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How this terrible procrastinator led Seattle’s March for Our Lives

Rhiannon Rasaretnam scribbles notes for her speech for Seattle's March for Our Lives before she goes on stage.
KUOW PHOTO/ALIYAH MUSALIAR
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Rhiannon Rasaretnam scribbles notes for her speech for Seattle's March for Our Lives before she goes on stage.

In March, thousands of students took to the streets of Seattle to protest gun violence. March for Our Lives was organized by everyday high school students who aren't Nobel Peace Prize winners like Malala. My friend, Rhiannon Rasaretnam, is one of them. 

When I saw Rhiannon behind the stage, seconds before giving a final call for action at Seattle's March for Our Lives, she was hastily finishing up her speech.

Despite only getting two hours of sleep, she decided to share what was truly exhausting to her with the thousands of marchers: "We are tired of doing homework, but we are even more tired of the inaction by our elected officials who haven't had the guts to create meaningful legislation that keeps our schools and communities safe."

Aliyah created this story in KUOW's RadioActive Youth Media Advanced Producers Workshop. Find RadioActive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on the RadioActive podcast.

Whenever I see Rhiannon, she is exhausted. Her hair is disheveled, and her undereyes are dark. 

I see her balance clubs, online classes, and still be able to accomplish activities, like leading her first march. 

She's been like this since we first met in middle school. 

"I remember at my old elementary school," Rhiannon told me. "I would have to wake up at 6 in the morning to do these homework assignments that I didn't even finish the night before."

This is how Rhiannon is. Her mom, Anh Thu, has a lot to say on the subject. 

"The whole not being able to wake up in the morning is because she had to stay up super late," Ann said. "Doing everything she may have had the time or should have being doing days before."

Even though Rhiannon already has too much to do, she took on coordinating Seattle's March for our Lives.

"I saw that there was one being planned for D.C.," Rhiannon said. "So I went onto Facebook to sign up for the one that was happening in Seattle. I saw there hadn't been an event created yet, so I just made one so people could know when and where it would be happening."

Rhiannon began to plan a march for thousands. To get everything done, Rhiannon had to search for pockets of time between her classes on a commute from Renton to Seattle. 

"On the light rail into Seattle," she said, "I would be working on my homework, and then I would do the meeting, and then on my way back, I would try and finish my homework. I would just sit in my car sometimes, even after I had pulled into my driveway, and have another 30 to 40 minute meeting. The march squeezed into all the open spaces of my life."

[asset-images[{"caption": "Texts between the author and Anh Thu, Rhiannon Rasaretnam's mother.", "fid": "144976", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201805/IMG_9043.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW PHOTO/Aliyah Musaliar"}]]Her mom had to start employing some new tactics to wake her up. 

"We have this landline set up," she said. "The old-fashion phone that rings really loudly in her room at the end of her bed. She has to physically get up and walk to that phone, pick it up. That way, she'll stay awake. Otherwise, she'll shut her phone off, shut her alarm off, and go right back to sleep." 

And then finally, the day of the march arrived: the culmination of Rhiannon's hard work. 

It's exhausting, but Rhiannon finds energy in this work — and knowing she wasn't alone. 

"At that moment, students around the country were also working super hard to organize marches in their cities," she said. "Even if we were physically tired, I don't think any of us were mentally tired." 

Rhiannon Rasaretnam is proof that to make change, you don't have to be organized, you just need to be dedicated. 

"This march isn't the end, it's the beginning. On March 14, we walked out of classes. Today we marched through the streets of Seattle. In November, we'll vote, and in a few years, you'll see us running for office."

[asset-images[{"caption": "The crowd at Seattle's March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018.", "fid": "144977", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201805/IMG_8818.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW PHOTO/Aliyah Musaliar"}]]This story was created with production support from Mary Heisey and edited by Marcie Sillman.