INTERVIEW: Three Manual Students discuss the Importance of Civil Disobedience & Young Voters

Civil disobedience is perhaps the most American of all traditions, serving as the appeal in our formative years for immigration to the then colonies, to the revolution that kicked the country off. For Nyah Mattison, Fons Cervera, & Audrey Champelli, all students at DuPont Manual, their time came this last Valentine’s Day, after the Parkland Florida shooting, one of many that have occurred in 2018 alone.  Inspired by their peers in Florida, the students at Manual helped organize a sympathy walk out to demonstrate the power of their generation, a group of soon-to-be-adults who can and will exercise their vote when the time comes. They continued their fight this last weekend in Washington DC as part of March For Our Lives, which you can see in images below.

We caught up with them to hear their stories, to learn what comes next, and mostly to let the next generation have another platform for their emerging and critical voices. The kids are alright.

Never Nervous: What prompted the three of you to organize your walk out? I understand it was national, did you hear about something in the media, or was there any one specific motivating factor for this specific thing?

Audrey Champelli: I was definitely feeling like I wanted to be able to do something, and the national walkout was the obvious thing. It’s just a very strange thing to be so acutely aware of the fact that what happened in Parkland could happen anywhere and that includes our own school. It’s also just so important to keep the issue in the news so that no one has the option to forget about it before change happens.

Fons Cervera: I think that we were all very moved and inspired by the MSD students in Parkland. They mobilized so quickly after having been through something so terrible. I have been talking about gun control for so long that it’s really awesome that high schoolers voices are finally being heard.

“I had friends involved in the Marshall County shooting, it took me from being removed to extremely invested in a matter of seconds.”

Nyah Mattison: We are all super inspired by the Parkland students, and after the Marshall County shooting in our own state, the conversation had already been started. We knew something had to be done, and in order to have as many voices heard as possible, we knew that the walkout had to be an organized effort, which up until the point where we started to really organize, we noticed it was not. We were just filling a role that needed to be filled. Personally, I’ve always had opinions on gun rights and gun legislation, but it became something a lot more personal, because I had friends involved in the Marshall County shooting, it took me from being removed to extremely invested in a matter of seconds. I knew that this epidemic of mass shootings was something that could not go on any longer, and that as students, we needed to speak up for ourselves at a time that our voices weren’t heard.

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NN: Do you feel safe in your school as it is?

AC: On a day-to-day basis, I don’t worry about coming to school. I think there are people who are telling high schoolers to be more wary of their peers, to notice suspicious behavior before it turns violent, but really what that translates to is “shift your focus away from policy change and toward non-conforming kids. They’re the problem.” I think that’s an unfair mindset to force on kids, and I won’t adopt it. Me being afraid of my classmates isn’t going to solve the problem of school shootings. Furthermore, the things that scare me about school safety aren’t really things that can be solved with metal detectors or or alarm systems or more guns or by the JCPS school board. They can only be solved through policy change on a national level.

FC: I still feel safe in school. Even though I am not sure what would happen if something like this were to happen at Manual, I have full faith in the administration and the adults at Manual and I know that they would do anything necessary to protect us.

NM: I do feel safe in my school, because I know that educators and the administration are there to stop any potential threat, but there is also the feeling that lingers that Parkland or Marshall County could have been my school or the school of one of my siblings. It scares me to have to look at everything as threatening when I’m supposed to be in what is essentially a safe space for the dissemination of knowledge, not a place where I should have to look around my classroom and see my neighbors as potential threats to be reported or stopped.

NN: To your mind, what is the practical solution to preventing school shootings?

AC: People can propose all kinds of extra precautions like metal detectors or armed guards, but to me that feels ridiculous. Those are solutions that assume someone dangerous has already been allowed to access a gun, not to mention how much those things would cost despite an already-tight budget. The practical solution would be any policy that makes sure dangerous high schoolers don’t have guns. If none of my classmates have access to automatic rifles there would be no need for metal detectors or guards to make sure they don’t shoot me with them.

FC: Honestly, I don’t know. I think its a really complex problem and there is no simple solution. I think that the most effective thing to do now is to ban assault rifles and high capacity magazines, I really think that’s the only thing that is going to save lives. Though I don’t agree with gun ownership on any level, I recognize that it is something that is very ingrained in our country’s culture and that it may not be practical or feasible to outright ban guns. I think that the assault weapon ban is the best, along with better mental health and a more rigorous process to be able to purchase guns.

