Vote Everywhere Ambassadors Discuss Youth Activism Around Gun Reform

The country is watching as the next generation of young civic leaders mobilizes around gun reform. Parissa Ballard, the co-author of Impacts of Adolescent and Young Adult Civic Engagement on Health and Socioeconomic Status in Adulthood, recently said that “having meaningful opportunities to volunteer or be involved in activism may change how young people think about themselves or their possibilities for the future.” Ballard, who leads the national research study, is one of many who has been watching how the activism of youth shapes the country and their lives.

Pictured above left to right: Katherine Liming (University of Dayton), Adam Reynolds (University of Chicago), and Leivis Rodriguez (Miami Dade College- North)

We recently sat down with three Vote Everywhere Ambassadors: Adam Reynolds from the University of Chicago, Katherine Liming from the University of Dayton, and Leivis Rodriguez from Miami Dade College, to discuss youth civic engagement in the midst of the recent shooting in Parkland Florida, where 17 innocent lives were lost to gun violence. The discussion highlighted how youth engagement is constantly evolving, why students should continue to stay involved, and how the legacy of past youth movements has made way for this moment in American history.

The tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has galvanized student activism and advocacy around gun control across the country. Local walkouts, pleas to elected officials, and community marches have garnered national attention. On March 14th, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, students, and teachers held a nationwide walkout, where they left class for 17 minutes, one minute for every victim. Another national protest, dubbed “March for Our Lives,” occurred this past weekend on March 24th.

1. Why do you think we are witnessing such an increase in civic engagement, specifically from students and youth, now?

ADAM (UCHICAGO): I think that the current political culture in the country right now is convincing young people that they need to be the change they want to see in the world. On our campus, it is clear that young people do not feel that their views are being reflected in our politics, whether this is on issues of climate change or gun reform it is not surprising that students are taking a stand on their own.

KATHERINE (UDAYTON): This activism is the direct result of the student-led efforts by the Stoneman Douglas students. They have demanded that action is taken to protect the lives of everyone in this country, but especially the lives of students attending schools. I think these students, and young people alike, are frustrated with the inaction by elected officials on issues that are important to us. So we are learning the ways to push the system and work outside the system to amplify our voices and make our demands heard.

LEIVIS (MDC-NORTH): I believe this increase in civic engagement is due to the fear that if students don’t intervene, violent acts like Parkland and many others will continue to occur. The cycle of thoughts and prayers with no action will repeat itself like it has many times over.

2. Recently, various Vote Everywhere teams developed their own method for students on campus to advocate for sensible gun regulation. Can you tell us a little bit about how Vote Everywhere on your campus has gotten involved and why you decided to join this youth-led initiative?

ADAM (UCHICAGO): On our campus, students have been involved in crafting an Open Letter to President Obama requesting a new organization to counter the influence of the NRA. The link to sign the letter is here: Our aim is to start a conversation about the money and influence that is blocking support for common sense gun reform.

Katherine (UDAYTON): At the University of Dayton, we joined other student groups who organized the walkout to stand in solidarity with Stoneman Douglas students on our campus on March 14th. We offered voter registration at the event. This particular issue and organizing were led by them, we simply supported their efforts by adding the voter registration component.

LEIVIS (MDC-NORTH): On our campus, Vote Everywhere hosted an anti-gun violence rally to stand in solidarity with the nationwide walk out as well. We wanted to start a dialogue on what we, as students, can do to help the effort of the #neveragain movement. I decided to get involved because I was fed up with the non-actions our politicians when it comes to gun violence and the death of innocent children.

3. Empowering students to get engaged is an essential component of fulfilling The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s mission of “making young voices and voters a powerful force in democracy.” How does writing to representatives and corporations, as well as using the power of the vote, amplify student voices in the national gun reform conversation?

ADAM (UCHICAGO): We have seen in the gun reform debate that a small group of active citizens has been able to obtain undue influence over our government. We hope that by amplifying other voices and leading students towards the power of speaking out that we can progress towards a future where a few voices don’t control debate in this country. Taking advantage of our right to engage in the political process by calling or writing to our reps, voting in every election, or speaking out publicly in support of our views is the best way for every member of our generation to build a government reflective of our ideals.

Katherine (UDAYTON): By writing to your representatives and corporations, you are making your voice heard on the issue of gun reform. It is through collective action and collective voice that this can really start to have an impact on their decision making. That is why this movement has been largely based in, from the beginning, organizing and mobilizing peers.

LEIVIS (MDC-NORTH): These actions gives students a seat at the table not only when it comes to gun reform but to the future of policymaking in general. The change that these students have caused already serves as an example that young people can make a difference.

4. The gun policy debate has become an incredibly polarizing topic on Capitol Hill. It has been framed as a “Democrat versus Republican” issue, with one side fighting for stricter gun regulation and another side championing Second Amendment rights. Why do you believe gun reform is a non-partisan issue? What can students who don’t currently attend a Vote Everywhere campus do to get involved?

ADAM (UCHICAGO): One of the beautiful things about our constitution is that it leaves room for interpretation in ways that have allowed our country to adapt to the many changes of the 21st century. When it comes to gun reform this ambiguity leaves space for individuals on both sides of the aisle to advocate for their gun reform positions. I believe that there are common sense possibilities which Americans of every political persuasion can advocate for that do not trample the second amendment. Capitol Hill will always tend towards partisan politics, but that should never prevent students from standing up for solutions that make sense to them at the ballot box, on the phone, or through events near their campus. Whether they are on a Vote Everywhere Campus or not, political involvement is always just a phone call or email away.

LEIVIS (MDC-NORTH): A person does not have to be of a certain political party to want to prevent attacks on innocent lives. Students who don’t currently attend a Vote Everywhere campus can register to vote, even online in some states, or can still write to their elected officials to have their voice heard by their representative.

5. Many have compared the increased student activism of today to that of the Civil Rights Movement, where youths were at the forefront of protest and civil outcry. Andrew Goodman is remembered for his courage, a young college-aged student who stood up for what he believed was right in the midst of controversial political debate. How do you believe the gun reform movement relates to his legacy and the goals of Vote Everywhere?

KATHERINE (UDAYTON): Like Goodman, young people have lost their lives because of this issue. Gun violence is an issue that affects everyone, whether directly or not. The call for gun-reform has been spearheaded by young people and has brought people from all walks of life together to fight an injustice together. Vote Everywhere is about empowering young voices, and I think for many, gun reform is an issue where young voices have been valued and have created small ripples of change.

ADAM (UCHICAGO): The courage to challenge the status quo is one of the great advantages of youth. This courage has manifested itself year after year in actions that require tremendous idealism, often in the face of nearly insurmountable adversity. All too often, it is up to young people to bring this idealism and energy to a world that is reluctant to open its eyes to the possibility of change. Decade after decade we have discovered that young people are up to this task. We have seen students stand up all across the country in recent weeks spurred by a rejection of violence and driven by a belief that we can have a better safer world. The legacy of people like Andrew Goodman reminds us that even in moments of tremendous despair, the movements that will recognize the future we are fighting for are being born every day.

About the Author

Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.