Student activists across the country are ready to fight for solutions to gun violence during the March for Our Lives on Saturday, which was organized by students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. One of the ways students are preparing for the march is by making sure that marchers can also vote — or are at least ready to vote when the time comes.
Marlena Tyldesley, a 17-year-old high school junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is sending politicians a message and mobilizing young people to be politically active by raising money to make and distribute stickers that display the year young people can vote. When students come to the Washington, D.C. March for Our Lives event, many of them may be wearing her stickers.
She began organizing after she had a conversation with her family about the student-led movement to end gun violence. A family friend sent the family a check in the hopes that she would use it to fight for gun control and they started throwing around some ideas.
“The idea came up that we need a way to show politicians that we’re coming and my dad said, ‘Why don’t you just get a sticker with the year you can vote. That’s pretty simple,’” Tyldesley said. “And it’s not self explanatory, so it forces someone to come up and say what is that? And you can say well this is the year I can vote. Watch out.”
Marlena Tyldesley. (CREDIT: Courtesy of Marlena Tyldesley)
Tyldesley added. “There are so many of us and these policies will affect us for a long time, so I’m definitely for voting and getting disenfranchised people to vote. People need to know how to vote and they need to know how to sign up …That is the next step.”
Tyldesley is working with 20 other students at her school, some of whom participated in the walkouts, to make sure the stickers are distributed to other schools. After Tyldesley started a GoFundMe page and tweeted out the link, Montgomery Students for Gun Control Legislation tweeted it and soon, she raised $2,000. As of Friday morning, she raised $3,515 toward her $8,000 goal. Because the response was so swift, Tyldesley still had to work out the details of how to make sure stickers got to the right people, but her friends may drive around to schools or mail them out.
Tyldesley, who participated in the March 14 walkouts to protest gun violence, where students participated in a die-in in front of the White House, said “I love the idea of [Marjory Stoneman Douglas students] opening the paper and knowing they have support from the nation’s capital. I think we have a responsibility living here, close to the nation’s capital, to get involved.”
It’s not just students in the nation’s capital talking about the importance of voting. In Philadelphia, students organizing the march and young people working with local political groups are trying to make sure people register to vote while they attend the march. Organizers are working with the Philadelphia Young Democrats and a group called HeadCount, a nonprofit that usually stages voter registration drives at concerts to reach young people. The march will start at 10 a.m. in front of Independence Hall in Old City Hall and then marchers will head to Lombard Circle at Penn’s Landing for a rally. Before the march, there will be a gathering at Independence National Historical Park, and there will be voter registration efforts there as well.
Andre Del Valle, president of Philadelphia Young Democrats, said members of the group will go out and move throughout the march to make sure people are registered to vote and if they can, they will get people registered right there.
“We want to make sure that now that they are engaged and paying attention, here’s what we’re doing to get involved. Here’s how we trying to fight against the NRA,” Del Valle said.
Del Valle added that for Philadelphia students, gun violence is an everyday problem and that young people have asked him whether he would be asking them questions about gun violence if not for the activism of students in Parkland, Florida.
“We have shootings every day and it doesn’t get covered every day in the news because it’s just that many shootings,” Del Valle said.
In the long term, there are less shootings, but they are still too frequent. Shootings have declined since 2006, but the homicide rate increased in 2017. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, there have been 31 school shootings in 2018, defined as any instance in which a gun is discharged on or near school property.
Tamir Harper, an 18-year-old senior at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia who organized walkouts at his school, will be helping with voter registration efforts at the march. Harper said he and other students helped organize a voter registration drive during the walkouts. Harper is also helping students write letters to political leaders and has helped organized panel discussions about how they can get involved in local government and how to build coalitions for their activism.
Harper is going to be working with Del Valle to make sure young people are registered to vote at the march.
“We’ll see a lot of folks from Generation Z get very active in politics. Millennials started the movement, but I believe Generation Z will carry that movement and speak to politicians who aren’t doing their jobs and ensure that high voter turnout isn’t just for a presidential election, which is exciting,” Harper said.
