By KELLI KENNEDY, Associated Press
PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — New Jersey, Colorado, Los Angeles, Raleigh-Durham — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students reel off their upcoming travel schedule at a dizzying pace. This is their new life, traveling the country advocating for gun control, all while trying to keep up with their studies about two months after 17 people were killed in a shooting at their school.
“I’ve been invited to synagogues and churches and colleges and high school walkouts, and it’s so much, and I wish I could go to everything,” said junior Jaclyn Corin, who is part of the core group of “Never Again MSD.” ”It’s the best problem in the world where everybody wants to help us and wants to include us.”
Almost overnight, Corin became one of the leaders in a huge organization that is looking to build on a grassroots movement that spurred hundreds of thousands around the globe to rally for gun reform on March 24. The students’ mantra is “vote them out” — a message that applies to any lawmaker who accepts support from the National Rifle Association or declines to talk with them about gun rights. They’re inviting lawmakers to town halls, with more than 200 scheduled around the country.
They are also trying to register as many teenagers as they can before November’s midterm elections.
At a town hall near Parkland last week, supporters passed out red bumper stickers that called for a ban on assault rifles. Dozens of people were still waiting at microphones to ask questions when the event ended after two hours. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch said another town hall would be held later.
Near the entrance, a sign at a voter registration table let students know they can pre-register to vote as early as age 16.
“Nothing we did on March 24 is going to mean anything if no one goes out to vote in November because that, at the end of the day, that’s where our voices are going to be heard,” said Alex Wind, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Classmate David Hogg, who has received personal attacks from conservatives falsely accusing him of being a crisis actor, is crisscrossing the country visiting Iowa, Tennessee and possibly Missouri.
“I’m going to different congressional districts, specifically ones where there is a politician, either Democrat or a Republican, that is supported by the NRA … I’m also going to a lot of these places where the politicians have called us out, like Steve King,” he said, referring to the Iowa congressman who has repeatedly criticized the students on social media.
King lambasted student Emma Gonzalez for wearing a Cuban flag patch at the Washington march last month.
Some of the students said they’re struggling to find balance as grassroots leaders and students with homework, Advanced Placement exams and college applications. They’ve outgrown an office donated by a Stoneman Douglas parent and are moving to a new, secret location after their past address was leaked to the press. Most of their engagements are now handled by a professional booking agent and a public relations firm.
Many have missed classes. Corin, whose course load includes several Advanced Placement classes, missed an entire week of school before spring break.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed because I’ve always been one to value my academics and now school is kind of becoming on a level playing field with everything else,” she said.
Several students will head to New York at the end of the month to be honored at a Time magazine event after they were on the cover last month. Chris Grady and a few others will speak at an event in Colorado on the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. On top of their travels, Cameron Kasky is juggling the school play and Gonzalez is trying to focus on school work.
The frantic pace can be exhausting, the students said. Deutsch was so booked up last week, he asked a reporter to schedule an interview on Easter Sunday.
The students feel pressured that “If we don’t stay in the media, the media is going to go away,” Wind said.
But they’re also getting help from organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Women’s March, which provides training and resources. Both groups have chapters in colleges and high schools across the country.
“I feel like now ’til midterms is what we’re calling our Phase Two, but there’s going to be a Phase Three and a Phase Four and a Phase Five,” Corin said. “As much as I want assault rifles to be banned, that probably won’t be a reality for another four or six or eight years — or ever.”
The students are keenly aware of the dismal youth turnout in general elections, and that it’s practically non-existent in midterms.
“The youth have been shot down for far too long, both literally and metaphorically,” senior Ryan Deitsch said, citing young voter turnout of less than one in five. “If we can get it to three out of five, we could control and shift every major election to come.”
By KELLI KENNEDY, Associated Press