My Name is Alayna

Today we saw the the ugly side of the Pro-gun movement with Rep Mary Franson comparing those attending this past weekend’s rallies to Hitler Youth. The adults here in the Fighting 41 thought that was wrong, but we wanted to ask the youth who attended what they thought. We present to you our newest guest blogger Alayna Smieja, a senior at Blaine High School.

My name is Alayna Smieja and I took part in the Minneapolis “March for our Lives” march on Saturday. My experience was wonderful. I am a senior at Blaine High School and have not experienced an actual shooting, but I can say that the threat is real. Last year, my school had a gun brought into it, only two weeks after someone had written “Blaine’s Bloodest Day” on the walls of the school bathroom. Although it was misspelled, the threat was clear, and many parents pulled their children out of school that day. The school did not seem to take extra precautions, as a gun was brought in so soon after. This was a major reason why I chose to take part in the March. I have a younger sister who is six years my junior, and I don’t want to worry about her while I am in college.

Citizens carrying signs travel up Wabasha St. in downtown St. Paul on the way to the Minnesota State Capitol during the March for our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018. (Tom Webb / Special to the Pioneer Press)

The march itself was very welcoming and powerful. Most of those who marched were students, and the rest were either parents who came to support their children, or teachers. The speeches given were powerful and resonated a message about action we wanted to see within the government. The people giving speeches were not giving orders towards those rallied or threatening them. They were simply giving first hand accounts of why they were there, and to tell our local government why all of us had rallied there. The message we sent out to our government was that we are constituents and we will not support those who do not support us. It is an overall peaceful movement. A movement demanding change because the old ways are hurting us, American citizens. The March was organized so that people would pay attention to us, and hear our voices as one people. Not as a cult with a vengeful leader.

 

I also took place in the women’s march in Minneapolis after Trump was inaugurated. It was my first march and I enjoyed it very much. However, I felt the March for our Lives was more powerful. As I said before, the March was mostly students, and it was a very empowering experience to see the faces of people who were growing up with me hold so much ambition. I watched them not only tackle the task of ending school shootings, but gun violence in general. There was definitely an emphasis not to leave behind people of color, who are facing gun violence much worse than the rest of us.

 

I have had the hope to one day work in the capital since I was about fifteen, and this weekend only refueled that dream. I have such faith in the people that marched beside me and showed me what democracy looks like. I hope one day to be worthy of the position to help them change the world. The youth truly are our future.

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Of Children and Of Light

The Democratic “Big Tent” has room for all kinds of believers, including those who don’t. So I hope y’all don’t mind some reflections on two Bible verses that’ve been on my mind of late, verses among the noblest and most inspiring in that book, both from the prophet Isaiah.

“And a little child shall lead them.”

The NRA, in its valiant crusade to seem more hip – and not so much the bunkered refuge of testosterone-addled white males – has even – gasp! – hired a black spokesman. This guy attacked the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schoolers for exploiting their white privilege to gain celebrity for their modest cause of surviving long enough to take their algebra test.

First, I’m truly heartened to learn that Republicans and NRA-zealots are finally admitting that there is even such a thing as white privilege.

Second, if white privilege can be used in the service of those students’ modest cause, then, yes, guilty as charged.

Whatever it takes. And just to take the March For Our Lives rally at the capitol in St. Paul last Saturday – thousands “braving” the wind of early spring in Minnesota – although MSD students did speak, it wasn’t all about them and their “white privilege” of being gunned down between classes. Names and images of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, and others, also appeared, a list too long already, and lengthening by the day.

Speaker after speaker reiterated the point that this movement isn’t just about school shootings, bad as they are. The reason why increasing millions gravitate to a certain slogan of the movement – a slogan that’s such a red flag to those who see guns as a way to maintain control – the reason why the slogan “gun control” has such a hold on us is that plainly guns are OUT of control.

And just as plainly the NRA answer that we need even more guns – their antidote for all ills – is nuts.

But, folks, all that ain’t even the heart of it. An MSD student, 15-year old girl, spoke of her last conversation with a friend, who was planning her classes next term, classes she will never take. The 15-year old survivor, in a voice often breaking with grief and anger, told how she now writes her friend’s name on every homework assignment she hands in.

About then some water somehow got on my cheeks, and I just had to wipe it off because, you know, it made my cheeks cold in the wind of early spring in Minnesota.

We have failed our children. I usually oppose assigning collective responsibility, but here the case fits.

So since we have failed our children, people especially of my generation have a moral responsibility to join hands with these our courageous children and grandchildren, and combat this spiral of madness abetted by the NRA – a domestic terrorist organization if ever there was one – as well as quash the sociopathic cruelty of their political allies, the national Republican party.

I’m sorry … was that too mean?

Here’s what’s happening: The younger of us are overcoming their distrust of politics, and planning to vote, and vote Democratic. For them, how could that choice, now, be plainer?

Democrats are registering new voters, and need to do more. Besides signing up eighteen-year olds, we also need to, systematically, reach out to those UNDER eighteen, and enlist them also as participants in this historic moment.

Of course, there’s a practical point to tapping into youthful idealism; thereby we recruit Democratic voters for years to come, not just for this year.

Speaking of this year …

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those that dwell in a land of darkness, light has dawned.”

Anger is vain and futile unless translated to action. There are times, especially in a democracy, when vast, subterranean currents intersect with individual people and events; the result is transformation and reform.

In a dark land, THIS is such a time. Not 2020 … who really cares that much, now, about who bears the party banner for president?  The Democratic base, that isn’t their passion right now.

THIS is the year, THIS is the year we fight back.

Besides, if we don’t, THIS year, really take it to them, what good is 2020?

If we can’t, THIS year, rock the Republicans back on their heels, when can we?

And if we can’t, or won’t, do all in our power to win race after race after race, in districts blue and red and purple and all the colors in between, what does that say about our country, let alone our party?

In a dark land, where the Republicans and the NRA are busying themselves with thoughts and prayers, while our schools – our schools! – have to become hardened fortresses against the madness THEY condone and defend … in that dark land, a light has dawned.

That light is in the voices of the young, of immigrants, of people of color, of women, and yes, of even many white men, voices angry and aggrieved at what our country is becoming.

This isn’t the country we want. This IS the year that light shines in the darkness, a light already fiercely ablaze.

We as Democrats need, THIS YEAR, to do what we can to cause that light to blaze all the brighter.

Blue wave? Republicans, you wish.

 

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Blue Wave… Or Volcanic Eruption?

Sometimes an “outsider” can see more clearly in Minnesotans what those born here might miss;
sometimes a loner senses more keenly what the gregarious lose in the constant background hum
of social intercourse. I am both: a transplant from the South who moved here almost forty years
ago, and a man usually content with a tiny circle of family and friends.

So how did a “non-native” Minnesotan, how did someone who’s a bit of a social introvert end up
at the Senate District 41 convention last Saturday? The answer is pretty straightforward, and is
provided by the date: Year Two of The Abomination.

For like many this year, I’ve come to the horrifying realization that our beloved republic is in
danger; that our beautiful democracy is being dismantled right before our eyes. And if anyone
thinks that language is overblown, I humbly submit that they haven’t been paying attention.

Like so many there last Saturday, I felt bound and determined to get off my keister and do
something about it. To get out of my comfort zone, and raise holy hell.

Minnesotans tend to be a phlegmatic bunch, doubtless due to the Scandinavian influence. Keep
calm, be gracious, just go quietly about your business. Sometimes known as Minnesota Nice.

I’ve got news for you. The era of Minnesota Nice has faded into yesterday.

What I saw at the district convention was what a false choice it is between focusing on local
issues as opposed to “nationalizing” this fall’s elections. I could see among the delegates what so
many Minnesota Democrats may not see themselves.

That there is an almost crazy anger raging just beneath the surface of Minnesota Nice, a boiling
anger at what the party of The Abomination is doing to our country and to our state.

Others who were there must have seen what happened whenever a speaker even merely nodded
in the general direction of the outermost suburbs of the unmentionable name of The
Abomination. I sensed in the crowd a foot-stomping, almost animalistic fury that, if they hadn’t
been Minnesotans, might have torn down the auditorium. I don’t blame the speakers for treading
lightly on the subject, for otherwise the convention delegates, Minnesotans or not, might have
simply exploded.

And yet, I’m even now not sure that all our DFL elected officials fully grasp what they are
dealing with. The constant, daily drumbeat of atrocities perpetrated by The Abomination and his
party, made in his image, not just at the national level, but even here in our beloved state, have
finally transgressed upon a hidden chamber of the heart, a violation that they must be made to
regret.

To put it mildly.

I’ve heard talk of a “Blue Wave” that is building, that will begin to turn back the depredations of
The Abomination and his band of buccaneers, gangsters, and traitors. But I’m starting to think
we’ve got it wrong.

What’s happening is looking to me more and more like the buildup to the volcanic eruption of a
barely suppressed fury. When I saw in our subcaucus the face of a mild-mannered, middle-aged
Minnesota woman twisted with outrage at the daily desecrations of our democracy – something
I’ve not seen before, and especially here in Minnesota – then I can feel the tectonic plates
shifting.

I’m starting to wonder, fellow DFLers, if a large part of our work hasn’t already been done for
us. Sure, we have to work our butts off to register new voters, and kick our fellow Democrats in
their mid-term butts to get them to the voting booth.

So don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a counsel of over-confidence.

We have been dealt, by our opponents, an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often in a
democracy. An opportunity that enables us to move beyond the idea of merely defeating the
Republicans this November.

We must do our damnedest to harness this volcanic energy out there …

To crush them.

 

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Raina Meyer’s heartbreaking and inspiring story

On occasion, SD41 publishes guest blogs. This is the story of Raina Meyer. She’s a Member of the Minnesota Youth Council and a Student at St Catherine’s University. Her account is both riveting and inspiring, and we at SD41 are eternally grateful that she chose to share her story with us.

