Austin, TX -- Donning ripped jeans and a dark blue “March for Our Lives” (M4OL) t-shirt, University of Texas freshman, Selina Eshraghi stood behind the clear podium in front of the Texas state capitol. Her long black hair was swept up in a loose messy bun, as she faced thousands of people marching for one cause: stricter gun control laws. After months and months of organizing, she was ready, not only to see the march, but to share her story.

On Saturday Mar. 24, students, parents, teachers and more, marched through downtown Austin, ending in front of the capitol. Eshraghi was one of the lead organizers that led the march. After coordinating volunteers, the dignitary presence and social media for the march, Eshraghi also gave a speech, advocating for gun-control. Not only is Eshraghi a college freshman, she is also a gun-control activist.

“It has definitely been a label that I have had a hard time putting on myself,” Eshraghi said. “It has been hard for me to say that I am an activist for gun reform, mostly because there is a lot of prominent activists for gun reform. But yes, that is exactly what I am.”

Eshraghi’s reason for joining the march was one close to her heart. Last semester, her close friend* killed herself on a university campus using a gun. She was only 17.

“After I kind of peeled more from the grief aspect of it, I kept looking at this situation, and this picture and thinking where did we go wrong? “ Eshraghi said. “Shouldn’t have there been a million different points in which we stopped in her before she got to that point? There should have been something to help her in terms of mental health. There should’ve been something to restrict her from having access to a gun like that.”

After the Parkland shooting, three students at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin created on online event for M4OL’s which would take place in downtown Austin. Eshraghi liked the cause especially because students were coming together for smarter gun policy.

Activism, however, was nothing new to Eshraghi, who, at 15, had worked for The Strongheart Group’s campaign to end child marriage. Eshraghi did social media for Sonita Alizadeh, to garner youth support for the cause.

“I think I am happiest when I am helping other people,” Eshraghi said. “I am a big people person.”

**

After reaching out to the original organizers of the Austin march, Eshraghi attended a meeting and was surprised by the amount of people that had taken initiative. Eventually, the team assigned different roles to students, and Eshraghi was lead of social media which role then expanded to managing dignitary presence.

Social media continues to change many aspects of the world we live in, especially activism. Social media activism has become a lot more prominent in which activists will show their support for causes, call for boycotts, etc. Eshraghi, uses Twitter and Facebook to speak out about the causes close to her, especially about M4OL. However, she strictly uses Instagram as her modeling portfolio. Comments and direct messages started to stream in questioning her dedication to the cause, because of this.

“Hopefully in pushing (the social media) boundary and pushing that limit a little, teaches people that they don’t have control over me and my body and how I chose to show it and represent it,” Eshraghi said. “How I do that doesn’t have any effect on the weight of my words or the volume of my voice.”

On the other side of social media, hateful comments have also started to stream in, questioning the march’s platform. One of the biggest counter arguments about the march is the age of the students organizing it. Most students range from the age of freshman in high school to sophomores in college, and many counter protestors feel that the youth are too young too truly be activists.

“You should never let age hold you back, but you should understand how educated you are on a topic…you need to be listening to opposition, because often times that’s where you get the best education,” Eshraghi said. “…to be a good activist is to make sure you are knowledgeable for what you are an activist for.”

Before the arrest of the Austin bomber, there was fear in Austin, especially about the bombings and the march. In addition, many wondered about the counter protesters as historically, some marches have tended to have violent outcomes. The words of Eshraghi’s father rang in her ears, who was born in Iran and was present during the Islamic revolution. He always told her:

“You shouldn’t ever let fear win,” Eshraghi said. “You choose to not march, and you choose not to use your voice because you are scared of what people might do and what they might think of you, you are letting them win.”

APD was out in full force during the march, making sure the crowd was safe. Thousands of voices safely marched to the capitol and the amount of people there made Eshraghi feel hopeful.

“A lot of the stress and energy that was building up inside me was completely released after I saw the size of the crowd,” Eshraghi said. “Although I’d fight this even if I were alone, it’s crazy nice feeling to know I have more than 20,000 people standing beside me.”

According Eshraghi to M4OL, the team is working together to register people to vote, organize a town hall meeting and plan a protest for the day of the NRA convention. Ideas about for state wide town hall meetings in Austin or a benefit concert leading up to the midterms have also been floating around. But for now, the march has definitely made an impact.

“I definitely feel like my voice was heard,” Eshraghi said. “Now it’s just about making sure what I said sticks. It’s about preaching kindness, open-mindedness, and making sure people know how to continue to be active moving forward. I’m on national news telling people to vote. I just need to make sure that before the run off and midterm elections that people remember what I said.”

As the day ended for Eshraghi on that Saturday, in a blur of TV interviews, newspaper articles being printed and meeting with different celebrities, her work as an advocate will be known.

“As long as you are aware of your voice and you use your voice to call out a certain problem or to represent a certain group, you are being a social activist,” Eshraghi said.

Lead Image Credit: Ali Hajipour