Student activists are flexing their muscles at levels unseen for decades, demanding that state, national, and even global leaders take action to address gun violence and climate change.
But while young people have gathered by the millions in high-profile protests and commanded widespread media attention, they can still struggle to be heard by policymakers.
A new class of student advocates has joined the national advisory board of Students Demand Action, which is affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control advocacy group founded by Michael Bloomberg, the billioniare businessman and former New York City mayor who recenlty joined the Democratic primary campaign for president.
Among them is Alanna Miller, who like so many young people got involved in gun control advocacy work following the mass shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 in Parkland, Fla.
Miller, now a freshman at Duke University, helped organize a student walkout at her high school in Dallas as part of a nationwide protest of gun violence in the spring of 2018.
Education Week asked Miller if it’s been tough to be a student gun reform advocate in Texas, where support for Second Amendment rights runs deep.
Miller said she’s surprised—and heartened—by the common ground she has found with many in her community.
It’s policymakers that Miller said she’s struggled the most with trying to communicate her message.
EdWeek: What have you found difficult about talking to lawmakers?
Miller: Sometimes, there is concern with things that to me don’t seem to matter. This wasn’t with Everytown, this was independently with a group from my school, we were lobbying for violence intervention programs, and there was so much talk about, ‘how much does that cost?’
... [I]t just seemed bewildering to me that we spend so much on other things, what’s so bad about investing in our community to prevent violence? Sometimes with lawmakers, they can just seem so untouchable.
EdWeek: Speaking as a student advocate, do you feel that people are listening to you? Be it lawmakers or regular people or media? And have you seen a change over time?
Miller: I think definitely. Our organization has grown so, so much. When I joined there was one pilot group, and now we have over 350 student chapters all over the country that are made up of dozens of students each.
I definitely think we’re a force to be reckoned with. ... Part of it is that we’re a new class of voters. A testament to that was last year’s midterms [which] was my first time voting, and this definitely shaped what I went into the polls thinking about. I think that’s pretty much true for all of us involved and for students across the country.
Voting is taken very seriously, and voter registration is ubiquitous now—on college campuses. Our group registered tons of students at our high school, so I think definitely this has felt like a difference to me.
EdWeek: Do you think these different movements—gun control and climate change are the two big ones—have fed into each other, or are they cannibalizing each other with too much protest flooding the airwaves? Has it been helpful or hurtful that you have these two big youth movements at once?
Miller: I think it’s a good thing. We’re both focused on change. And I think we have maybe a different hopefulness in our system than people who are older than us in that we still believe that if we are loud enough, organized enough, and effective enough, and we vote when it’s time, then we can really make impacts.
I think we both have an idea that has placed pressure on lawmakers and made them a little scared, honestly, which I think is a good thing.
EdWeek: At EdWeek, we’ve been reporting on gun violence that has taken place at school-sponsored events such as football games. It’s something that hasn’t gotten the attention as say a shooting that happens inside a school. Do you think the narrative is too narrow, the focus on school shootings, as somebody who is advocating to bring attention to mass shootings as well as daily gun violence?
Miller: I don’t want to minimize anyone’s experience at all, but it’s very true that gun violence takes so many forms and the reality is that mass shootings [are] a very, very small percentage of that.
So much gun violence doesn’t make the news, like suicides and domestic violence, as well as city gun violence, and I think it’s important to highlight those communities as well because they’re suffering just as much from the impact of gun violence. It’s not just every couple of months there is this huge headline, it’s every single day 100 Americans are killed and hundreds more are wounded.
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- ‘Let the Youth Lead': Student Activists Nationwide Demand Change After Parkland Shooting
Photo: Alanna Miller —courtesy Students Demand Action
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.