NM: The most pragmatic solution is to take away the weapons that cause them. Without a firearm capable of doing the destruction that happened in Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and Marshall County, and Parkland, school shootings would most likely becomes few and far between. But the most practical solution is to raise the age limit to 21 and more stringent background checks nationally, as well as to institute measures that catch potential perpetrators before it gets to the point that they can even buy the weapon. We need more mental health screening and trained guidance counselors. Many of the legislation I have seen has been measures that address things after the fact, such as metal detectors and school resource officers. This has been tried and tried again, it doesn’t work, and many of these things end up in neighborhoods of minorities, creating an even further policing of these areas where our most vulnerable populations live.

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NN: How do you respond to the idea that teachers should be armed?

AC: As Emma González said on 60 Minutes, “That’s stupid.” This really does feel like the most ridiculous of all the proposed solutions. There are just so many obvious practical issues with this idea: Where would schools possibly get the funding to arm and train teachers? Where do the teachers keep the guns? If they’re on their person, how do they make sure no kids steals it or that it doesn’t go off accidentally? If it’s in a safe, how do they access it in time to stop an active shooter? If a kid gets ahold of a teacher’s gun and then the kid kills someone, is the teacher liable? Is the teacher liable if s/he can’t stop an active shooter? What if the teacher is aiming for the shooter and hits an innocent student? What about the mental health stresses on students that would inevitably follow if teachers had guns? Do we trust teachers who may already be subconsciously racially discriminatory to make snap decisions about which of their students are dangerous and which aren’t? Do we expect any teachers to make that kind of snap judgement? If a SWAT team shows up, do we really want them to waste time figuring out which of the multiple people with guns is actually a threat?

“Where would schools possibly get the funding to arm and train teachers?”

I don’t see how anyone who has given any thought to these questions could honestly propose arming teachers as a safe and practical solution.

FC: I think that it is such a dumb idea. More guns are not the solution. There are statistics that say that people who own guns are more likely to die from a gun. Schools should not be prisons. Also, teachers should not have to carry that burden, they are underpaid as it is and in our state, there is a huge teacher pension issue so I don’t think that it is fair for them. Also, I just see a lot of issues coming from teachers being armed.

NN: How was the administration with the walk out? Did they give you any problems or were you able to negotiate something? Tell us a little about that process?

AC: Our school administration was remarkable supportive throughout the entire process. They were never able to actually come out and officially say that they supported the event, but they offered us the gym in case of inclement weather and they were there the whole time making sure everything was safe.

FC: The administration was super supportive the whole time. Nyah and Audrey know a little bit more about this. The day of, however, Mr. Kuh and Mr. Mays were both super awesome about making sure everything ran smoothly and that everything was safe.

We had multiple conversations with the administration to make sure that they weren’t blindsided by any of our plans. That said, it was fortunate that the administration was on board, because the walkout would have happened whether they’d been on board or not.

NM: The administration was chiefly worried about safety. Once we could arrange for student safety, everything went very smoothly. We presented our plan and it was okayed, since the administration could not endorse or prohibit the demonstration, it was up to us to really plan out what we were going to do and how everything would flow.

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NN: Do you have other rallies planned? How are you all working out the logistics if so?

AC: There’s nothing planned for the school as of yet. There are students from Manual who are helping plan Louisville’s March for Our Lives that we could put you in contact with, but that’s obviously not a school event.

FC: Currently, we don’t have any other rallies planned.

“Silence allows the issue to die.”

NM: We are talking through that now, I would say. It’s definitely a possibility, silence allows the issue to die. A large group of us meet frequently to talk through our options and logistics, everything that has been organized thus far has come out of that. It’s not just us three. We have a huge support system from our peers and our teachers. A large portion of that group, as well as me, Fons, and Audrey, will be attending the March for Our Lives this weekend as journalists and as activists to showcase youth voices. We deserve to have our voices heard.

NN: What would you say to any detractors out there that say that you are only serving some political agenda in your actions?

AC: I think that argument is highly insensitive and comes from a place of insecurity. I think many of those kinds of critics are recognizing that today’s high schoolers are doing more and making more of change than they ever did. I also think that anyone who would make that argument about students who have gone through such an immense tragedy as a school shooting likely aren’t listening to the arguments that would prove them wrong. The fact of the matter is that high school students don’t want to see their classmates die in front of them, so high school students are doing everything they can to make sure they don’t have to. Anyone who looks at that effort and calls it a partisan agenda isn’t paying enough attention.

FC: Well, we were very clear that our walkout was not political at all. It wasn’t partisan, and we even told some kids at our school who wanted to run this walkout through the KDP that they couldn’t do that. This was about remembering the people that were lost in Florida and to raise awareness that this is still happening. People are still dying and politicians in DC and in Frankfort haven’t done anything.

NM: Wanting to be safe in school is non-partisan. With out walkout and with the broader national movement, there has been a very deliberate silence on the more radical proposals from both sides. This is about doing what everyone can agree on is best to make sure that kids are not fearing for their lives when they step through the schoolhouse gate. It’s bigger than your affiliation as any party. It’s about if people feel like we, as students, have the right to our lives.

NN: In what ways do you feel that the NRA has shaped your opinions or anyone else’s on this matter?

AC: I think that knowing the NRA has funded the campaigns of some of our representatives as provided a certain lens through which we have to view their responses to a school shooting and to students’ questions. The fact that the NRA is monetarily involved in my representatives’ campaigns doesn’t having anything to do with shaping my opinions on the concepts of gun control and school safety, but it does affect how I look at my representatives’ actions in dealing with those issues. The NRA doesn’t shape my motives, but I know that I have to be careful when listening to my representatives’ because the NRA might’ve shaped theirs.

FC: The NRA is super powerful. They are a prime example of how corrupt our government is. (Marion Hammer is a good example of just how powerful the gun lobby is) I think that they have helped me realize that there really does need to be a change in Washington. There need to be people who are elected who are not afraid to stand up to them. The issue benefits them and they care about power more than people’s lives, and that only makes me more upset over the whole issue.

NM: Personally, the NRA has not shaped my opinions, I have never supported their goals or actions and neither have my parents. I do believe however that they shape a lot of policy through lobbying and a lot of minds through their advertisements and media (such as NRA TV). Media has a lot of responsibility these days because of how fractured our political climate is. We’ve stopped tuning in to the opinions that are different than our own and we look for news that reaffirms what we think we know. It’s really easy to do that. I think it’s harder to take a step back and to look critically at our beliefs and why we believe the things that we do. America, collectively, needs to do more of that. Without it, I don’t think we’ll ever get anywhere.

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NN: A little off topic, but given the relevance of your teachers and administrators to helping you facilitate some of your goals here (not trying to take your credit away at all), what do you say to Governor Bevin’s comments calling teachers selfish and short-sighted?

AC: Teachers are people who sign up to spend their lives educating children for not enough money, so I think calling them selfish is an obviously ridiculous thing to say. I’ve had teachers who I didn’t like very much but I’ve never had a teacher who I thought wanted to see me fail.

“He (Matt Bevin) is in no position to call teachers anything. They do more for our state in one day of teaching than what he has done in 2 years of being governor.”

FC: I don’t agree with Bevin on anything. Frankly, I think all he has done is hurt our state. He is in no position to call teachers anything. They do more for our state in one day of teaching than what he has done in 2 years of being governor. So it is upsetting, especially since I respect so many of my teachers for what they have done for me and for my classmates.

I’d actually love to use this as an opportunity to shout out my Journalism and Communication teachers Mr. Miller and Ms. Palmer. They’re both incredible teachers and selfish is the very last word I’d ever use to describe either of them. They were the teachers whose rooms we used in organizing the walkout. They’re exceptionally good at letting their students take the lead while still being there to answer questions and help out when we need it.

NM: Teachers want the best for the next generation, I think it is ignorant to suggest otherwise. School is one of the biggest political socializers other than your home. School is where you form your own opinions and are able to test them around the opinions of your peers. I think Bevin’s comments were short-sighted. He isn’t seeing the big picture. Our educations are what have allowed us to be able to organize effectively, to speak out on our beliefs, and to be able to do things like respond in a appropriate manner in an interview. To trivialize educators role in student’s lives is to short them of their credit in being able to allow us to make change in the world.

NN: Speaking of politicians and their reactions, you’ll be of voting age soon. What do you say to anyone reading that doubts the power of the young voter?

AC: I think their doubts are based on the idea that young people tend to not show out in the numbers that they should. However, I think the generation of young people that doesn’t vote has grown up and this generation of young people doesn’t plan on following in their footsteps. Our generation is going to show up and show out in numbers those critics aren’t ready for, and politicians had better be prepared.

FC: I am of voting age. And I will be voting in November. People should know that we are the future. We will elect people who will actually do the job they are supposed to do, represent the people. The government is for the people, by the people. Politicians who do not do their jobs WILL be voted out. It is time that people’s concerns are heard again, not those of money.

NM: We are larger than any other generation. Taken an hour of your time and advocate for what you believe in, no matter what that is. If we don’t stand up for our beliefs, the gentlest breeze could knock us over. If you don’t vote, you won’t have a voice. And it’s high time that our voices were heard.