and longer-term rights for the 11 million undocumented that we need to reintegrate into the public narrative and discourse.
One threat that I wanna name is – that Trump tweeted already – that he’s willing to trade, or that we should marry, I think were his words, background checks perhaps for what he called immigration reform, which we know is not going to be anything beneficial for our communities – for immigrant communities, for communities of color. This is a real threat, and I wanna make sure that listeners, and folks who are either working in the government reform movement, or working on immigrant rights, on that side of the movement – we cannot allow this or any other type of trade that he may propose when Congress comes back in September to further divide us because that’s gonna be his tactic.
Ashley: I got two thoughts on both something you said. I ain’t gonna ask you who should do it, and I ain’t pointing no fingers up in the Democratic field, but there’s some of them cats that could go back and start running for Senate right now, and put us in a better position. I’m gonna put that on the table, leave it there, and then keep it moving, but we got about 20 people still up in there, and they might be able to win some Senate seats that could help advance some of the things. When you talk about Trump marrying gun reform and immigration reform, I feel like we saw it play out this week. We see this mass shooting, and it’s like, “We could stop this, but the effect of it would be that little girl crying because we gonna rip her away from her family.”
I’m telling you, if you take breath in your body, and you watch that video, and you did not fall down in tears, you are not the type of person I want around in my life because that was the saddest thing. When I saw her cry, I saw tears from every oppressed group. We know, as a black woman, what has happened to the black community when you rip families apart due to criminal justice system, and now we’re just gonna do it through a different lens for the Latino community. That trauma will last with her forever. We don’t even know what has happened to her, if she’s been reunited with her family, but that is what we’re talking about when he’s talking about marrying these two issues together.
Monica: Right, absolutely. We’re talking about increased enforcement funding for our interior enforcement operations like the raids. We’re talking about probably border wall money. We’re talking about all the things that will further harm our communities, and we can’t trade something that would benefit our communities for something that harms others. Obviously I know we’re all on the same page here, but that tactic of him pitting communities against each other is tired, it’s old, and we can’t fall for it. In terms of that little girl, the response, Mark Morgan, just echoed back to when we saw Kirstjen Nielson try to defend family separation last summer in saying, “Well, the parents broke the law.”
Monica: The heartless it is, the further criminalization of immigrant families and communities. I’m a former social worker by training, as a mother – you can’t watch that child cry and not think first of the long-term trauma, as you mentioned, that’s going to extend far beyond this administration.
Jamal: And I think as we look at what’s happening in this country currently, and we talk about, for example, the immigration debate – it’s not even a dog whistle anymore.
Jamal: It’s literally blatant racism in order to make some folks feel good that oh, I have a leader who speaks for me because they, the other, is somehow a threat, when the reality is, is that it’s actually a whole lot of us working class and broke folks versus a small group of wealthy individuals who are gonna do whatever it takes to stay in power. Until we actually flip the conversation and make that the paradigm, until we actually talk about the fact that hey, these are a bunch of rich folks who are willing to divide us – like they did back in the 1930s when they introduced Right to Work in Texas – a state where somebody needs to go back and run for Senate.
When you start to think about the reality of what’s happening across this country, race still matters, class still matters, and until we – and I’m saying we, the people, and it sounds corny – but until more folks who are working, regular folks, start to wake up and say wait a minute, they’re not speaking for me, he actually isn’t speaking for me because I still live in a trailer park –
Ashley: That’s right.
Jamal: The steel mills are gone. There is no industry that’s coming back to Baltimore because he’s not giving me a job in Baltimore. In Pittsburgh there are no coal fields that are gonna be opened up, and new jobs – we’re being hoodwinked by a wealthy few folks who are willing to use race, class, gender, whatever they can, to divide us, and that’s an old story.
Ashley: I’m here with Monica Barrera, who is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for The Immigration Hub and Jamal Watkins, Vice President of Civic Engagement for the NAACP. Monica, what you gotta say?
Monica: We do have a fantastic candidate for Senate in Texas, who announced this week.
Jamal: Yes she did.
Monica: Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.
