$10k Scholarship Finalist
Margaret (Maggie) Schaller
I’m amazed how quickly the stage went up. You’d never know they were mopping blood off the streets earlier.
The shooting was at 1am last night, less than a mile from my home. In 32 seconds the shooter killed 9 people, opening fire in the Oregon District on a rowdy Saturday night. But as dusk creeps over Fifth Street, there’s no sign of what just happened-other than this stage, the hundreds of people surrounding it, and seemingly every elected official in the State. The air, hot and sticky, is thick with grief. This downtown, these cobblestones I know so well, have been transformed to a venue of sorrow and anger.
The night is a blur. We hold candles. We cry. At one point, the crowd shouts “Do Something” at the Governor. Minutes later, I see a guy with a backpack and begin hyperventilating, scared another shooting is coming. In the weeks to come, we continue to march, to plead, to grieve. But three years later, Ohio has instead relaxed its gun laws-now you can conceal carry a gun without a permit. It’s easier than ever to purchase a weapon that could murder 9 people in 32 seconds.
And instead of “Doing Something”, there is nothing.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a public servant for nearly five years now. First, coordinating a legal clinic at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, and for the last three and a half years serving as a Legislative Aide for the Dayton City Commission Office. I’ve had the blessing of sitting with many folks in their time of crisis and seeing how our systems work firsthand.
And the truth is, we all want to “Do Something”. But our systems are rarely set for that.
In my home state of Ohio, we’ve seen how a system built on unconstitutional electoral maps prevent communities, like Dayton, from being accurately represented. Instead of equitable access to voting and the non-gerrymandered maps that Ohio citizens voted for, we see a legislature and state government holding steadfast to power. Dayton’s shouts to “Do Something” are lost to a legislative system where elected officials become more extreme to fit their districts, preventing the majority of citizens from being heard.
Public service for me is not about money-which is why every bit counts. I truly, genuinely, want the interests of the people to be represented accurately and fairly. I want peoples’ lives to be healthier, freer, more just, because the electoral system they are in reflects their interests, not those of the few or wealthy. I, perhaps naively, want a democratic system that works better for all. And I am going to law school now because I want to be on the legal team to make that happen.
There are few traces of the Oregon District shooting on Fifth Street these days. But those cobblestone streets still contain our cries.
I still want to “Do Something”. And I know I’m not the only one.
Frankly, there is no greater need in my eyes than protecting and strengthening our democratic institutions and systems. Every issue I care about-including gun violence-comes down to a functioning democracy, attentive and fairly elected representatives, and an electoral system not biased to moneyed interests. We don’t get the change we so desperately want if, like in Ohio and so many other states, elected officials get to pick their constituents and not the other way around. My goal is to strengthen voting rights, support election protection, fight egregious gerrymandering, and ultimately make our democratic systems functional for all.
When looking at law schools, I knew I wanted some place that supported both in spirit and practice public interest-minded students, which Case Western Reserve Law does. But there was something special about touring the campus. I immediately got the sense how welcoming, supportive, and rigorous the environment was, which was exactly what I was looking for. The opportunity to sharpen and expand my skills at Case and stay in my home state of Ohio, which I love so much, was a no-brainer.
I am so grateful for my family, the many mentors I have had over the years, my incredible friends, and the communities I am a part of, especially Dayton. It is a gift to have so much love in my life and I cherish it everyday.
Winning this scholarship is incredibly meaningful. First, I plan to work in public interest which, while critical, is not historically lucrative. So every bit of financial support I can get for that work means a smaller student loan burden. But, more importantly to me, I feel tremendously honored to have been recognized for this essay in particular. Too many people across the United States-and that number grows daily-have been affected by gun violence. There are so many people who want the world to change, for the threat of a random act of violence to not haunt them at every school, every grocery store, every concert, every movie theater, and every night out. I see this essay as honoring victims, survivors, advocates, families, and communities, like mine, that have been impacted by gun violence. I also see it as honoring my hometown of Dayton-we are “Dayton Strong” for a reason. To share a bit of that story is the honor of a lifetime.