 

On Valentine’s Day, while I was in school, I got an alert on my phone that read, “17 Killed in Florida School Shooting.” Later that day, I received a video clip from a friend which showed a friend of hers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lying dead in a pool of his own blood while his classmates screamed in terror during the chaos of the active shooting. This was such a terrifying thing to view, even though it happened nearly 2,000 miles away from me. I was shocked to learn recently that since Columbine, more than 150,000 children have survived similar mass school shootings. This is entirely unacceptable and, I believe, largely preventable.

In this country, we’ve grown accustomed to losing children to killing machines that were designed to be used by soldiers at war. And we, our nation’s children, are expected to sit in school, trying to learn, trying to pretend that everything is normal, when there’s a terrifying reality constantly weighing on us. Because this has become so normal, so accepted, we’re always waiting with baited breath until the next massacre.

But what if we didn’t have to? Is that such a radical idea? Going to school without worries of dying or seeing our friends, teachers, or coaches die, knowing that we’re safe from harm? Our biggest worry should be whether we’re going to do well on an upcoming test or term paper. Not whether we’ll be alive to return home to our families at the end of the day.

This is not such a radical idea. The people who would like to continue to profit from the nearly unfettered sales of assault weapons to anyone willing to purchase them would like us to believe that these killings are just an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. However, no other country on earth suffers through the number of mass shootings that we do, not even close. Other countries have figured this out, and we can, too. In fact, we did partially figure this out…for about a decade. During the assault weapons ban from 1994-2004, both the number of mass shooting incidents and total body counts declined significantly. After the ban ended, the number of mass shootings nearly tripled in the decade that followed, and the number of people killed more than tripled. This should be a no-brainer.

Americans know better than to settle for this any longer. I believe we have reached a tipping point with this latest massacre. Actually, we would have reached this point much, much earlier, if some of our politicians weren’t so easily influenced by NRA money. However, I feel that influence is waning as our voices grow stronger and more insistent that we will no longer settle for this horrific status quo. I was at the Protect Minnesota rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on February 22nd, just a week after the massacre in Parkland. The energy was electric, and the voices deafening with outrage and incredible resolve. After leaving the Capitol, my mom and I drove to Eden Prairie, where we joined a large group of protesters outside Erik Paulsen’s office protesting his acceptance of NRA campaign contributions. Hundreds of people driving by honked their horns, cheered us on and raised their fists out of their windows in solidarity. Only one driver gave us the middle finger; it appears the odds are in our favor.

After the Parkland shooting, I became curious about how my friends from around the globe feel in their schools, so I asked them. My friend, Sofia, lives in Colombia, considered for many years to be one of the most dangerous countries on earth. When asked if she feels safe in her school, she told me that because it is so much more difficult to buy a gun in Colombia that mass killings in schools are virtually unheard of. She acknowledged that, of course, robberies and other individual gun crimes happen, but never in public places, like schools or concerts.

She said she thought that school shootings in the U.S. were heartbreaking, shocking and unacceptable.

I have two friends who live in Kurdistan, which is also considered a very dangerous country. They both told me that while they don’t always feel safe outside of their homes or school due to political unrest and violence, school is actually a safe haven for them. They feel very safe in school and don’t recall a school shooting ever happening in their country. Not one.

 My friend, Solgunn, who lives in Norway, known for being very safe with regard to gun violence. Why? Because they recognized the problem after their horrific 2011 mass shooting and made it virtually impossible for guns to be used to massacre. Solgunn told me that the idea of someone coming into her school and gunning students and staff down is completely unthinkable, and, to her knowledge, has never happened. She described the Parkland shooting as “horrifying, devastating, and heartbreaking.” She told me she will likely not travel to the U.S. because doesn’t want to put herself at risk. It is incredibly sad to me that every friend I have outside of the U.S. feels safe in class while I sometimes feel afraid to go to school in what we consider the greatest country on earth.

I am outraged that I feel like a sitting duck in my classrooms. More importantly, my parents (who vote in every election), are fed up with the lack of initiative taken by the lawmakers that currently representing them. I believe that we need to help our lawmakers get out from under the thumb of the NRA by making it clear that our parents plan to vote them out if they accept NRA money. Then, when people my age become eligible to vote in the next election cycle, we will multiply those votes against NRA-backed candidates and for those candidates who are courageous enough to reject NRA contributions and run on better platforms. We are not going away this time. We will always remember the children we have lost in the numerous school massacres we have lived through. We will also remember those candidates who are willing to accept this dangerous status quo. We will show them their time is up with our votes, which are actually much more powerful than NRA dollars.

We know we can do better, and I believe we will. I am heartened to hear of the many major companies which have recently cut ties with the NRA and others which are starting to self-impose gun regulations. I am also so happy to hear that colleges are beginning to release statements indicating that they will not penalize students who participate in upcoming national student walkouts. They will be on the right side of history, right alongside me, my fellow classmates and the adults who care about us and our future. My generation is one ripe with extraordinary power, and our time has nearly come to exercise it. Watch us rise.

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