Monica: Who would be a fantastic – keep your eye on Cristina. I’m rooting for her. I think that that’s exactly what Texas needs. I think that gives me a lot of hope. Her candidacy gives me a lotta hope. We do have a good chance, I think, in the Senate in Texas.
Ashley: Then let’s not let people then distract from her.
Ashley: When stuff don’t work out for them.
Monica: One. Two, in terms of being unified, we actually are unified around solutions, and actually, there’s broad public support for policies that would benefit immigrant communities that we have polled, that we have tested, and that we can now say that voters in swing states have rejected Trump’s policies overwhelmingly. We can’t allow the narrative of “He’s a strategist and this is what he’s doing, this is his electoral strategy that’s effective” because it didn’t work in the 2018 midterms, and if it’s on us, it’s not gonna work again in the next cycle. I just wanna reject the idea that that actually was an effective electoral strategy for him, and I wanna lift up the solutions that most Americans are unified behind.
Ashley: Before we go any deeper on this, there was something amazing that happened. Superwoman Simone Biles did a historic – what, a triple, double – something impossible nobody thought was feasible, and she just did it, and was like “boop” onto the next. Shoutout to her, and we lost an icon, a legend – Toni Morrison. When we look at the bookends of a Simone Biles creating history and losing a legend, and then all this nasty mess in between, and we have an election in 2020 – what do you tell our listeners today to make sure, after everything you just said, that on November in 2020 they get their tail to the polls, and they vote this joker outta the White House? And then elect a Senate, and a House, and a city council, and a governor, and a state legislature, and a dog catcher that will stand up for we, the people. What do you tell them?
Jamal: When I think about the loss of the late Toni Morrison – one of my favorite quotes by her was in regards to people becoming, in positions of leadership and trust, and her words were that before you start down that path, dream a little. I know that sounds corny, it sounds hokey, but at the end of the day, if we don’t have the power to imagine a new normal, to actually embrace what was just articulated about the fact that folks want commonsense immigration reform, and aren’t falling for the Trumps of the world who are trying to divide us – if we actually embed ourselves in what it means to use our power of the vote, make sure that we get counted in the census – which there are a whole lotta folks who don’t want us counted – and actually flip this thing, then we bring to life the words that folks like Toni Morrison wrote, and we actually begin to live in the dreams that a Simone Biles represents. At the end of the day I think we’re exhausted. We’re exhausted from trauma, from violence, from divisiveness, but there’s one thing that I’m not tired of doing, and that is actually voting.
Ashley: I know that’s right.
Jamal: I hope that more and more folks show up this year because there are five states that have statewide elections – Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey – and then there are a whole lotta states that are gonna have a lot, as you said, going on next year. We gotta keep voting, and we gotta keep using that power in order to kick folks out of office who don’t represent us, and elect folks into office who are gonna be our champions and represent the best of our communities.
Ashley: Yeah, if you lived in those in those five states that were just mentioned, you better show up and show out. I don’t wanna hear it on the other side. Monica, what do you have to say to our listeners before we close out?
Monica: I think that we have to keep fighting. It’s exactly that. There’s too much at stake, we’re all tired, we’re all burned out, we’re all exhausted, it’s one attack after another. It’s hard to even keep up, but there is a vision of hope, but there is a vision of unity that we can all be fighting for, and I am hopeful. I also brought a quote from Toni Morrison, and the quote that I brought was: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence. It is violence.” That again hearkens back to the deadly consequences that we’ve seen from this administration and the violence against immigrant communities, communities of color, low-income communities. We saw the public charge rule finalized this week.
Monica: There’s so much we haven’t even talked about in terms of he onslaught of attacks.
Ashley: I just saw that they put out something that contractors could fire LGBT workers. It’s like, “What in the beep?” What is going on? Seriously. I don’t get it. I’m sorry, the producers are saying wrap it up. It’s a lot going on, right? We got to talk about it. This is the Pod Squad, this is the Pod for the Cause. Yeah, I wanna thank Monica Barrera, Director of Strategic Partnerships for The Immigration Hub, that’s when you get the Emmy music.
