When Savannah Tilton, a Junior and political science major at Sonoma State University, attended the March for Our Lives rally in Santa Rosa on March 24, she didn’t realize then that this would become a platform to make her voice heard and take the necessary first step in taking democracy into her own hands. She attended the rally in Courthouse Square, at which about 2,000 people gathered, to participate in protesting gun violence. The event was part of a national series of demonstrations including Washington D.C.
“It [speaking at the rally] wasn’t something I was planning on doing at all, it was very spontaneous,” says Tilton. “I wasn’t expecting it to be opened up to the crowd. All the scheduled speakers spoke and then the primary organizer of the event said she wanted to open it up to students if they had something to say. Inside my head I said ‘I have to do this – it’s an amazing opportunity’. It’s something I will always remember.”
Because, as Tilton says, “gun reform has always been a hot button issue for me,” she is planning on starting a coalition group for gun reform at Sonoma State University.
“I’ve seen across the country, since the Parkland shooting, students forming organizations to get legislature passed in their counties and make people in their communities aware just how the problem is affecting them,” says Tilton. “Often young adults are overlooked in the situation. There have been quite a few people on the more conservative side of things that have tried to invalidate the experience of these high school and university students because they’re “too young to be worrying about these sort of things,” when we’re the ones experiencing it and watching our peers having these struggles around us…This (the walk-outs and rallies) is what happens when you piss of an entire generation of people and then proceed to tell them they don’t have a right to be talking about it.”
Tilton feels, based on the response to the rally and the general feelings of the Sonoma State University population that numerous students would be on board with joining the coalition and working for legislative change. She hopes to open it up to not only students, but the general public as well. She believes one of the first tasks of the coalition would be to make connections in community and reach out to the community leaders and organizations.
“Just because something hasn’t directly affected you doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a problem,” says Tilton. “So I feel like I might need a little bit of help from other organizations and influential people in the community to make the public aware of the problem and exactly how it affects them. I want to do a lot of community outreach and talk to community members and ask them what they think of all this and if they have been affected by gun violence. To have those experiences of one-on-one conversations with people is really what I think is going to tell me what I want to do with my organization.”
Coming from a family of hunters, Tilton is keenly aware of an individual’s right to have weapons for hunting and self-protection, but feels that it is unacceptable to have weapons of war on the street and have 18-year-olds have the ability to purchase an AR-15 online.
“We just don’t want that to be happening,” say Tilton. “We don’t need weapons of war on our streets that fire 45 rounds in a minute. The only reason for those weapons is to kill people. There’s no way around it. I come from a family of hunters and I know that when you shoot an animal to eat it, you want to have as small a bullet wound as possible because it compromises the quality of the meat. That’s automatically not even an argument.”