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In Uvalde, Texas, many are looking to turn tragedy into transformative change. Last spring’s deadly elementary school shooting there pushed many parents and community members into politics for the first time. The Texas Newsroom’s Sergio Martinez-Beltran reports.
SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: For most of his life, Javier Cazares didn’t care about politics.
JAVIER CAZARES: I came from a small town, and, you know, it had its issues – you know, bad roads. And I always said, you know, when I grow up, I want to change things like that. So then afterwards, never thought about it again until this happened.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: This, meaning when an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School last May, including Cazares’ young daughter Jacklyn. He says Jacklyn was fearless. She spoke her mind, and after her death, he vowed to be more like her.
CAZARES: I promised my daughter I was going to fight, and that’s a promise I’m not ever going to break.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Cazares has launched a write-in campaign for a seat on the Uvalde County Commissioners Court. He and another write-in candidate want to oust the incumbent Mariano Pargas, who was acting chief for the Uvalde police on the day of the school shooting. Angela Villescaz is not running for office but founded a group called Fierce Madres, or mothers, in the days after the shooting.
ANGELA VILLESCAZ: The thing about Hispanic moms – we are often quiet or treated invisible or ignored. But you just don’t mess with our kids.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: She and dozens of members have since gone to every Uvalde city council and school board meeting. They helped push for Pete Arredondo, the disgraced Uvalde schools police chief, to be fired. And he was. A Fierce Madres mom will soon take over Arredondo’s seat on the city council that was left open after he resigned.
VILLESCAZ: That’s extremely important because the things we want to get done – now we have an insight to the city council there.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: These activists and Cazares, Jacklyn’s dad and now write-in candidate, want to get rid of everyone who played a role in the failed response to the shooting, from the acting Uvalde police chief to the school district superintendent. They want more transparency in city and county government. And they’re also going after Governor Greg Abbott because he ruled out raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase a semi-automatic rifle in Texas, one of their main issues. In addition to pushing for change, psychologist Ronna Milo Haglili, who studies the link between trauma and activism, says becoming an activist can help families heal.
RONNA MILO HAGLILI: They are trying to make sense of traumatic experiences. There is something within the engagement itself that is associated with a sense of vitality, a sense of empowerment.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Parents of the victims of other mass shootings, like Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida, have also formed advocacy groups in the aftermath. Meanwhile, Javier Cazares says delving into politics has kept him busy, though his mind is constantly filled with thoughts about his daughter.
CAZARES: We haven’t really properly grieved because we’ve been fighting since Day 1. But we’re sticking together, you know, staying strong. But it’s a nightmare every day.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: A nightmare Cazares says they’ll have to endure while they fight to help prevent the next mass shooting.
For NPR News, I’m Sergio Martinez-Beltran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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