Monica: Thank you so much.
Ashley: And Jamal Watkins, Vice President of Civic Engagement, NAACP. Thank you so much. Coming up, we have two very special guests: activists David Hogg and Zion Kelly, so don’t go anywhere.
[Music 17:52 – 18:18]
Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. Today we are talking about gun-related violence, and the serious need for reform. We have two incredible guests with us: activist, co-founder of March for Our Lives, David Hogg, and activist and student at Florida A&M University, Zion Kelly. Welcome to the show, Zion and David.
David: Thank you.
Zion: Thank you.
Ashley: I don’t wanna beat around the bush. This is a serious issue. You all both have experienced probably more pain than any one person should have to experience, and so I know these are tough topics to talk about, but they’re important because we really need to change what’s happening in our country. David, you were a student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School during the mass shooting that happened in 2017. People are so familiar with that story, but I’m sure there are things that people don’t know about that it’s important that folks do know.
Are there any of those things that you would like our listeners to know about? What has happened since that day, what life was like before that day? It obviously is an important day that has changed your life and our country’s lives forever, but what don’t we know that is important to know about the activism that you’re currently doing?
David: I think what’s important to note that a lotta people don’t know about the activism that not only I but March for Our Lives and students around the country are doing right now, that specifically when it comes to March for Our Lives – what we’re trying to do is we realize that going through a school shooting, even though that never should have happened, or a mass shooting, in a suburb, that we got a massive amount of press coverage because it’s somewhere where gun violence doesn’t typically happen. It affected a lot of people that typically get on the news more when they’re affected by gun violence.
I think what is important for people to know that a lotta people don’t know about March for Our Lives – the amount of unity that we’re trying to push leading up to 2020 for all the groups that are on the ground on a daily basis, that are working around gun violence, that happens there, and also the more national organizations such as March for Our Lives, working and partnering with more local gun violence prevention groups that have been doing the work for decades in communities that are the most affected by gun violence, and trying to build allies in the movement. And really empowering each other, and making sure that everyone has a say in the conversation around violence that shouldn’t be happening anymore.
Ashley: That’s profound, and I think a lotta people outside of the gun violence work could learn from your approach to the work. Zion, to David’s point, when we think about gun violence, we automatically think about mass shootings in this country, which is sad, but can you tell our listeners how your experience with gun violence was different?
Zion: I live in Washington, D.C. I grew up in DC my entire life, and gun violence has always been very prevalent. It’s always something that we knew of. Years ago, Washington, D.C. had the most murders ever before and that was a long time ago, so it’s a continuous cycle. My experience, it didn’t really hit home to me until my twin brother was shot and killed, and that really impacted my view as a whole on gun violence, and was just something that we can do to try to reduce the violence in the city.
Ashley: I know both of these incidents brought both of you to gun violence prevention work. I know there are reforms on the federal level people are seeking, and also in their communities. Since both of your incidents were related to gun violence but different – David, what are some of the reforms that you all are hoping to see on the federal, and maybe even on a local level, and then Zion, can you talk a little bit about what you think gun reform should look like on the local level? David, let’s start with you.
David: I think at more of the federal level, we really need to tackle this issue as what it is, in that we realize that it’s not purely a criminal issue because if throwing people in prison solved all of our issues, then we wouldn’t have any issues right now, considering we have the highest prisoner population of any country in the world. What March for Our Lives is looking for right now is a public health approach to gun violence that helps include restorative justice actions, and community-based violence intervention programs, and federal funding for local nonprofits that already do that work to empower them more to do it.
Also creating a similar program to what we have for car incidents. Right now in the United States, about the same number of people die every year from car accidents in the United States as die from gun deaths, including suicides, and the difference is, is that we have the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration dedicated towards looking into the research and getting all the massive amount of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. to work together towards making our highways significantly more safe, and what they did a couple of decades ago when they started doing that work is they started instituting airbags in all cars.
They started instituting collapsible steering wheels. They started creating more safe highways, with the understanding that it’s not only risky drivers that make driving unsafe, it’s risky roads that also have a major impact, and what can the federal government do to regulations on car manufacturers to significantly reduce the injuries and deaths that result from car incidents. As a result, we’ve seen a dramatic drop-off in the past couple decades of car-related deaths and injuries as a result of that.
What that took, though, was the courage to stand up to the car manufacturers and say, “It’s not just about the driver and their behavior. It’s also about the roads that we have, and what’s in cars to protect drivers if there is an incident.” That’s the same way that we’re looking at gun violence prevention, is we need a federal agency similar to NHTSA specifically focused not just on gun violence, but violence as a general issue, and what we can do as a country to help resolve it.
As part of that, what policies work, what research we can fund, and what the real root causes are, and not only how we can reduce the availability of guns to people that shouldn’t have them in the first place, but also how do we reduce the demand so that we have a similar viewpoint of guns as most Americans have towards cigarettes nowadays, where 20 years ago if you took out a cigarette in a nightclub, it was like, okay, that’s just something that happens. But now if you take out a cigarette, in many cases gonna be like, “What are you doing? That’s gross. That’s not cool.” We’re trying to do the same thing with violence and make it uncool, and make people realize that guns don’t make you safer, and guns are not a solution to your problems.
We have to reduce the demand, and also check the supply, so banning assault weapons is a major part of our platform, but also creating a national licensing system for all firearm purchases, where you have to sit down and have an interview with law enforcement before you can get that gun in the first place. And you have to wait a couple days, possibly even a month, before you can get that gun, to help reduce the rate of suicide and homicide at the same time. And ensure that only people that are capable of having these weapons and responsibly using them do have them.
Ashley: The conversation on gun reform rarely includes the conversation around urban communities, and so Zion, for you – I grew up in an urban area where it’s a small town, but we were known as one of the murder capitals in the early ‘90s. What would gun reform look like for you in Washington, D.C.?
Zion: I think it has many different solutions, but similar to what David said – changing the culture around guns so people don’t feel like they need to pick up a gun to protect themselves, or I guess just be cool, so just changing the culture around guns is one. I think I advocate for also Washington, D.C. we have no gun stores, so there has to be some type of regulation how guns can get into the hands of teenagers around the city, so maybe programs such as buyback programs that allows people to give their guns back and gain some type of incentive for that. I think the city did something similar recently.
Ashley: One of the things that I know you all did, and you’re being a little modest, Zion, is that some of the equal opportunities is the park where Zaire was murdered – you wanted a simple streetlight to be put in. For folks who don’t know Washington, D.C., we have quadrants, and the northwest quadrant is rich and predominantly white now, and the southeast quadrant has more low-income individuals and not a lot of money rushing through.
A streetlight goes out in northwest Washington, D.C. and it’s on that day. The city comes out and fixes that day. Y’all were advocating for weeks, and months, and I don’t even know if the streetlight ever has been fixed, but those are some of the equal opportunities. I know it doesn’t directly relate to gun violence, but it’s about the public safety that David was talking about earlier, making sure that we have opportunities. You wanna say anything more about that, Zion?
Zion: They eventually solved that issue, but I don’t really see that as something to celebrate about because there’re still kids around the city being shot at an alarming rate. There were more murders this year than last year, so we’re on a pace for more murders in Washington, D.C., so I still look at what more can we do.
Ashley: We’re still considerate young people in this country, and unfortunately, our lawmakers don’t always wanna listen to folks. You both were at March for Our Lives. David, you’re a co-founder. Zion, you spoke at the event. It was a march that woke the soul of our country, I think, to see young people leading the way, and really, quite honestly for some of these elected officials, invoking fear for their seats. They should be ashamed and afraid because they’re not leading in the way that we need. What would you say to students, millennials, Gen-Zers, people in general who wanna get involved in this fight to stop gun violence? David, what would you say for them to do starting today?
