Helisa Cruz is frustrated.
Two years ago, on February 14, 2018, a perpetrator carried out an attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; he killed 17 people and injured 17 others. It wasn’t the first time mass violence has upended lives, and it wouldn’t be the last: In 2019, there were more mass shootings than days. Even so, little has been done legislatively to fight gun violence.
That inaction has only gotten starker in the past few months, as the impeachment controversy ravaged Washington, D.C. By the time the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump, the House had sent over 400 bills to the Senate reaching all areas of law — from gun violence to election security — only for them to be stalled by a legislative body that seemed more concerned with confirming judges and blocking an impeachment conviction than with passing bills, Vox reported.
But the Senate officially decided to acquit Trump on February 5, and the inaction stuck around. Activists were getting tired: They created a faux graveyard of all the bills McConnell “killed,” and they held protests. And, on Wednesday (February 12), Helisa and other young activists from March for Our Lives D.C. flooded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel’s office. She headed over after school — it was three stops on the train — and helped pass out coloring books to senators that depicted places where shootings had already taken place and one empty page for future shootings, unless something is done.
“That statement was just a reminder that while people are dying, the members of Congress — and especially Mitch McConnell — continue to be childish on just not taking action on this epidemic,” Helisa told MTV News. After the activists settled into McConnell’s office, they sat in silence for 21 minutes, one minute for each young person who will die due to gun violence every day, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Then the speeches came. When it was her time to speak, Helisa noted that when people think about Washington, D.C., they imagine the Hill, the Supreme Court, the monuments, and the museums, “but they don't know that there's a whole other culture of what D.C. really is.” The district has seen more killings every year since 2017, peaking with 166 homicides in 2019, according to data released by D.C. police. The most common factor in all of those killings? Illegal firearms.
“Far too often we have seen the irreversible damage that illegal guns in the hands of violent offenders does to the lives and fabric of our community,” Police Chief Peter Newsham said in a news conference, according to WTOP. “So our primary focus on combating crime has always been and will continue to be removing illegal firearms from our neighborhoods.”
But Helisa and her fellow activists know the issue extends far beyond their own backyard — and that the lack of action by lawmakers has real-world consequences. “We have all of these national elected officials and lawmakers five minutes away from my daily life,” she told MTV News. “The fact that we're dying not far away from [lawmakers] and that they're not doing anything, it's just astonishing.”
That’s why March For Our Lives D.C. have taken action into their own hands. A local chapter of the national movement founded by MSD survivors and allies, the group operates by holding workshops and training, planning for advocacy days, hosting film viewings, and, of course, staging protests. At each of these protests, activists give speeches.
Helisa didn’t anticipate raising her voice on Wednesday, but she at least hopes the group’s pleas aren’t ignored: “To a certain extent, it's like, what do you say to someone who doesn't care about your existence?”