I spent my morning at a funeral. A funeral I shouldn’t have attended in the first place because it never should have happened. I spent the morning holding my mom’s hand in synagogue as she sobbed and stated that this was the hardest funeral she’s ever been to. I spent the morning listening to my cousin, Leah, speak beautifully about her mother and the light she brought into this world. I spent the morning sitting with my father and sister who in the midst of gunfire attempted to save our cousin Jacki’s life. I spent the morning hugging my family with tears in the back of our eyes trying to talk about anything else even if it was just for twenty seconds. 

This isn’t how I should’ve spent my morning. I should still be at overnight camp taking pictures of smiling kids. I should be complaining about camp food or how early I have to wake up. 

But I’m not.

All week I’ve struggled to grapple with the fact that my cousin was murdered. That alone is an impossible thing to cope with. However, I wasn’t even surprised. The writing has been on the wall; it is just a matter of time until your family or your town is next. All week I’ve been bombarded with love, support, community, condolences, thoughts, and prayers. I appreciate them. We all do. But they’re not enough. Your thoughts and prayers will never bring back the lives who shouldn’t have been taken. Your thoughts and prayers won’t ban automatic weapons to ensure that there isn’t a next town or victim. Your thoughts and prayers won’t prevent the next mass shooting. Your thoughts and prayers change nothing, and I want change. 

I want to be able to have pride in the country that my grandpa sought refuge in after surviving Nazi persecution. I want to be able to raise children in this country and send them to school every morning without worrying that it might be goodbye. I want to be able to look at the American flag without thinking of the January 6 insurrection where it was hung amongst white supremacist flags. I want to be able to turn on the news and not see that another Black person has been murdered by the police. I want to open my Instagram feed and not see that yet another state has set forth to ban trans athletes, and restrict or ban gender-affirming healthcare. I want to be able to get through this week without wondering what human right the Supreme Court is going to jeopardize next. I want to live in the democracy and land of the free that was promised to me as a child. 

We are watching freedom and democracy shrivel. This isn’t new. People — BIPOC, queer people, disabled people, Jews, Muslims, and many more — have been screaming about this for years. For some, the incentive to vote is fiscally-driven. For others, voting is a matter of life or death. Voting for the Republican Party is a vote for gun violence and sexual assault. It’s voting against gay marriage, the environment, and abortion access. It is a vote against all minorities and human life in general. 

As many of my peers may attempt to remain apolitical in their memorial posts, I cannot. If you voted for Trump or continue to vote for the GOP, there is blood on your hands. You played a role in the murder of my cousin and in the murder of countless others. My family and Highland Park will never be the same because of you. 

So as I sit here in the midst of mourning, I am here begging you to save your town, your family, or a stranger. I don’t want to read the news tomorrow about another mass shooting. And, take my word for it, you don’t want to wake up and read that text or get that phone call that _________ was just murdered. Don’t wait until you or someone you know experiences this tragedy to scream from the rooftops or to take action. Even if you don’t personally know anybody who has been murdered or implicated by gun violence, you have probably still been impacted; we are the generation who grew up performing lockdown drills to prepare our school for the possibility of being next. We are the generation that begged our parents to return our light-up shoes because if our school was next, that could be the very thing that gets us noticed and killed. This may have been our normal, but it isn’t normal and it didn’t have to be this way. 

I cut paper snowflakes the day after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School to send to the mourning town of Newtown, Connecticut. I participated in the nation-wide school walkout after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. I woke up from nightmares about gun violence the night after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

But after all of these instances, my life moved on. Life in Highland Park will never fully move on. Jacki Sundheim’s life will not move on. Nor will the lives of Katherine Goldstein, Irina McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Stephen Straus, Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, Eduardo Uvaldo or the other victims, victims’ families, witnesses, and other towns where 300+ mass shootings have occurred this year alone. We will never move on. Don’t let Highland Park, or the several other mass shootings that happened on the Fourth of July weekend, be just another statistic. Let us change what we know as normal because it shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be. 

Thank you for your condolences, but to be frank, I don’t want them because this should have never happened. Take the time you would spend texting me saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” to call your representative and ask them to pass adequate gun legislation laws, sign petitions, phone bank, or to educate those in your family who might not quite understand the impact of their vote or “beliefs.” Vote in every single election, I don’t care how local it is. Donate to the victims’ families. Do everything you can possibly think of to make sure more lives are not taken from senseless gun violence. 

We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, must do everything we can to prevent gun violence and stop all injustices. That’s freedom. That’s how we take back our democracy.