David: I could just say go to marchforourlives.com and start a chapter, but I think what’s even more important than that is that you look at your own community, and you look at the organizations that are already in your community fighting against gun violence. Even if you’re not affected by gun violence, simply go to them and ask how you can help, even if your community is not one that’s very much affected by gun violence, or even if it is – go to the community organizing centers and the nonprofits that typically are already doing some of the work, and simply go to them with humility and say, “I don’t know how this issue works, or what some of the causes are behind it, or what you guys are doing, but I wanna help.” With an intern’s perspective, and with that, it can really help a lot of local nonprofits do the work.
I think the second part, as well, is realizing that gun violence is a symptom and is caused inherently by injustice. What I mean by that is every time someone dies from a gun in this country, in one way or another, it is a result of injustice. The way that is, for example, when it comes to the shooting in Parkland, is that’s political injustice. When somebody dies as a result of suicide, which are two-thirds of gun deaths in this country, it is a result of injustice. The communities that are the most affected by suicide in the United States are predominantly rural and suburban communities that don’t have mental health resources or the proper healthcare to be able to get that mental healthcare in the first place.
When we talk about, for example, everyday shootings that typically happen, one of the number one predictors of somebody shooting someone else is whether or not they’ve been shot before. When we don’t have programs like LifeCamp, which is a violence intervention program in New York City, that works with the community to treat the trauma that gun violence creates and reduce retaliation, gun violence is gonna continue happening if we don’t start treating the root sources of that injustice that causes it in the first place.
When Donald Trump is able to say that we need to build the wall because there’s an invasion of people coming into this country from different countries – when he says that, he’s able to fear Americans that haven’t had many interactions with many of the people that Donald Trump says are the enemy – they’re gonna end up fearing what they don’t know. To me, that’s not American, and we have to change the conversation about fear and what the real enemy is in this country because in my opinion, the real enemy of the American people has to be the lack of education and the hatred that creates xenophobia, that drives racism, drives so much gun violence. Those have to be our enemy to ever create a more successful and loving country.
The only way we’re ever going to start making progress again as American people is when we realize, when politicians and the people with massive amounts of wealth, predominantly through tax evasion and massive loopholes that are intentionally left in our tax laws, start saying, “No, I’m not the enemy. The real enemy are immigrants that are taking your job. It’s people that don’t look like you.” We need to realize as is a country that the real enemy in those situations are the people that are using that to distract from the real oppression in this country and make sure that poor people and people that are the most affected by injustice, regardless of the color of their skin or their nationality – we need to realize that that is them dividing and conquering us for their own benefit.
Ashley: David, let me tell you something. In the black community, we call what you just said a “word.” You were preaching right there. That’s when we start to pass the plate because you’re speaking so much truth. The target – it’s like they’re trying to make us fear the things that we should love and not pay attention to the things that are actually causing real harm in our community. You’re exactly right, and the thing that is so pointed in what you’re talking about is that it’s all connected. It’s not just about gun violence. It’s about taxes. It’s about elections. It’s about all the things that you pointed out, and the humility that you talk about, how people should show up to movements, is also really important, and not thinking that they know everything and how to fix something in a community.
I wanna just pivot one second on the conversation before we wrap up because I think sometimes in our community we have – maybe it’s because of social media, maybe it’s because of the 24-hour news cycle – but these tragedies happen, and then it’s almost like, Zion and David, that people forget that you all are actual people, and you have lives before these tragic moments, and you have lives now.
You’re starting school, you’re in school, so despite the tragedy that you have faced, for both of you – Zion, I wanna start with you. You’re a student at Florida A&M. What do you want your college career – what do you want people to know about you that you’re doing to better your life and hopefully the community that you come from because you’re bigger than this one incident in your life. It will obviously inform the rest of your life, but I wanna know a little bit more about you as a person. What do you hope the next four years at Florida A&M is all about for you?
Zion: I just want people to know that we’re still students, and we’re still teenagers, still having to go about life, and we still dealing with a lotta trauma. For me, speaking out about gun violence and trying to spread a word is just one way of me coping with having to live without a twin brother the rest of my life. That’s one thing I really want people to know. I never really asked to become a public advocate, or a student activist, or a leader. I just rose to the occasion because of my circumstances. This is just how I cope with it. And the next couple of years what I really hope for is to be able to succeed, and just do my best in everything that I do, and hope that my brother can live through me. And just continue to try to fight against gun violence.
