The Ridge

Page 1




Dear Friend, Welcome to the 2021 issue of “The Ridge,” the Blue Ridge Journal’s first magazine! The CONA media team is thrilled that you have decided to turn through these pages that we worked so hard to put together. Before you dive into delegate life during 2021, we wanted to familiarize you with the current state of the world to give you some context as you read our stories. We are currently participating in the second virtual Conference on National Affairs during the week of June 26th through July 1st. As the world continues to open, many delegations are participating in so many different ways. Some states continue to stay totally distanced from one another as they participate from the comfort of their own home. Others have met at a location in their state to participate “in person” at the virtual conference. There are people working again, traveling, and seeing friends without masks. It’s truly a beautiful sight to see. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of hardship and sadness in this world to which we hope has lessened in the future. Right now, there is gun violence, oppression and discrimination for people who are different, and still, a global pandemic. That is why we are here at CONA. Delegates brainstorm ideas to solve the world’s problems and we, the media, draw attention to those solutions, so that we can live in a better world. This magazine is just one example of drawing that attention, and we hope that as you read through this year’s triumphs and tribulations, you will take a second to look at how much society has changed. We look forward to your feedback on what you have read and want you to remember to keep raising those voices! Sincerely, The 2021 Media Team


Trigger Happy America Examining the increased gun violence in America over the past year


The Curious Cosmos A discussion on the advances of aerospace technology


The CONA Collection Featured creative works from CONA delegates

Guns are often ubiquitous within American culture.

Gun violence in the United States has been an

They have been a symbol of defense and freedom

incessant issue for decades. Unfortunately,

for many years since the Revolutionary War

beginning in 2020, this issue peaked with around

when they were used in an effort for attaining

20,000 gun deaths in the country. In comparison,

independence. Firearms seemed to be so important

2019 had about 15,000 deaths due to firearms, and

to these colonial legislators that they even wrote

it has been consistent in that range since 2016. This spike in gun deaths also coincide s with a 50% s p i k e d to la s t in mass shooti ngs in the countr y as opp ose 36 % y b year. Gun-re lated homic ides inc rea s e d

it into our Constitution, but the United States i s o d d for this fact. Only two other countries h have a v e ssuch u c h provis ions: Mexico and Guatemala. provisions:

wn issu es with the R e c e n t y e a r s hav e sho p e r v a s i veness of firearm s. Infamo us mass shootings, increasing homicide and suicide rates

by firearms, and rising firearm possession. While it is seen as a right to many, it is also seen as a looming and ever present danger. Debate over this topic is contentious, but even so, action must be taken or else more lives will be lost.

across 28 major U.S. cities, i n c l u d i n g L o s A n g e l e s , Atlant a, Detroi t and Philad elphia , b e t w e e n J u n e a n d

October 2020. Even as group settings were limited during the pandemic, gun violence still found its way into our cities and our communities. Sadly, this trend was not contained in last year’s struggles. Through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day.

When examining gun-sales, the pattern appears

This issue also seems to affect people with lower

as spikes coincided with events like elections and

incomes and people of color disproportionately.

mass shootings. The year 2020 marks a noticeable

Some experts cite systemic issues long apparent in

spike of 17 million guns purchased, where nearly 5

these disenfranchised communities. These groups

million Americans bought a firearm for the first time

often have a lack of occupational opportunities,

in 2020. As we all know, the events of that year were

access to suitable education, and food and

plentiful and frightening: A pandemic, civil unrest,

healthcare. Also present is a widespread perception

and protests against police brutality. Events such

that police departments have stepped back from

as this move people to find security in firearms.

their responsibilities in response to this year’s racial

However, since there have been incidents of sales-

justice protests, which simply

spikes in the past that coincide with no noticeable

community issues to be solved.

difference in the overall level of violence, it can be argued that the influx of guns is not the cause but a result of the trend.

