The Parkland Students Are Embarking on a Nationwide Summer Activism Tour
The day after 788 diplomas — four of them posthumous — were awarded to the graduating seniors of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the students of the March for Our Lives movement will announce in a press conference Monday that they will soon embark on a nationwide summer bus tour aimed at raising gun control awareness and registering voters in advance of the midterm elections this November.
Beginning June 15th at the Peace March in Chicago, the tour – dubbed March for Our Lives: Road to Change – will make 50 stops around the country over the course of 60 days. A separate tour led by March for Our Lives activists will make stops in all 27 of Florida’s congressional districts. Both tours will focus on registering young people to vote and educating the community about where their candidates stand on gun reform, and which of them have ties to the NRA.
“After we had the march, our thought process was, ‘Now that everybody knows what’s going on, how do we actually get them to do something and act on what they now understand and feel?'” Stoneman Douglas junior and March for Our Lives activist Alfonso Calderon tells Rolling Stone. “That’s why we decided that we wanted to be face-to-face with different people from all parts of the country, many of whom are underrepresented. Those are the people who are really going to make a difference in these votes, which are going to save lives.”
On March 24th, a group of students who survived the February 14th shooting that left 17 dead at Stoneman Douglas organized the March for Our Lives demonstration that brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Washington, D.C. – and well over one million to simultaneous demonstrations across the United States – to march in support of sensible gun reform. It was one of the largest protests in American history, and according to some crowd size estimates, the largest political demonstration to ever take place in the nation’s capital.
The Road to Change tour will follow a busy few months of activism. After the march, the movement brought the issue directly to lawmakers in April with the nationwide Town Hall for Our Lives, in which students organized town halls to discuss gun reform with their representatives. In May, March for Our Lives teamed with HeadCount to hold a day of action for voter registration. The Road to Change tour will likewise seek to inspire young people – more than four million of which will turn 18 this year – to head to the polls in November. “Most of these elections are going the way they’re going because young people simply are not voting,” says Calderon. “Our goal is to get a working democracy that actually represents its constituents.”
Outside of organizing events, the leaders of March for Our Lives have taken an aggressive approach to promoting gun reform on social media, using Twitter to call out the NRA – as well as the corporations and elected officials with ties to the gun group. Delta, United Airlines, Hertz, MetLife, Symantec and several other companies have suspended their partnerships with the group, largely in response to online campaigns mounted by the students. Most recently, activist David Hogg organized a series of “die in” protests at the supermarket chain Publix, which had donated money to a Florida gubernatorial candidate who supported the NRA. Publix later announced it would suspend all campaign donations.
The movement has also brought about legislative action. In Florida, a state known for its lax gun regulations, Governor Rick Scott signed into law a $400 million gun control bill that raised the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, banned bump stocks and imposed a three-day waiting period on gun sales. Florida is also one of four states to pass a “red flag” law since the February 14th shooting, allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from people found to pose a threat to themselves or others. In the week leading up to the Road To Change tour announcement, the California Senate approved a measure raising the minimum age to buy long guns to 21, and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a law banning bump stocks. Though this such legislative progress is a start, March for Our Lives has more ambitious goals for gun reform. The group has called for universal background checks, the creation of a searchable database of gun owners, funding for the Centers for Disease Control to conduct research on gun violence, banning semi-automatic assault rifles and other measures.
The biggest chance to enact change will come in November, and the bus tour will allow March for Our Lives to continue to stoke discussion throughout the summer while honing in on specific communities throughout the United States. “Some of [the stops] are going to feature larger public speaking events, but we’re also going to sit down in person with kids and go to church events and lunch and breakfast events with local leaders,” explains Adam Alhanti, another Stoneman Douglas junior and March for Our Lives activist. “We really want to get face-to-face with the people of this country and talk to them about how they can get involved and how they can empower others.”
Though the group will not officially endorse any candidates running for office, they plan on “absolutely” calling out candidates who are receiving money from the NRA and have regressive views on gun reform. Alhanti acknowledged that when the movement first started he didn’t think they had the power to take on a group with the backing of the NRA, or the politicians on their payroll. But after seeing all they’ve been able to accomplish in the months since they mobilized, Alhanti, Calderon and the rest of the Stoneman Douglas survivors-turned-activists are beginning to embrace their power to change. As Jimmy Fallon said during a surprise commencement address delivered at the high school’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, the students aren’t the future, they’re the present.
“What I’ve learned the most from going around the country and seeing tragedies happen over and over again, and really seeing the human spirit, is that we will always overcome,” says Calderon. “I’ve realized that no matter how bleak and dark and sad things may seem, it’s never over. I thought my world was over on February 14th. I thought it was over after March 24th. But the truth is, I’m just getting started, and I know that for every single other person affected by gun violence, or racial discrimination, or any issue that seems like it may be the end of the world, it isn’t over. We’re coming, and to the people who think it isn’t happening, they better have their eyes peeled for this summer tour.”