Tamir Harper holds a sign during the walkout on March 14. (CREDIT: Courtesy of Tamir Harper)
Harper added that in Philadelphia, students have been politically motivated and organized long before the school shooting in Parkland, but that Parkland students have done a “phenomenal job” to mobilize students.
“Black and brown students have always been mobilized because we’ve seen gun violence in our communities very often. We read about gun violence. We are still grieving lives of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and the other folks who were shot and killed for being Black in America,” Harper said. “So I think we have always been mobilized but I think the presentation has been different for the mobilization of our groups. But we are happy to stand with Parkland to make sure we have common sense gun laws.”
Harper said Philadelphia students are very opposed to the idea of arming teachers and are more interested in making sure their schools are well-funded and have after-school programs, counselors, and the right technology.
“When we start ensuring the safety of schools and not putting metal detectors in schools — metal detectors in urban schools do not provide greater safety — but when we start investing in educators and in counselors and technology so students can provide innovative solutions to the problems in our country, then we can begin really begin performing,” Harper said. “But arming teachers is just like putting a band-aid on something that requires surgery. It’s pointless, it won’t work. It will continue to fail.”
Philadelphia students gather during the walkouts on March 14. (CREDIT: Courtesy of Tamir Harper)
Students in Montgomery, Alabama are also working on voter registration efforts. Ashley Causey, an 18 year-old Helena High School senior, has taken the lead in organizing the March for Our Lives Birmingham. Causey got involved after she began searching for Facebook groups for the march after the Parkland shooting. She found a group created by two women and helped get more students interested in joining the group. Soon, the women decided Causey should lead organizing for the march, since it was students who led the movement in Parkland. People will gather at Railroad Park in Birmingham for the pre-march rally at 2 p.m. that will last an hour and march around the general area. Causey said there will be organizations at the march to help with voter registration, such as Greater Birmingham Democrats and Forward Alabama.
“The most important thing is to register to vote so they can vote for the people who actually care about this issue and are going to do something about it,” Causey said “Not everybody will be eligible to register but we’ll still have information there for them too, like who to call to get something passed or not get something passed so they can still make change with their legislators.”
Causey said that her school facilitated a conversation about the recent death of Courtlin Arrington, who would have turned 18 in April and planned to study nursing. Arrington was shot inside a classroom earlier this month. Police charged a 17-year-old student, who also shot himself in the leg, in her death.
Causey said she was relieved when state lawmakers decided to revisit the issue of arming teachers during the next legislative session. Alabama lawmakers were considering a bill that would allow schools to give some teachers firearms with training and approval from local officials. She said students organizing for the march are very much against the idea of putting more guns in schools “than what has already happened.” She said that she and other students are in support of a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy an AR-15 or similar rifle.
Ashley Causey (center) with other student activists. (CREDIT: Courtesy of Ashley Causey)
Students say that when they talk to people who say they don’t support their efforts to reduce gun violence, they usually find out they agree on a lot more than they initially thought.
Tyldesley said that among students marching, “There is unification around the idea that something needs to be done,” but that she talks to people who disagree with her ideas on gun control.
“I’m not anti-gun and I think where the distinction comes in is I’m totally for you having a gun as long as you are willing to go through the process of having a background check and making sure that we’re safe when you have a gun in your hands,” she said. “Most of the people I speak to are like, ‘You know what, that’s legit, I’m fine with that.’ I rarely encounter people who say, ‘No that is ridiculous. I will not have a background check.’”
Causey said her family is mostly pro-gun and own guns, but when she talked to them about gun control policies, they usually agreed on what needs to be done. Causey spoke to ThinkProgress about getting guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, making sure that anyone on the no-fly list, a terrorism watch list, is not able to purchase a gun, and a ban on semi-automatic rifles.
“When it comes down to it, there are so many people with different views and political parties and we all think we’re so different,” she said. “My entire family is extremely pro-gun, all gun owners from my grandparents to my sister, and I’ve sat down with them to talk about these basic things and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we actually agree on this.’”