allows no

“Poor people of color are suffering disproportionately from COVID, suffering from excessive and deadly force from police, and suffering from excessively

Covid losses, economic downturn, unemployment,

high rates of violence. Those are all concentrated

virtual schooling all seemed to have accumulated

on the very same population,” Thomas Abt, the

in the last year for many individuals. “What we

Director of the National Commission on COVID-19

have is compounded trauma,” said Shani Buggs, an

and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ). For this population

assistant professor with the University of California

in particular, the number of compounding trauma

at Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program.

factors serves to show why this community seems

“The pandemic exacerbated all of the inequities we

to be affected the most by this issue.

had in our country — along racial lines, health lines, social lines, economic lines. All of the drivers of gun violence pre-pandemic were just worsened last year.”

Regulatory advocacy groups have been outspoken in their attempts to solve the issue of growing gun violence. One group formed in response to a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 is one of the most vocal groups in the past few years. March for our Lives (MFOL) is an ongoing, student-led activist movement with the goal of “harness[ing] the power of young people across the country to fight for sensible gun violence prevention policies that save lives.” To understand the work and plans of the movement marching into the future, I spoke with the co-state director of this movement for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Ben Bressette.

Sean Ferris: “I wanted to start off [by] asking what

Sean Ferris: “To follow that, I wanted to ask what

your perspective on the recent trend is: If it is

MFOL is doing in particular to combat this, as well as

more alarming than before, or if this is more of a

what you believe should be the proper steps moving

continuation of the issues we’ve had that you guys


have been working to combat?”

Ben Bressette: “MFOL national has been working to

Ben Bressette: “I’d say that, while undeniably

support and uplift local communities through its Aid

connected to COVID-19, all of the trends that we’ve

& Alliance program, which equipped local chapters

seen since the outset of the pandemic relating to

in states like Virginia with the funding and support

gun violence aren’t necessarily new. At first, it was a

to lead mutual aid programs in their communities,

spike in firearm purchases as people panicked when

whether through the distribution of food, or other

the alarms were first sounded in Wuhan, causing

forms of service meant to assist affected community

a substantial number of purchases to proceed by

members in the aftermath of the pandemic. MFOL VA

default without a complete background because of

has been working to ensure that gun violence isn’t

how overwhelmed the federal system was by the

lost in the gubernatorial race this year, and held a

sudden change. Next, it became a spike in homicides

candidate forum in April that centered around our

as people faced unemployment, poverty, and housing

32-page 2021 Peace Plan, which establishes a clear

insecurity. The spike in gun homicides in major

policy framework lawmakers can keep in mind when

metropolitan areas only underscores what we at

seeking to address gun violence and all of the root

MFOL VA, and MFOL as a whole, have been saying

causes that fuel it. As for specific policy solutions,

for a while now, and that’s that there are several

we continue to support an approach to gun violence

root causes inherent to gun violence that can’t

prevention that combines an approach to root

necessarily be addressed through regulation alone.

causes and responsible regulation. A statewide

It strikes me as not a coincidence that the spike in

licensing system, a ban on semiautomatic weapons

gun homicides came at the same time as millions

& high capacity magazines, a ghost gun ban, etc.

of people were struggling to get by. As for the first

are a part of the regulatory approach. Expanding

point on panic purchases, you can look at any major

funding for affordable housing programs, and moving

point of instability throughout our nation’s recent

towards universal healthcare for all Virginians are

history and you’ll likely find that any instability, be

steps that can be taken to proactively address the

it political or otherwise, usually correlates to a

desperation that fuels everyday gun violence, and to

spike in gun purchases. That’s because people in

stem the impacts on perpetrators and victims alike.”

our country view a gun as fundamentally necessary for protection, and that speaks to the ubiquity of American gun culture and the militarization of our society as a whole. That kind of mindset is one that we’re also working to combat, but it’s by no means a new trend.”

