The Marjory Stoneman father keeping his son alive through voter advocacy
This would have been the first year Venezuelan-born Joaquin Oliver could have voted in a presidential election.
Now over two years since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the voices of those lost are felt just as deeply today. Especially now, as we approach a pivotal election.
The deadliest high school shooting in United States history happened on Feb. 14, and resulted in 17 deaths — 14 students and three teachers. Shortly after the first anniversary, two survivors committed suicide, a reminder of Gen Z’s trauma brought about by gun violence in schools. Since the shooting, then-Governor Rick Scott (R) signed a bill raising the minimum age for buying firearms in Florida from 18 to 21. The bill also established waiting periods and background checks for Florida gun buyers.
Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell (D) has also introduced legislation to curb the illegal trafficking of firearms, thereby preventing gun violence.
It would require training for federally-licensed gun dealers and their employees to be able to identify fraudulent gun sales, making it a crime for dealers to sell a gun to someone if they know the purchase is illegal.
But it’s not enough so far, because month after month, shootings continue to happen.
Incredibly, 2019 saw over 50 school shootings throughout the year. In 2020, only eight have been recorded, but it’s a strange mercy grated by the coronavirus, as the school year was cut short.
Advocacy for the children’s lives has not stopped either.
Manuel and Patricia Oliver, parents of Venezuelan-born Joaquin Oliver have been fighting gun violence and to change the gun laws in place since their son’s killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
They run “Change The Ref,” an advocacy group that uses urban art as a means to expose the disaster that is school shootings in our nation.
The parents recently teamed up with AI artists for an “Unfinished Votes” campaign, using the technology to bring their son back to life, so to speak, using his image to save lives, and asking people to “finish” the vote he was never able to reach.
This election year would have been the first presidential election Joaquin would have been able to participate in.
In 2018, Joaquin Oliver was shot and killed in the Parkland school shooting.
His parents used AI to bring him back to tell people how voting can prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening to any more families.https://t.co/BpK4zZkkbi pic.twitter.com/4Zj70f7Oid
— Change the Ref (@ChangeTheRef) October 2, 2020
“Every day nearly one hundred more families lose someone they love to gun violence. Every single day. We keep telling people it doesn’t have to be like this. They don’t listen. So, we found a way to bring back someone that no one will ignore,” Manuel Oliver says at the beginning of the video.
It advocates for a voter-advocacy site, unfinishedvotes.com, with the message: “Vote for me because I can’t,” asking ballots to be cast for lawmakers who will fight for laws that could have potentially kept him alive.
“I’ve been gone for two years and nothing has changed, bro. People are still getting killed by guns. What is that? Everyone knows it but they don’t do anything. I am tired of waiting for someone to fix it,” The animation of Joaquin says.
Change The Ref, is not only fighting for Joaquin, it’s fighting for the nearly 40,000 lives lost to gun violence in the United States annually. It’s asking not just for a semblance of justice for the 17 lost voices of Parkland, but also for the thousands who cannot cast ballots now, 25 days out.
Joaquin will not be able to vote during this Presidential election, one regarded to be the most important of anyone’s lifetime. He will not be able to cast his vote for any future gun legislation either or have the opportunity to vote for any Presidential or down-ballot candidates who advocate for gun control.
Throughout 2020, his father has kept his Joaquin’s image alive in many ways. This year, Change the Ref also brought its creative advocacy to the baseball diamond. The Olivers worked with several Major League Baseball teams to put Joaquin’s cardboard cutout in 15 different stadiums.
It’s a quiet, constant, and powerful reminder of what his family has been forced to endure, and that just maybe, had things been different legislation-wise, he could have actually been there in the flesh.