Tag Archives: Elana Atlas

Staples Students Plan Afternoon Of Gun Violence Awareness

The Parkland massacre 2 years ago — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Elana Atlas was just a freshman. But she organized a national letter-writing campaign to legislators, and created a website — Action Against Gun Violence — filled with background information on school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

Elana Atlas, at work 2 years ago.

Two years later, the epidemic continues unabated. But — rather than being discouraged, or overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Staples junior — Elana is committed more than ever to doing what she can to making America’s schools and streets safe for everyone.

In the aftermath of Parkland, she joined fellow Stapleites Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren in creating a local high school chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage.

Now, Elana has helped turned it into an official Staples High School club.

She’s sparked a number of intriguing projects. The group is working on an open letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has stalled most gun legislation in that chamber. They’re coordinating with student groups around the country — especially in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky — to get viral social media attention.

Staples’ Students Demand Action and the Westport/Fairfield Moms Demand Action chapter presented a panel on gun violence in schools. Elana was one of the speakers.

Next month, and again in June, the students will commemorate Parkland.

Right now, they’re gearing up for their biggest event yet. On Friday, January 24 (3 p.m., Toquet Hall), Students Demand Action sponsors “An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism.”

Toquet will hum with activities. There will be information about local, state and national legislators’ stands on gun laws; signmaking (with photos, to post on social media); voter registration, and speakers, including lawmakers, studens, and Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, whose parents were killed in 2005 during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store.

The goal, Elana says, is to show that the Westport gun violence movement remains strong — and help people get involved.

In 2018, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. They’re still going strong. (Photo/Ali Feder)

“An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism” is open to all. Elana hopes many high school students will attend, and that parents will bring their children too.

“It will be uplifting — not gory,” she promises.

And very, very important.

(Pre-registration is not mandatory, but it helps for planning numbers. Click here to pre-register.)

Staples Students: “JSA Changed My Life”

Charlie Effman’s first speech at Junior State of America was a nervous, mumbled mess.

Still, the audience applauded loudly.

Participating in JSA has helped Charlie immensely. Now co-president of Staples’ chapter of the national, non-partisan, student-led organization, he has learned about political debate, government, civic engagement, leadership and activism.

Debating ideas, at a JSA meeting.

He’s grown comfortable speaking in public. Last spring, no one told him he had to give an opening statement at the Northeast Electoral Candidate Forum. He nailed it — on the fly.

Vice president Elana Atlas entered high school convinced that everyone was judging her, and her voice was not welcome. Nervous and quiet, she went to her first JSA meeting.

The day before her first overnight convention, she panicked. But she went — and fell in love with it. Debates, speakers, knowledgeable students, fun — it all drew her in.

Convention by convention, Elana progressed from hesitantly asking questions to confidently leading her group.

“It was a place where I found my people,” she now says. “I realized my opinions were valued, and worth sharing.” In fact, she says, JSA has defined her high school life.

Lending support to a JSA friend.

At meetings, members debate everything from whether the US should get involved in military intervention, to whether or not dinosaurs would have been cool pets. They address complex, serious issues without scaring away newcomers.

“Meetings are safe places where students debate, discuss and learn, without being judged,” Charlie notes. “JSA is the perfect haven for young people to form their political understandings and beliefs.”

Convention speakers come from across the country — and along the entire political spectrum. Topics have ranged from free speech on college campuses to immigration. There are also activism workshops on topics like reproductive rights and gun legislation — again, allowing for a wide variety of opinions.

Charlie has written bills for the Winter Congress, clerked in a mock House of Representatives, run for elective office, and served as a mid- and high-ranking bureaucrat on the regional cabinet.

He’s learned to get endorsements, describe his platform, and win over voters. He’s found out how to talk about important issues with people he disagrees with — and how to take action. He’s discovered the highs and lows of politics, while having fun with friends.

Staples’ JSA contingent last year, at the Washington, DC convention.

Elana — now a convention coordinator for JSA’s entire Northeast State — debates “loudly, proudly, and most importantly, respectfully.” She runs meetings where she reaches out to students who remind her of her own freshman self.

“JSA taught me how to speak, and how to listen,” she says. “It taught me about different viewpoints, and allowed me to refine my own. JSA was life-changing.”

Club members attend 3 overnight conventions a year. The next is in February, in Washington, DC. It’s a great opportunity — but not everyone can afford to go.

JSA has set up a GoFundMe page. They’re already halfway there. To help the next generation of concerned citizens, click here.

Staples Students Demand Action

In March, over 1,000 Staples High School students walked out of class. Massed in the fieldhouse, they honored the 17 slain students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and demanded sensible gun legislation.

It was a powerful display of activism. But many Westporters wondered whether the teenage leaders could sustain their momentum.

A month later, a smaller — but still substantial — group of students headed to the high school courtyard. In the afternoon, a few dozen assembled on Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.

Again, their message centered on stopping gun violence.

And again, the question hung: Are these kids in it for the long run?

They are.

Last month, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. (Photo/Ali Feder)

There’s now a Staples chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage. Westport leaders include Elana Atlas, Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren.

The end of the school year is in sight — the busiest time of year. Seniors have already headed off to internships.

But Students Demand Action are in the thick of things. They meet regularly, to strategize and plan activities.

Their first big event is a #WearOrange campaign. That’s the official color of gun violence — because it was what Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore to honor her. She was killed at age 15 — just a week after performing at President Obama’s 2nd inauguration.

On the weekend of June 1-3, the group will paint the town orange. It’s part of a nationwide effort.

“We’re fighting to take back power from the gun lobby,” says Staples chapter co-founder Elana Atlas.

“We would love for the rest of the community to fight with us as we demand action from legislators on a local, state and federal level, as well as businesses and schools to implement common-sense gun reforms. We need to end the epidemic of gun violence in America.”

(For more information, email westportstudentsdemand@gmail.com)

Staples Freshman Battles Gun Violence

The Parkland massacre — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Audrey Bernstein and Kaela Dockray met with Florida survivors, and began speaking out. Over 1,000 students participated in last week’s walkout.

Elana Atlas took to the internet.

She’s just a freshman — though you wouldn’t know it from her activism.

Elana Atlas, at work.

First, she composed 3 letters. One is for Republican legislators. Another is for Democrats. The third is for President Trump.

Though each is different, they share the same message: The founding fathers gave all of us rights to life and security. They did not give anyone the right to an AR-15.

“I am not asking you to ban all guns,” Elana writes. “I am asking you to ban the ones that are not necessary, that aren’t our right to have, the ones that are meant for mass killing. These include all automatic and semiautomatic guns, as well as bump stocks.”

Her letter ends, “We are fed up with thoughts and prayers. The time for change is  now.”

Elana distributed the letters to friends across the country, and asked them to pass it on too. She called them templates, which anyone could revise as they wished.

But she wanted even more people to see her letter — and learn about gun issues.

The result is ActionAgainstGunViolence. The strongly researched, well-presented website, is a go-to site for anyone interested in facts, resources and action.

Elana Atlas’ website includes these heartbreaking texts between Parkland High School student Matthew Zeif and his younger brother Ben.

Elana has collected background information on the epidemic of school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

She even cites all her sources. Her teachers have taught her well.

Now — like students all across this town and country — she is taking everything she’s learned in school.

And turning it into action for her country.

(Click here to visit Elana Atlas’ website.)