Sean Ferris: “Of course it seems like there is so much

Sean Ferris: “Last question I have for you is what

to be done and so much that needs to be, so what

other activist groups and community organizations

have you seen, whether in the federal government

have you seen doing good work around the country

or in any state government, that is promising or you

and in Virginia working towards similar goals as

believe is steps in the right direction?”


Ben Bressette: “Well to start, I think that the Biden

Ben Bressette: “I think that MFOL occupies a very

administration’s plan to increase federal investment

unique spot in organizing spaces as a large gun

in community violence intervention programs is a

violence prevention organization that emerged in the

great start. These are programs run by community

aftermath of a mass shooting at a high school in an

members, for community members, meant to stem

affluent mostly-white suburban area. That means

the cycle of community gun violence wherever it may

that we also have a unique responsibility when it

be prone to start. Before the pandemic, the Northam

comes to working side-by-side with organizations

administration (Virginia Governor 2018-present)

that have been doing the work to end everyday gun

took similar steps to increase funding for these

violence for decades, the kind of gun violence that

programs, but we’d like to see a substantial portion

isn’t as widely-covered as large mass casualty

of the state funding that currently goes to law

events. So because of that, I’d definitely say that the

enforcement & school resource officer programs

Community Justice Action Fund is an example of an

reallocated towards them in Virginia as well.”

organization that has been doing fantastic work on gun violence prevention.”

Mr. Bressette clarifies a course of action many experts are reiterating, and that is to encourage communitybased programs. California-based Advance Peace is a program such as this that has shown positive results. Because of their work with teens before the beginning of the pandemic, Sacramento was on a 28-month run of no juvenile homicides. They provided regular life skills classes, one-on-one counseling, and outings to places such as Universal Studios and sports events. Their work was halted by the pandemic because of the social restrictions imposed. The group emphasized that their work could not be done remotely; in that form it was not nearly as impactful.

In the midst of the increasing violence, many in our government are attempting to make changes. The Biden administration, on Wednesday June 23, 2021, announced their plan. This four pronged plan includes curbing the flow of illegally sold firearms, disseminating federal funds to local law enforcement for both personnel support and investment in community violence intervention programs, expanding summer programming for teenagers, and helping formerly incarcerated individuals with reentry. The $350 billion in federal funds to assist local law enforcement comes from the American Rescue Plan. The funds can be used to hire additional law enforcement officers, or be put towards community violence intervention (CVI) programs. This serves as a middle ground between many on the left who want less funding to law enforcement, but appeasing that by requiring some of the funds be allocated to the programs that have been proven to work. For the youth-summer programs, $122 billion from the American Rescue Plan is being given to schools for this purpose. Since the money being used under these proposals have already been appropriated by Congress, the Administration can implement the plan unilaterally. Unfortunately, the legislative side of the government is slower in their action. Two bills, H.R. 8: The Bipartisan Background Checks Act and H.R. 1446: Enhanced Background Checks Act, to regulate gun sales have been sitting in the Senate since they’ve passed the House. They both lack the 60 vote requirement to cease debate on the bill. If you want to help take action against this new epidemic of gun violence, contact your state and federal officials about the issue. Contact your senator to see if they are supporting the previously mentioned bills, so as to see that they are passed. If the words of Ben Bennette inspired you, visit their national website at and find their peace plan for further information about their plans for a brighter future.









Though it is difficult to explain exactly when or

It is important for us to take a peek into the past

how early humans got started on their fascination

if we want to understand where our world may be

with space, one thing is clear, our curiosity with

headed in the future. Physicist Gerard K. O’Neill’s

the cosmos will never die. Despite the universe’s

landmark novel, The High Frontier: Human Colonies

daunting infinity, humans, from Galileo to Elon Musk,

in Space, was released in 1976. In his novel, O’Neill

have continuously endeavored to understand, and

forecasted the coming of space colonization, and

even explore, space. While it may seem that our

described three spinning habitats, similar to the two

knowledge of the outer world is still very limited,

depicted below, complete with agricultural modules,

considering the sheer magnitude of everything

solar panels, and even gravity. In 1976, most would

beyond Earth, today’s technology is moving us closer

have dismissed these ideas as mere fiction, but

and closer to becoming the masters of space.

