1. What inspired your work as a political activist?
I got involved in advocacy work after my mother survived the shooting at Sandy Hook. I ended up sort of becoming an “accidental activist” and the work became the thing that helped me move forward after the shooting more than anything else did. I simply fell in love with the organizing and advocacy world, with the people working in this space, and it’s become my passion. I think what continues to inspire my work is the brave individuals who are survivors, victims’ family members, or just concerned citizens who feel a responsibility to make the country a better and safer place.
2. What clubs and organizations are you involved in on campus and why?
The two main organizations I’m involved with on campus are the OWN IT summit and Georgetown Against Gun Violence. I feel so lucky and continuously grateful that I found OWN IT my freshman year, because I think it and our team members, the work and the summit itself, have shaped me immensely here at school. The drive and general badass-ness of the OWN IT team and mission is a highlight of my time here so far. I co-founded GAGV last year with two friends, and it’s something I love because it allows me to carry my passion for gun violence prevention advocacy to campus and provides an opportunity to get involved for other Hoyas.
3. How do you juggle all of your commitments and what advice can you give us on learning to say "No" and taking time for yourself?
Saying “no” is hands down the most difficult component of balance that I am still in the process of getting right. Especially for those of us -- and I know nearly everyone in GUWIL probably falls in this category -- who genuinely enjoy the work we do, it’s so easy to put self on the backburner. This goes for any field, really, but one of the first things I was told when I began my advocacy work was that, “the first rule in organizing is you can’t take care of others if you haven’t taken care of yourself.” It’s something I think about constantly, but it’s easier said than done. If you think about it, though, self-care and balance, and saying no to commitments or events or relationships that are simply burdening you, are all investments in your own health and in the work you will accomplish in the future.
I could talk about this for much longer, but long story short, I have found that reflecting on what makes me happy and on a path forward (and what does not) is a good way to prioritize what you can say no to. Also, here is a good resource on how to say “no” in a “respectful” way… unfortunately, I know women feel a responsibility to be available to everyone all the time and saying “no” seems like a rejection. It doesn’t have to be!!
4. What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I think the most rewarding part are the relationships you build with so many different types of people. I have met the best, most intelligent, kind, resilient, courageous people I’ve ever known through this work. Organizers and leaders in our movement or who I’ve met in other aspects (like champions on our issue in Congress) have become mentors to me, and some of my biggest role models in seeing where I want to go with my life. Survivors and victims’ family members are the most brave, resilient friends of mine, and they often are like a second family. It’s one none of us wants to be a part of, but we are grateful to have each other. And I think this work sort of reaffirms my philosophy that the vast majority of people out there are good and smart and strong. We deal with a lot of horrible stuff -- whether acts of gun violence or trolls on social media or elected officials who don’t budge -- but in the end, there is always a light that shines through for us. We always find ways to pick up the pieces and keep pushing forward. It’s a beautiful lesson in humanity.
5. What was it like to meet Amy Schumer?
One word: surreal. I still cannot really wrap my head around the fact that it happened. I can definitely say, though, that she is incredibly genuine and humble. I met her in the context of my advocacy work, as she is a major champion for this issue, and I definitely saw in person that she is speaking out for all the right reasons. She was very deeply impacted by the shootings of two women at a showing of her film Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana this summer. I’m just a huge fan of her comedy and her show, and this only made me admire her more.
6. Who inspires you?
I am so lucky to be surrounded by many people -- especially amazing women -- who inspire me literally every day and who teach me new things every day. That said, my mom probably inspires me the most. She survived the shooting at Sandy Hook, and went back to work as soon as they moved to a new building in the town next door. She was there for her students right away, and was supportive of our family and herself. She’s just the epitome of strength and resilience, and she has never stopped being the kindest person I know. And with all of that, she has also become a survivor outreach volunteer with a gun violence prevention group, so we are a mother-daughter activist pair!
7. What are your future goals?
I’m not sure, actually! I feel grateful to have found this work that I love so much pretty early on. I hope to continue building new leaders and programming with GAGV and OWN IT, and after my time here, I think I’ll probably remain in some capacity or another in the progressive politics or issue advocacy worlds. Being in spaces where everyone comes to work every day with the baseline goal to make the lives of people we will probably never meet better is incredibly powerful and energizing for me.
8. What challenges and criticisms have you had to overcome as a result of being in the spotlight for political activism?
So many challenges and so many criticisms. I think the most applicable here is how I’ve seen my position as an outspoken woman become the main point for the criticisms and harassment I receive from my work. Interestingly, women are definitely leading the new era of gun violence prevention advocacy, and I think this idea of strong, resilient, smart women honestly intimidates a lot of folks on the other side who are adamant to fight any attempts to pass any form of gun reform legislation. Nearly all of the harassment and threats I get online in response to speaking out include gendered name-calling and references to the fact that I am a woman -- that ranges from calling me “Princess” in a derogatory way to implying threats of sexual violence. It’s a difficult aspect of this work to come to terms with, but again, having that network and support system, and having mentors who have dealt with the same challenges is crucial.
9. Why is political activism a female issue and what other political causes are you passionate about?
I always think women should be more involved with activism and advocacy work. I have a problem sometimes when people isolate only certain topics as “women’s issues,” because honestly, if you believe that the personal is always political, then it follows that any problem which impacts our society is also a women’s issue. I mainly work on gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, and general community safety work. These are definitely women’s issues because we are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence with guns, police brutality, mass incarceration, and other impacts of unsafe communities. We are seen as nurturers, and what is more nurturing than advocating for cultural and political shifts in order to save lives?
10. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Oh man, this question is really tough for me. The first thing that comes to mind is probably that the people you surround yourself with will likely dictate the work you do, the values you hold dear, and what you prioritize in your life. Many people have advised me of this in different forms, but definitely from a young age, my mom was always telling me to pick my friends carefully and not to tolerate people who are mean or ignorant towards me. The people you surround yourself should be your support network, in the good and the bad.
Finally, would you be able to type up a one paragraph bio of yourself.
This is my GVP bio I use… if you want one that is more Georgetown-centric and less about my advocacy work, let me know!
Sarah is a sophomore (COL ’18) at Georgetown hoping to double major in Government and Justice and Peace Studies. On December 14, 2012, Sarah's mother survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the aftermath, Sarah began using gun violence prevention advocacy to transform her painful experience into positive action. She founded and served as Chairwoman for the Jr. Newtown Action Alliance to address gun violence in every type of community, through legislative action, cultural change, and bridge building. At Georgetown Against Gun Violence, she leads the group’s advocacy efforts and is working with students at other campuses interested in modeling groups after GAGV.