Fridays with An Activist: Damen Alexander, March for Our Lives STL Organizer

Photo courtesy of Niles Zee Photography
An interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about the goals for March for Our Lives STL.

The goal of the March was to get politicians to listen to us. Politicians have been non-starters on gun legislation for too long. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too. The March put a referendum on complacency. We are here, we’re listening, and we’re taking notes. If you don’t enact the change we want to see, we will use our voting power to vote you out. After the March, we want politicians to treat us like voters, and not kids. Our message has the force of the vote behind it.

How did you spread the word and get people involved?

Facebook was the most effective option. We had 3K people RSVP on Facebook. 15K showed up. That shows you the energy, commitment, and dedication of our generation. 15K people showed up in the cold and rain to march.

Is gun violence the main issue you’re passionate about? What other political or social problems concern you?  

An issue I care about that doesn’t get a lot of attention is voting rights. People talk all day about voter ID,  registering voters, and all that jazz, but for me, voter rights are much more than that. We need to make sure the voting electorate is more engaged, inclusive, and responsive. There was a study done that said people who come of voting age in mid-term years are less likely to vote over the entire course of their life, then someone who came of voting age in a presidential election year. That’s absurd.

We need automatic voter registration. We need to reflect and ask ourselves, “Is a random Tuesday in March, April, August, or November, the best voting day?” For me, personally, I don’t like the idea of partisan election officials at the county and state level. No way should our Secretary of State be partisan. They protect all of our voting rights, not just their party. There are little steps we can take to make the electorate more inclusive. The right to vote is the most important, most precious, and most sacred right. It should be protected with the eye of a hawk.

Do you plan to keep doing this type of work? If so, in what ways?

Here in Saint Louis, this is not only a March. Other marches have been critiqued for only talking about white lives. Historically, when a social issue leaches onto the white community there is IMMEDIATELY a call to action. We have town halls, reports, hearings, all the works. Meanwhile, the black community has been faced with the said issue for years and decades. You can see that without the drug epidemic, the AIDS epidemic, and now with gun violence. Here in Saint Louis, the black community has been plagued by gun violence for years. Mike Brown and Anthony Lamar Smith are victims of gun violence. They are victims of state-sponsored gun violence. Why are we just now mobilizing?

205. That’s how many people died in our own streets last year from gun violence.  It’s time we showed up in the streets not just for students or mainstream issues, but for our neighbors, our brothers, and our sisters too. I don’t think the work of the March is done until all of Saint Louis can stand together and realize Black Lives Matter.

As for specifics, there are town halls, lobby days, and an art show planned. A lot of the time our government is seen as elitist. We feel it’s run by the privileged, we feel only work for the privileged, only the privileged participate, and only the privileged can make the change. Well, we’re knocking down that notion. We are targeting inner-city youth who have never been involved in any type of government. We are providing them an outlet to hold their elected officials accountable. And with the art show, we’re also proving students a chance to express themselves, and make money.

So we’re more than a march. We want to be in the community. We are the community activist.  All details on the art show, lobby day, and town hall, TBA. (edit: Town Hall has since been scheduled: https://www.facebook.com/events/239592749944949/)

What do you think veteran activists can do to invite and welcome younger people into the fold?

I believe veteran activists have been very inviting already. Real activists show up for every single thing, every single day. Many of them were at the March, and we even invited them to our VIP area. Cori Bush, an activist and Congressional candidate helped us lead the March. State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. and the Rev. Daryl Gray both spoke at our March. This has been a two-way street. There were no hard feelings.

What message do you hope high school and college students receive from the work you’ve done?

The only message I have is the vote. If you are 17.5 in Missouri, you need to register. Today. This is all hypothetical until we go register, mobilize, and vote. This change only happens with all of us united.

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