if you fast forward to today, thousands of people

Space and exploration have long served as symbols of our bold spirit in the U.S., and it will only be a matter of decades, if not years, before we find out where above the clouds that spirit takes us next.

have already signed up to say goodbye to Earth and live out the rest of their days on the Red Planet. As the conversation surrounding space settlement becomes ever more relevant, experts have raised a number of concerns surrounding the feasibility and ethics of colonizing our solar system.









For one, the prospect of living in space forever can

Nevertheless, these concerns are just theories.

be psychologically and physically challenging for

Advocates of space colonization still argue that it

those who choose to embark on the journey. This is

would be beneficial for humanity. One of the major

especially true considering the fact that exposure

arguments in favor of space settlement is the idea

to UV rays, and other hazards, will be present

that we have just one planet. If Earth is affected

outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Space exploration

by any highly destructive natural phenomenon that

is also a costly venture, and it is more than likely

cannot be controlled, it is likely that the human

that sustaining interplanetary colonies will be

species will go extinct. To prevent this, space

financially burdensome. This poses even greater

colonies could provide a safe haven for humanity

barriers regarding the feasibility of space colonies.

to turn to if Earth must be abandoned. Due to

To expand, the word “colonization” may also raise a

overpopulation, and worsening air quality, skeptics

few questions. Some argue that the ability to claim

are beginning to accept space colonization more

land in outer space will continue the narrative of

widely as an alternative. Others also claim that

Manifest Destiny, and renew the violent, and fiercely

technologies developed for space colonization can

competitive nature of colonization and Imperialism.

advance sustainable development and architecture.

This will spearhead a “second space race” of

This means that even as settlements outside of

sorts. Once just a few nations begin inhabiting and

Earth expand, technology and life on Earth can be

designating territories in outer space, rivaling states

simultaneously improved.

will scramble to join in on the process. Thus, with a lack of regulations, and a desire by every state to be at the forefront of technology and exploration, international conflicts, and war may easily erupt. If this is the case, the U.S. will most likely be caught in the heart of an unpredictable dispute.

As aerospace technology advances, there is still tremendous uncertainty that surrounds the future of space colonies. This year, several delegates composed proposals addressing this issue. Here to answer a few questions on the future of space exploration, we have Hayden Eick, Katie Mead, and Ryan Sorrell.

Katie Mead: My proposal instates property rights

Ryan Sorrell: Yeah, to add on to that, I definitely

on the moon to prevent a space race to all of the

think that, obviously, space colonization will

resources on the moon which is mainly for protection

definitely be a part of that international dominance,

and maintenance and having someone responsible

but the US will definitely be one of the first to take

for what happens there.

steps into that space colonization.

Hayden Eick: My proposal calls for international

What do you think will be the biggest challenge

cooperation between countries, companies, and the

we face in space exploration/colonization in

UN as a whole to essentially put all their efforts in a

the future?

total war style economy to try and get people on the surface of Mars as quickly as possible to avert the next incoming apocalyptic disaster, whether that be climate change, nuclear war, an asteroid, or anything that may befall us.

