Charlotte Lowell stands outside the barn scrubbing a bucket. A cold April wind pulls at her curls and a river of rust-gold hens flows around her feet. Lowell, known as Charlie around Chewonki, came here a year ago as a Maine Coast Semester 58 student and stayed through the summer as a farm assistant. Now in her final semester at Andover High School, she’s back for a visit. She’s the Charlie Lowell we knew and loved a year ago, but she’s also different. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School changed her life.
The day after the attack, a voice on the intercom at her school interrupted math class to announce 10 seconds of silence in honor the 17 students who died in Florida. “We paused in our studies,” remembers Lowell, “and then went right back into statistics. I thought, is that it? Is that all we can do at this point? Just ten seconds of silence?”
Lowell brooded, then sent a message out on social media inviting anyone interested to join her the next day for a sit-in in the school cafeteria. “I said, ‘I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I’m so confused. I’m going to walk out of class at 1:00 p.m.,’” she recalls. “I thought maybe five of my friends would do it with me.” Instead, about 800 students participated. They sat on the floor of the cafeteria and talked about their fear, sorrow, and determination to bring about change. (The Eagle Tribune newspaper quoted Lowell describing the event as “an act of civil disobedience,” an apt tribute to Henry David Thoreau, whose work is part of Maine Coast Semester English classes.)
Like most of her peers, Lowell has participated in “active shooter drills” at school since she was six. She’s come of age in the era of school shootings. Still, she refuses to accept this as normal. After the sit-in, Lowell learned that similar demonstrations happened in many American schools that day. She sensed the rise of a big, new, student-led movement.
“There is so much more we can do,” Lowell says of her generation. “Speak out, walk out, connect with legislators who have the power to give communities what they deserve. It falls to youth.”
Lowell’s time at Chewonki helped nurture her belief that she can make constructive change in society. “So much of what I am ties into this place,” she says looking, looking around her. “I wouldn’t be what I am without it.” She helped get Chewonki students to a Maine climate march last May, and remembers the feeling of being “surrounded by joyful, youthful energy in a political space…students learning and growing together.”
Her Maine Coast Semester U.S. history class and work on the farm both helped to fuel Lowell’s commitment to civic engagement. In a blog post she wrote at the end of last summer, Lowell wrote: “It is this that I crave most in the world–solace, strength, connection, joy. At Chewonki, I have found it time and time again, and each discovery leaves me craving more…If I breathe deeply and close my eyes, I can recall the weight of sunlight and work and soft earth. I watch my hands, and although they no longer bear the marks of the farm, I know their potential.”
That same self-assurance helped Lowell organize the March 24 March for Our Lives in Boston with four other students. She handled public relations for the event, which drew about 100,000 people who marched from Roxbury to the State House, listened to speakers, and demanded legislative change.
It was “the most incredible experience of my life,” says Lowell, “a great moment and a heartbreaking moment.” She listened to the chanting rising above the long line of marchers and felt the “energy of youth, together,” surging through the crowd.
Starting the march in Roxbury was important, says Lowell, because “It’s a part of Boston routinely affected by gun violence.” She recognizes that she has better access to media than her counterparts in poor urban neighborhoods. “I am a white girl from the suburbs,” she says, and when white reporters interview her alongside a black counterpart, they often engage more with Lowell, she says.
Working with community activists in city neighborhoods has been revelatory. “The amount of social justice education that I have…acquired in the past month is extraordinary,” she told WGBH in Boston, “and I’m incredibly grateful for it.”
As one of several students from across the country featured on the radio show “On Point,” Lowell explained: “Our message in Boston is very localized because there are issues that affect specifically communities of color more than they affect white communities…We are amplifying the narrative of communities of color who are both disproportionately affected by gun violence and often silenced…when they call for reform.”
Talking about gun violence with students of color has sparked “a lot of critical thinking on my part… a shift in myself,” she says. “There have been lots of moments when I’ve had to step up and check my biases and reorient myself. I have to consciously refuse racism in all its subtleties.” She stresses the need for gun-safety advocates “to show up and establish personal relationships with organizers and work together to amplify their efforts…We’re working to make connections between the March for Our Lives and other community-based initiatives in Boston.”
“We can transcend differences,” she says with a radiant smile. “We are youth.”
You can learn more about Charlie Lowell and Boston’s March for Our Lives by going here: