Two years ago feels like a lifetime. Before Pulse, I was politically complacent and happy-go-lucky. I was content to spend my life enjoying friendships and navigating my career. I chose road trips over civic engagement and birthday parties over campaign rallies. But that all changed on June 12, 2016. I was washing my hands at a bathroom sink when the first gunshots went off. In a break between rounds, I made a break for the door. And while I narrowly escaped the club, 49 others did not, including my best friends Drew and Juan.
For the past 24 months, I have committed myself to saving this country from gun violence. At first, my involvement felt like a coincidence. I instantly became an unwitting voice for other survivors and victims of mass shootings across America. But as the weeks went on, my voice and message steadied. I railed angrily on a broken political system that would cast aside mass violence as a pop-culture phenomenon. I called out lawmakers that leveraged Orlando's pain to get a leg up on the campaign competition. And I begged for legislation that would stop these things from happening again. In all, I felt an obligation – a responsibility to keep those 49 Pulse victims from dying in vain. I felt challenged to ensure that Drew's voice didn't die on the dance floor with him.
But a political system paralyzed with greed refused to act. The gun lobby has pumped tens of millions of dollars into campaign coffers to ensure that no legislation is passed. While 95 percent of Americans agree on strengthening background checks for firearm purchases, universal background checks remain a pipe dream. In America today, students have taken to the streets because the same failure to act that killed 49 people at Pulse is turning their schools into hunting grounds.
Let's face it: America is not in this predicament because there are two sides that can't agree on anything. We are not here because one group wants to confiscate all guns and the other wants to use children for target practice. We have been fed those lies because in reality, the people who swore to protect us have been too busy worrying about their campaign accounts to remember who signs their paychecks. Is it any wonder that our own Sen. Marco Rubio, whose campaign benefited from nearly $1 million in NRA support, seems powerless to propose simple, widely supported gun safety measures? Or that Gov. Rick Scott, who proudly brandishes his "A+" NRA rating, has seen multiple mass shootings on his watch, been continuously lobbied to rein in Florida's criminally lax gun laws, but conveniently found a way to put more guns in schools?
I could go on and on about the failure of our leaders, but I won't. Because by the time you're done reading this, another American will have been shot. And by the time you lay your head on the pillow tonight, 95 more will be dead. Neighbors, we are out of time. Just as we grieve, so we must act. Just as we walk out, we must speak up. Just as we march, so we must vote. Twenty-four months since Pulse. Twenty-two weeks until Election Day. My friends deserved a future. Gun violence and a broken political system robbed them of that. This year, let's honor them at the polls.