Ryan Sorrell: I’d say one of the biggest challenges is just, like, we think we look at a model of the solar system, the actual distance between planets is a lot more than we tend to visualize. It would take technology, way beyond what we have today, to

Ryan Sorrell: My proposal was opening up the

get a colony even as far out as a moon in Jupiter,

possibility of creating joint stock ventures between

for instance. That would take centuries, maybe a

privately owned companies and NASA to further

millenia, to actually achieve. And then I think also,

space exploration, and also to expand technological

adapting to each environment, of a different planet


will be difficult because we will have to figure out

Do you think America will maintain its position of international dominance once countries begin settling space? Hayden Eick: I believe America’s position of international dominance has to do with a long history of Imperialism, so if America will lose its position of international dominance, and we can have a more stable system of equity on an international scale-if that can be achieved by space colonization, then I’m all for it. Katie Mead: So, when we look at the Artemis Accords, signed in 2020, the US has the primary lead on that, so that is to assume that the US will take the first step in space colonization.

how to simulate our own environment in a contained space. Katie Mead: Yeah, I would completely agree with that. Just to build off of that, I feel like it’s going to be a lot of a trial and error process. But, the issue with that is that there is not really a do-over you can get after you send someone into space and to a planet. So, I think the most detrimental part is going to be trying to figure out how to replicate the environments in the US and to make sure that we are practicing the most safe practices that we can. Hayden Eick: Ok, I would say that there are two major issues. There are two big, giant, major issues. I mean, obviously, there’s the distance. I’d say, in regards to what is incredibly serious, and in regards to us colonizing space, the big one is probably solar

radiation. Especially in regards to us colonizing

space race, people will go at a faster pace, but,

Mars, the atmosphere on Mars is several times

there’s also the problem of dirty tactics, wars,

thinner than the atmosphere on Earth meaning

fighting, and the point of space colonization, at

that solar radiation is much more likely to give

least in my opinion, is to spread humanity out of

astronauts cancer which is why scientists have

Earth and to as many places as possible, so that

invested in martian lava tubes, which are these giant

if an apocalyptic event were to happen on one

underground tunnels, which will protect colonists

celestial body, such as earth, then it wouldn’t knock

from radiation. However, I think something just as

out all humans at once. It’s like having ten bowling

pertinent, although a little less scientific, is the

pins instead of one bowling pin. If all humans are

concern that rich people will eventually use space

condensed on that one bowling pin, then, one

colonization as a way to “Wall-E” themselves outside

roll will just take them all out at once. However, I

of Earth once it becomes uninhabitable, while lower

think there’s also the thing of, if you want to do it

income people are left behind to die, and that’s

and make it as peaceful as possible, then I think

something that, in regards to space colonization, we

international cooperation would be ideal.

cannot allow that to happen. It’s almost the same, for me at least, as creating AI, in that if you were able to make AI, you would have to give it equal rights as to another person; there’s conditions you have to meet. So, if you want to colonize space, then you’d have to give citizens equal access to it. It can’t be locked behind a 5 billion dollar paywall, like Elon Musk is trying to do.

Ryan Sorrell: Yeah, and to add to that, I know this sounds a bit out there, and it would be very difficult to achieve, but I would hope that a system of government, not tied to any of the governments on Earth would end up forming there, and be able to operate on their own. Even if we were to colonize Mars, we would send communications instantly here, but if we were trying to make communication there,

For our final question, once space colonization

it would take several minutes for our messages from

begins, how should regulations and foreign policy

a government here just to make it to Mars and to

in space best be set up?

come back. So, having a self-sustaining government

Hayden Eick: So, it is interesting because necessity breeds competition, which breeds progress, so

on another planet, not tied to our governments on Earth, I think, would be an ideal.

there’s the whole thing where if you have it as a

After speaking with our fellow delegates, it is evident that we have a long way to go, and many challenges, both technological and social, that we must overcome before a stable space colony can emerge. But once again, as humanity moves closer to the day when some of us can leave Earth behind, these issues become more, and more real. It will be up to our generation to lay the foundation for the future of space colonization and take the lead in establishing unity and cooperation in the cosmos. Only time will tell where, in the universe, people will be by the dawn of the next century.

The CONA Co llecti on In our CONA experiences, we become aware of the incredibly intelligent people we have around us. While we know our fellow delegates are impressive speakers and formidable debaters, we wanted to create a space to feature the lesser seen creative talents. Since our talent show featured dancing, musical, and comedic acts, the next step was to show the poetic and visual arts that our CONA friends have in their repertoire. Let us now appreciate these talents that don’t have a platform in this setting and admire the diversity of our delegations’ passions.

