“We are encouraging people around the country to educate themselves on their vote, to get out there and turn voting into more of an act of patriotism than a chore,” Cameron Kasky, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and founder of March for Our Lives, said at a news conference here Monday morning. “This generation is the generation of students you will be reading about next in the textbooks.”
Organizers said the bus tour will register young people at each stop, talking to them about gun reform and whether local candidates support them or have the support of the National Rifle Association. Kasky pointed out that more than four million people turned 18 this year and are eligible to vote in November’s midterm elections.
The stops on the bus tour are targeted: the group aims to register students in areas of the country where politicians are backed by the NRA, and activists also will travel to communities that have been impacted by gun violence, meeting with survivors and victims.
“This issue affects every community, and we’re all fighting for our lives,” said Ryan Deitsch, a Parkland student. “We need to take our communities back from the NRA, and continue this movement. We’ll make our voices heard, register young people to vote, get them to the polls, and change America’s gun policies so that these senseless tragedies stop.”
The bus drive, called “March for Our Lives: Road to Change,” is the latest iteration of March for Our Lives, which was founded by students shortly after the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas. It has led to a wave of activism; in March, tens of thousands of people across the country gathered to demonstrate gun violence in student-organized marches.
March for Our Lives is working to make voter registration its long-term goal. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, students fanned out to register young people to vote at high schools and colleges nationwide. Groups from around the country hosted voter drives during school walkouts in April on the anniversary of the 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School. They are setting up voter-registration tables at gun-control marches and are working to galvanize the nation’s youngest voters around a single issue.
The students have taken particular aim at the NRA and politicians who receive support from the organization, and gun control advocates have started the #votethemout movement to remove those politicians from office. The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Groups including Rock the Vote, Headcount, NAACP and Mi Familia Vota will be working with the student bus tour to support digital and in-person voter registration.
The students who founded the group had planned to spend their summer in typical teenage fashion: going to summer camp or hanging out with their friends. Now, they’re gearing up to ride a bus across the country.
“It’s so much more validating than a regular summer camp. We’re not learning how to tie knots, we’re learning how to fix the government,” said Emma Gonzalez, who has become one of the faces of the student activism that began after the shooting at her school.
Gonzalez said there is a lot of “misconstrued information” about what the students are trying to do, which turns into anger and vitriol. Responses are much different when people are talking face-to-face, she said, and hopes that those discussions can spark dialog and understanding.
“Anywhere we find people who disagree with us, we’ll ask why, and we’ll talk about it. When you talk with people, you actually find out we agree on a lot of things. People say, ‘you’re trying to take away our guns,’ but actually, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to make it safer,” she said. Gonzalez said she is willing to speak about the trauma she and her classmates experienced.
“We all experienced trauma. And I know we’re going to meet people who also experienced trauma of their own,” said Gonzalez, who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Sunday.
David Hogg also graduated Sunday, and planned to take a surfing vacation in California before going to college. Now he’s looking forward to meeting people in big cities and small towns across the country and urging them to vote.
“We want to understand every Americans’ perspective, as many as possible,” Hogg said. “We’re in a democracy, we can’t solve issues unless we listen to both sides and work together.”
Sarah Chadwick, 16, a rising senior, said she’s willingly giving up her usual summer fun — riding horses at a Central Florida dude ranch — to instead tour Florida’s congressional districts. She said meeting people face-to-face is key.
“We’ve already met NRA members. They’re not bad people,” she said. “We can agree, we can disagree, but we can talk.”
Diego Pfeiffer, 18, who graduated from Douglas Sunday, will also be on the tour. Like many of the other students involved, Pfeiffer said he wants to highlight communities where gun violence is a daily fact of life.
“That’s the main reason we’re starting in Chicago,” Pfeiffer said. “Lots of people have their own horrible experiences to share, but they don’t have cameras following them around like we do. We need to give them a spotlight too.”
Pfeiffer, a musician who will be attending the University of Miami in the fall, said he had never been politically active before this.
“I’m still going through with my college plans, but there will always be that little mingle of activism and patriotism, there’s always going to be that little flare in me, knowing that I can make a difference,” Pfeiffer said. “I didn’t care about politics before, I thought other people we would figure it out. Obviously this changed me. We have to do something before it’s somebody else’s problem.”