Ashley: David, what about you? I know you probably will continue with your activism about March for Our Lives and gun reform but are there other things that you wanna pursue and you’re interested in that you might’ve been thinking about before this happened?
David: The incident at my school felt like a call to action moment, where we had to stand up and do something, and as a result of that now I’m really interested in – I don’t know about running for office, but getting the right people elected in office, and also pressuring them from the outside as well to do the work from the inside and the outside at the same time – to do the right thing. We can change the culture in the United States to realize that, politically, your first priority as a politician or political party shouldn’t be destroying the other political party or your political opponents. It should be empowering everyone around you no matter their political ideology, to do what’s best for the American people in the first place because that’s why we’re here.
It’s never been one political party that has ended segregation. It’s never been one political party that has ended a war. It’s political parties that are forced to do the right thing from the outside of politics, and I just hope to change the overall public perception of politics, and politicians’ mindsets when they’re making laws, to realize that their first priority when they are making laws is that it needs to be, how does this affect future generations, and how can we make sure that no other generation is affected by the issues that we historically have been affected by. We need a lot more young people to stand up against their own collective repression, and work together against it, and not against each other, and realize the real enermies are the sources of evil that perpetrate and infect the minds of politicians, that make them do evil things.
Ashley: Listen, this has been an incredible conversation. I wanna thank, again, David Hogg, who is an activist and co-founder of March for Our Lives, and Zion Kelly, who is an activist and student at Florida A&M University. They say the youth will lead us and that is truly the case for this. Zion and David, I am so sorry that you have to had to have the experience that you have, but we are thankful that you have risen to the occasion, and you are leading this country to a better day.
Coming up, I’ll hit you with some real talk during our hot takes segment, where I get a few things off my chest in three minutes or less.
[Music 35:58 – 36:28]
Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause, where we’ve been talking about gun-related violence and the need for reform, and between the Pod Squad and David and Zion, I have a few things to say. I remember the day I heard that there was a mass shooting at a high school. We were just told to stay where we were until further notice, but this wasn’t Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or Parkland. It was my junior year in high school, and it was Columbine. We prayed, we cried, and we were scared. That was 20 years ago.
That was also the year that 621 people died by homicide in my home state of Ohio. We prayed, we cried, and we were scared. We are still praying, we are still crying, and we are still scared. And we are sick and tired of it. Have we not failed Zion and David in the last 20 years if we are still trying to make the face of pain that they suffer as high school students not be the same face of pain that I suffered 20 years ago as a high school student?
Since then we have seen so many mass shootings, whether it be Pulse, or Charleston, a movie theater, a grocery store. Are we safe nowhere? And then to add insult to injury, in this month we had El Paso and Dayton. This is not okay. This is not normal. Saturday night I tried to find friends in El Paso – Latino, queer friends that live in El Paso. I began to play the worst thoughts and scenarios in my mind. Luckily, they were safe. Then on early Sunday morning when I woke up, I saw the headline about an Ohio shooting, and I literally collapsed. I’m from Ohio, the place where, in 1999, there were 621 homicides. I didn’t know where the shooting had happened, so I went into a panic. I prayed, I cried, and I was scared.
The hate that this country has for others and the violence that we use to deal with our hate is not normal and it’s not acceptable. The lack of attention that we give to urban violence and the attention that we give to mass shootings that has now become normalized is quite scary. People continue to die, and enough is enough. When will our leaders step up and show true leadership to pass reform?
If you are sick of all the things that keep happening, all the deaths, all the hate, all the white supremacy, and you want to fight for change, visit whitesupremacykills.org and find out how you can take some simple actions to get our country back on the right track.
[Music 39:06 – 39:14]
Ashley: Guess what y’all, that’s a wrap for season one, so be on the lookout for season two. I wanna thank everyone for listening to season one of Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up on Twitter, @podforthecause. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.