Blue Ridge By: Matt Tobin Another year passed, another proposal Passed and gone A tour de force, a testament to passion Another intent speech General Assembly and Plenary I don’t remember what they said But I remember who said it Another year passed, another conference On the mountain and virtual How nice it is To tune into the Porch chat We are one thousand miles apart And together in our hearts There it is again Another round of debate A con speaker and a pro Refute in chambers and laugh after The chair thanks you And debate continues Up go the hands, there goes the vote There it is again Whether the screens on a door To the porch during sunrise Or the screens on a computer At midnight on a Zoom We are on the Mountain The Blue Ridge Spirit And I am with you

By: Jacob Grant

In Memory of the Blue Ridge Stars By: Ellie Trumpfheller I count them from my seat in the backyard. 1, 2, 3. No, two. That one is an airplane. Give it twenty minutes and it’ll land at Reagan National and someone sitting just as I am in the grass at Gravelly will leave the world for 6-seconds. Like an inverted tunnel when you’re driving on the highway in one of those storms they name after people. For a second it’s quiet and the AC starts to feel Too Cold and you can hear your brother chewing gum in the seat in front of you. You’ll make a joke about his habit, something about chewing 4 packs a day like an outfielder in Navy Yard. And then it’s summer break and you’re in the same car driving in the opposite direction. This time, you’re in the front and your soldier of a mother is still driving after 10 hours of lane changes and bathroom breaks. Interstate 40 is quiet at night and when you pass the exit for Black Mountain your chest pounds with as much yearning as your body-running-on-five-hours-of-sleep will permit. Look up at the stars, your mom says before vanishing into a gas station restroom. You count them from your seat through the sunroof: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. But you could keep going. There is one for every delegate, every laugh, every committee, every argument. One for every time someone says “I am from Florida” and one for each applaud of an author’s intent. Something in you remembers all the times you stumbled over words you scratched down three minutes ago for a speech you only half believe in and how there is nothing the air will do to change them. You watch rain attack the pavement around your car; harsh, but not as harsh as it was to the southern seaboard. You wonder if this water has a name, because it’s June and that’s when they start doing that sort of thing. Recommendations: 1. Look up at the stars one more time before you pull out of the Exxon. 2. Find the brightest one and ask it to name this weather after me. A flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk performs a forward fold and you wince at the futile attempt to overcome. Today feels like the flower but more than anything I know you want to be the storm. Tomorrow, you will be the storm. I hope you never lose your way of speaking like you are the All Father Odin or forget to admire your opponent’s hand when she crushes your argument with a single sentence. And remember how painfully well the stars worked to get us all here; I now beg the moon and the tides to keep me close to you.

Family United By: Allison Potter “Do it, it’s fun” So many people once said There’s everything from a mountain, a soda, and proposals to be read However when a virus struck everything turned to gloom But CONA still shined by way of zoom. From California to North Carolina and Michigan to Alabama, Delegates united with there pants once worn as a pajama. The raise hand button was pushed and voices were heard. Friendships and memories were made online, which may seem absurd. From mounds of delegates on wild apricot, To bonding over porch chats and whatnot, CONA was different but the conference remained And most importantly, the family sustained.

In Committee By: Anonymous Where delegates hit home and change your perspective. Proposals fly by, leaving you breathless. I feel at home, in my own world. At peace. What better place is there To debate with new friends? The docket continues on, delegates passionately Discussing their desires for change. I am from Florida, The family of Alabama, The great state of Massachusetts all blur together. What better place is there To debate new faces? I want to capture this moment of my youth. My pounding heart when a name is called, My unused speeches piling up, And my pride in my fellow delegates Debating so eloquently.

Read / Hear / Watch more great stories at: