Students who launched a youth movement for stronger gun laws after surviving a mass shooting at their Parkland, Fla., high school announced Monday plans for a nationwide tour aimed at registering young voters.
The student organizers of March for Our Lives plan 75 stops in cities around the country and a separate tour that stops in every Florida congressional district. The Road to Change Tour will seek to build on enthusiasm generated by school walkouts and rallies for new gun laws that followed the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people died Feb. 14.
Their aim? Drive up voter participation in the 2018 midterms, particularly among young voters, who tend to have lower turnout rates.
“I think a lot of people have been less excited about voting because they are tired of the political system,” Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky said at a press conference.
“But the thing is, we can fix the political system. Our generation and the many generations that are helping us can change the game. We do not have to surrender to dirty, awful politics. We can make it better.”
Kasky spoke in front of a stage at a public park that became an impromptu memorial to the victims in the days following the shooting. He was surrounded by fellow student organizers, many who graduated Sunday at a ceremony that honored the four senior victims, who should also have been receiving diplomas.
“It’s not just my friends and I from Stoneman Douglas High School,” he said, noting youth organizers in cities around the country. “We are a part of something so much greater.”
Academics who study the gun control movement say that gun rights activists often refuse to consider candidates who don’t agree with them on that issue. But voters who favor stronger gun laws often consider the issue among a list of political concerns when selecting a candidate.
Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland who has written five books on the gun debate, told Education Week last month that the key for student activists is convincing voters who favor tougher gun restrictions to make it a higher priority issue at the polls. They must also convert the energy of young people into votes, he said.
“What happens typically [after a shooting] is that that energy and that sentiment on the gun safety side subsides,” Spitzer said. “Mostly because while most Americans favor stronger gun laws, it’s not a top tier issue for them.”
The push for new gun laws is not unanimous among those affected by school shootings. Some in Parkland, including some victims’ families, have said that an ambitious push for new gun laws is a distraction from more achievable goals, like new school safety measures. Some have championed both new gun laws and new safety efforts.
In Santa Fe, Texas, site of a May school shooting that claimed 10 lives, students were less likely to respond with a push for new firearms restrictions.
I interviewed a panel of student activists—including Parkland students David Hogg and Emma González—at the Education Writers Association Seminar last month, the day before the Santa Fe shooting. You can watch that discussion here.
Photo: Students from Montgomery County, Md., rally in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Feb. 21. --J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Related reading on school shootings and student gun violence activism:
- Parkland Survivors and Other Youth Activists: ‘You’re Going to Listen to Us’ on Gun Violence
- ‘Let the Youth Lead': Student Activists Nationwide Demand Change After Parkland Shooting
- One of History’s Most Famous Student Activists: Why I’ll Be Marching With Students (Opinion)
- Columbine Shooting Survivors Form Pen Pal Group for Stoneman Douglas Students: ‘There Is a Way Forward’
Follow @evieblad on Twitter or subscribe to Rules for Engagement to get blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.