PARKLAND, Fla. — A day after graduating, a group of Florida high school shooting survivors announced they’ll spend their summer crisscrossing the country, expanding their grass-roots activism from rallies and schools walkouts to registering young voters to help accomplish their vision for stricter gun laws.
David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and about two dozen other students who have become the faces and voices of bloodshed in American classrooms stood together Monday in matching black “Road to Change” T-shirts, holding placards at a park just down the street from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 were killed on Valentine’s Day.
In the months since the shooting, the students have rallied hundreds of thousands across the country to march for gun reform, including a massive turnout in Washington, D.C., in March.
But the young activists say rallies won’t matter unless that energy is funneled into voting out lawmakers beholden to the National Rifle Association this November.
“This generation is the generation of students you will be reading about next in the textbooks. … These are students who are changing the game,” Kasky said. “It’s not just my friends and I from Stoneman Douglas High School. We are part of something so much greater. Students from all over the country are beginning to get up, rally, move in the right direction and realize just how important it is to exercise our freedom.”
He cited dismal statistics noting voter turnout in the last midterm elections was the lowest since World War II. That’s why the students are planning more than 25 stops in a two-month nationwide tour hitting Iowa, Texas, California, South Carolina, Connecticut and others, targeting communities rocked by gun violence or where lawmakers supported by the NRA are running for office.
Kasky said they’re focusing on the 4 million people turning 18 this year.
“Voting has so often become a chore to people; people have so often shrugged it off as something that’s not important,” he said.
Hogg helped organize a massive voter registration drive last week at 1,000 schools in 46 states. He and other students are advocating for tighter regulations on guns, including universal background checks and training for people who own AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles.
The students said they are funding the tour through donations but declined to say how much they’ve raised. March For Our Lives received heavy financial and publicity support from celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney. They’re also backed by a tightknit, wealthy community where parents and residents have lent them office space and other resources to further their caus. Seasoned professionals have also been coordinating publicity for them.
In addition to the national tour, the students are also planning a separate tour in Florida, targeting every congressional district in the Sunshine State.
“We’re working straight through with very minimal breaks because we’re trying to get to as many places as possible, meet as many people as possible,” said Gonzalez, who graduated Sunday. “We’re trying to help stop this before it comes to other places because bullets aren’t picky.”
Gonzalez and Corin said their favorite part of activism has been connecting with students across the country just like them. Corin recently traveled to Kenya to speak about engaging young activists
“What’s really important is the face-to-face communication with other kids and other adults, especially with people that disagree with you,” Corin said. “You actually realize that you have a lot more in common than you thought.”
The tour will begin June 15 in Chicago, where the Florida students will join the Peace March, led by students from St. Sabina Academy. Some of the Chicago students who spoke at the Washington rally and will join the Florida group at a few other stops, Corin said.
She said they’re making calls to the student clubs and groups that held their sibling marches and walkouts across the country to encourage voter registration.
Corin said the activism has helped her heal. “Our school is right down the road. Our lives are completely changed forever, and we are dedicating our lives to this issue,” she said.