Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Virginian of the week. This week, we interviewed Jordan Joseph, an Arlington-based activist with the Northern Virginia chapter of March for Our Lives.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Jordan Joseph and I am a recently turned 18-year-old from Arlington, Virginia. Soon, I will be headed to the University of Wisconsin, Madison as a Posse Scholar! I am a lover of music, dogs (I have three!), and creativity.
What’s it been like to grow up in Northern Virginia?
Growing up in Northern Virginia has been interesting. Arlington is predominantly white, so I have never been around many people of my own color. When I was little, I didn’t really understand the concept of race and how I was different from my peers. As I got older, I began to understand it, but felt removed from my black community. While there a lot of benefits to living in NoVa, I wish it were more diverse, as I think that has shaped who I am today.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Northern Virginia and what are some of your favorite things to do there?
My favorite thing about living in NoVa is its proximity to D.C. I love being able to take a short metro ride into one of the coolest cities in the U.S. As an activist, it is so easy to organize at the White House or lobby on Capitol Hill. In NoVa, I love going thrifting with my friends and eating out at new restaurants we haven’t tried.
How did you come to be involved with March for Our Lives and what inspired you to get involved?
I became involved with March For Our Lives around the time of the national March. Before that, I was a member of the group Students Demand Action. I was inspired to join the gun reform movement after the Parkland tragedy. When I saw the way the Parkland students used their voices and platform to fight after the tragedy, I wanted to help. This was the first time I was really exposed to people my age challenging older politicians, and I was so inspired by that.
Do you have a specific role in the organization? What does your advocacy work look like on a daily or weekly basis?
At the moment, I am between roles. At the beginning of the summer, I cofounded the new March For Our Lives NoVa chapter. Since I am leaving for college soon, I will be leaving the NoVa leadership team and starting a chapter on campus.
This summer, the main focus has been building membership in the NoVa chapter. I have also spent a lot of my time preparing for school and saying goodbye to friends and family, so I have not spent as much time on advocacy work as I would have liked.
What do you value the most about being a gun safety activist?
The thing I value the most about being a gun safety activist is the power of the youth. People often overlook the power that young people have in politics. While gun violence affects everyone, it has hit younger generations hard. We refuse to sit and wait for the adults to fix things. Instead, the youth are choosing to use their power to fight for change.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge of being a gun safety activist is being young. There are many adults that ignore the youth. Many people don’t believe young people are capable of having intelligent opinions, so we are often overlooked. Adults will step on the toes of young people, or even try to take credit for things we do.
A lot of people from older generations, and even just people 10-15 years older then you, are cynical about achieving any meaningful change. What do you say to them?
I think people need to understand that change isn’t going to happen immediately. In order to produce any meaningful change, we need to be patient. Over time, we’ve had plenty of small victories such as the passage of HR8, the universal background checks bill, in the House. I believe that if we continue to fight and continue to have hope, we can achieve change over time.
Do you have anything you want to say to any elected officials who might be reading this?
I want our elected officials to know that my generation is not giving up until we change the way our country deals with gun violence. People are dying every single day and if you don’t believe something needs to be done, you need to wake up.
A common refrain among those opposed to reforming gun laws is that people want to take away all their guns. What do you say to that?
The majority of the gun reform movement does not believe in taking away all guns. We are fighting to increase the laws and regulations surrounding gun purchases so that our country can finally see a decrease in the amount of gun related tragedies. Gun reform is not about banning all guns and repealing the 2nd Amendment, it’s about keeping people safe by regulating the process of acquiring a gun. We push for measures such as background checks, red flag laws, and safe storage so that people are safe.
Do you have moments where you just want to give up, or feel cynical? If so, how do you get past them?
There are moments when I want to take a break, but I have never felt like giving up. I think it’s important to take breaks in activism for self care, so you can come back ready for anything.
What advice do you have to people who might want to get involved in MFOL or any form of activism but don’t know where to start?
Look for a local chapter! There are tons of MFOL chapters across the U.S. and it’s super easy to join. If your area doesn’t have a chapter, it’s easy to start one. I think the best way to get involved with any form of activism is to show up at an event. If you show up, you can easily get involved with the organization that planned it, or find people there who know of other organizations and groups you may be interested in.
What do you when you’re not at school and engaging in activism?
When I’m not in school or working on activism, I love just spending time with my friends. I enjoy exploring D.C. and finding places I’ve never been. I also love relaxing and watching reality TV with friends and family (Love Island and Bachelor in Paradise are our favorites).
Is there an accomplishment/success story you have that you’re particularly proud of?
My proudest moment would have to be the first time I spoke up about something I was passionate about. I was very quiet and shy throughout elementary and middle school. In 8th grade, I started noticing how sexist our dress code was. At the end of the year, I wrote a speech and spoke in front of my entire grade in the cafeteria. I’m proud of that moment because I put aside my fears to fight an unfair system.
Do you know what you want to study in college?
I am mostly undecided in my major, but I am interested in studying sociology and psychology.
What’s the best book you’ve read / show you’ve watched / movie you’ve seen / song you’ve listened to lately?
I’m currently reading the book Beautiful Boy which I really like. My favorite show is American Horror Story (season 3 is the best!). I’m horrible at picking favorite songs, but if I had to choose I would go with Boy Bye by Brockhampton, because it’s their most recent.
This interview has been lightly edited.