The face behind Seattle’s March for Our Lives

Senior leads city-wide protest and the fight against gun violence

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The face behind Seattle’s March for Our Lives

Senior Emilia Allard (right) gives a speech at Cal Anderson Park for March for Our Lives Seattle next to her co-founder Rhiannon Raseretnam (left). (Photo courtesy Cory Parris)

Senior Emilia Allard (right) gives a speech at Cal Anderson Park for March for Our Lives Seattle next to her co-founder Rhiannon Raseretnam (left). (Photo courtesy Cory Parris)

Senior Emilia Allard (right) gives a speech at Cal Anderson Park for March for Our Lives Seattle next to her co-founder Rhiannon Raseretnam (left). (Photo courtesy Cory Parris)

Senior Emilia Allard (right) gives a speech at Cal Anderson Park for March for Our Lives Seattle next to her co-founder Rhiannon Raseretnam (left). (Photo courtesy Cory Parris)

Zoe Bodovinitz and Eileen MacDonald, Staff Reporters

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Before early February of this year, Emilia Allard was a senior in highschool, dreaming of a career in politics and doing her best to keep up with school. Fast-forward to now, and she is the founder of Seattle’s March for Our Lives, and her life will never be the same.

March for Our Lives Seattle began as an Instagram page inspired by the nationwide movement that developed after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The local movement is dedicated to the passing of gun control legislation and addressing issues of gun violence.

“When I started the social media pages I didn’t expect much to happen,” Allard said.  “I expected, ‘Oh we live in Seattle, it’s progressive, we’ll get like 1,000 people.’ And then it grew really quickly.”

Allard’s personal relationship with this issue culminated in the growing number of mass school shootings across the nation. Being a student and older sister, she felt a responsibility to facilitate change.

Emilia Allard

“My family has always been, not anti-gun, but we’ve never owned guns,” Allard said. “As a kid, my grandparents did and so I found a loaded gun when I was six. My family always talked about these issues, ‘Don’t play with guns,’ that sort of thing. I think I specifically got involved after Parkland just because obviously with school shootings, the fear is there. I have four younger sisters who are all in school, and keeping my sisters safe was the push.”

After she began the Instagram page, Allard was contacted by senior Rhiannon Rasaretnan from Tahoma High School and they decided to become co-founders of the march. From there they received floods of e-mails from potential volunteers and those that wanted to meet. They realized that in order to plan a march, they would need a lot of time, money and more manpower.

“After I co-founded with Riannon, we needed more people but it was also the question of who do we bring in because obviously once you bring someone in you don’t want to be in a position to take them out,” Allard said.

The core team behind March for Our Lives Seattle consists of Allard and Raseretnam, along with five other members from schools around the seattle area.  Eventually, they started defining roles and Allard began to focus more on facilitating rather than participating in every aspect.

“A lot of it is overseeing things, making decisions. A lot of meetings, a lot of e-mails, conference calls,” Allard said. “Since I created the Instagram and the Facebook, I just became the social media lead. I’m a little overly into it now.”

While Allard and her partners faced some problems with the logistics of planning the march, they never lost sight of their end goal because of the support they received.

“In the beginning, I think money was our biggest opposition just because you have to pay for permits, you have to pay for stage and sound and everyone wants money upfront, but when this is thousands of dollars, I mean we are high school students,” Allard said. “We got very lucky with the support that we received, both financially and just in general. I think everyone wanted us to succeed and do well.”

On March 25, the streets of Seattle were swamped with thousands of people participating in the march and showing their solidarity against gun violence. While the march was a success in unifying everyone in the fight for gun control, the team plans to move forward with the Vote for Our Lives campaign.

“Moving forward, we don’t plan to have another march,” Allard said. “We’re moving more toward the Vote For Our Lives Washington aspect of things and a lot of meetings about what to do with that. It’s going to be really great. [The marches] really unify everyone and they get excited for your cause, but the marches don’t get anything done. It’s those long nitty-gritty meetings with representatives and meetings with different legislators in Olympia that actually does something.”

Vote for Our Lives is a youth-voter registration campaign that also educates new voters on who is up for elections. The goal is to register as many of the 4 million voters eligible for 2018 elections. As of now, Allard believes that registering to vote is the best step toward change a person can make.

“It’s important because these legislative decisions are going to be impacting us,” Allard said. “Especially if we are talking about arming teachers or if we are going to be raising the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21. All of these have impacts directly on us and I think it’s important that youth get involved not only because it will be affecting us, but just because I feel like we have that sort of leeway with our age where it’s like, ‘If all of these high-schoolers are fighting for this, why aren’t we?’”

With founding a march and continuing to fight for change comes a lot of responsibility. Allard realized that she had to make sacrifices and figure out how her priorities would line up, specifically with her activism and school life.

“I got lucky that this happened senior year, so it wasn’t as bad for me to be missing stuff,” Allard said. We kind of anticipated that things would chill out after the march but it’s definitely picking back up again in a good way. The week before the march I was trying to remember the last time I had attended a full day of school and I literally couldn’t remember. We had 33 days from when I made that account till the march. When I thought that ‘Oh I’ll make a march’ I really anticipated this being like an ‘I can do this after school thing’ and it’s really not.  I kinda had to make that decision of what’s going to come first and so I felt like you only have this opportunity maybe once so I’ll take it.”

As for the future, Allard hopes to continue to make her voice heard in the fight against gun violence as well as use her platform to propel her further into politics.

“I’ll be running for president in 2036, not even kidding,” Allard said. “Politics is definitely where I see myself going. I always figured I would go into politics but I have the connections now so I almost have to at this point. I feel like it would be a waste to not.”

In the meantime, Allard will continue with the local fight after high school.  Her next year will be focused on preparing the next generation of activists to allow her to seize new opportunities and go to college.

“Next year for sure I will stay in Washington, and next year our plan is to hopefully build everything up enough that we can sort of relinquish control.”

Allard hopes that her efforts will motivate students to start conversations and become advocates for their beliefs.  She feels that a conversation is the first step to make change, and one that anyone can take to make their voice heard.  As a student herself, this path was unexpected, but incredibly worthwhile.

“I love it,” Allard said.  “I never thought I would be doing this.”

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