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Senior starts Malvern March For Our Lives chapter

Senior Aleta Ross leads a March For Our Lives chapter meeting at the Easttown Library. Ross started the chapter to help prevent gun violence in schools.

By Aditi Dahagam and Emma Clarke, Staff Reporters

Senior Aleta Ross started a Malvern chapter of March For Our Lives (MFOL), a national group that aims to prevent gun violence against students, in 2019. The chapter will hold voter registration drives and work with legislators to discuss concerns surrounding firearms policies.

After hearing from a friend that Chester County was looking for more MFOL chapters, Ross decided to create a local one to stand up against an issue that she is passionate about.

“I was in eighth grade when I heard about Sandy Hook, and for a really long time, I grew up with this feeling of hopelessness, but I felt that there wasn’t anything I could do about it,” Ross said. “(After creating the chapter,) I felt empowered and felt that I could create change even if I was young.”

The chapter meets once or twice a month and has 10 members from Conestoga, Great Valley and Unionville high schools, as well as Villa Maria Academy. Individually, members work on projects like creating a website or managing social media accounts to spread the word about the chapter and discuss their progress at meetings as well as information pertaining to upcoming events. Creating a chapter of MFOL has given Ross the opportunity to meet students from other schools in the area and plan community events.

“I wanted to connect people on a larger level from all different schools and within the community,” Ross said. “Since we’re on a community level rather than a school level, we can focus on issues within our local government rather than just within our school.”

Credit: Aditi Dahagam/The SPOKE
March meeting: Senior Aleta Ross leads a March For Our Lives chapter meeting at the Easttown Library. Ross started the chapter to help prevent gun violence in schools.

One of the chapter’s upcoming events is Lobby Day, originally planned for March 25 but postponed to an undecided date because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Pennsylvania chapters will meet up in Harrisburg and rally outside of the Capitol building in the morning. After lunch, the chapter will meet with their legislators to talk about passing the PA Peace Plan, an outline of 27 policies to eliminate gun violence. Ross and the other chapter members have been preparing for Lobby Day by creating signs and reviewing the information and policies they want to bring up with legislators.

“Lobby Day is a day where we show our legislators and our communities that we are serious and committed when it comes to ending gun violence. It is a day for MFOL activists from all over the state to show up at our capital and demand change” Ross said.

Some of the national issues that the chapter wants to work on at a local level include comprehensive background checks. In American gun legislation, an abuser in a marital relationship is not allowed access to a gun but non-marital abusers are, so the chapter wants to close this “boyfriend loophole.”

One of the goals of the chapter has been to hold a youth voter registration drive, but the group is still searching for a place that would be willing to host. Henderson High School senior and Community Outreach Director for MFOL PA Rebecca Schwartz explains that MFOL has been trying to register as many youths as possible leading up to the 2020 election, but the process behind setting up the drives can be difficult.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to have a lot of chapters hold voter registration drives on college campuses. I think the hardest part is finding a location, and once (Ross) gets that, it’ll become a lot easier,” Schwartz said.

Through holding these registration drives, the chapter hopes to contribute to the MFOL’s national goal of having a 65% youth voter turnout in the 2020 election. They also hope to get the PA Peace Plan implemented in the state. Ross believes that though a change like this may take a long time, the chapter has built a suitable foundation to begin the process for change.

“I think that we’ve created a space for students to make an impact in their community, and we’ve brought a platform for people who want to get involved and make their community better,” Ross said.

Ross is proud to be part of an organization like MFOL that creates a space for students to express their thoughts and use their voices. She has also drawn inspiration on student activism from others like Emma Gonzalez, Parkland survivor and founding member of the national MFOL movement.

“I think student activism is one of the most powerful forms of activism because young people have been at the front of so many movements in this country,” Ross said. “I think that students really have taken amazing initiative to create the change that they want to see in the country and in the world.”

Aditi Dahagam can be reached at [email protected].

Emma Clarke can be reached at [email protected].

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