By Nataleigh Noble
After the February 14, 2018 massacre that took the lives of 14 students and 3 teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student survivors of the mass shooting teamed up with young activists across the nation to promote stronger state and federal gun control laws.
On October, 19, 2018, Parkland activists Alex Wind, David Hogg, and Emma González spoke at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, Vermont.
The students are determined to raise voter registration rates. This summer, the students completed the March for Our Lives: Road to Change tour, with the goal of registering youth to vote. Now, several of these students are back on tour to promote their book, Glimmer of Hope, and once again encourage young Americans to get to the polls on November 6th.
“I think a glimmer of hope is what we really want our movement to be, because after February 14th, everything just looked so bleak,” Wind said at the event. “The glimmer of hope is the people. It’s the young people. It’s the voters.”
According to Hogg, over 25 states have passed upwards of 60 gun laws since the shooting at his school.
“That’s because young people stood up and took the lead, and said enough is enough and we’re gonna create this change. You guys did that here in Vermont.” Hogg said to The Register. “Vermont’s a really good example of a state that was previously not really good on guns.”
Although the March for Our Lives activists are advocating for gun reform, they encourage all eligible voters to show up to the polls.
“We support electing morally just leaders,” Wind said. “We want to see people voting for people who they think are going to represent them, even if they aren’t voting for people that necessarily support gun reform policy or gun violence prevention policy.”
The Parkland students have reiterated that they believe gun violence is not a partisan issue. Several times during the event, they emphasized their dissatisfaction with current politicians from both parties.
“It’s more a question of whether or not we as young people are going to continue to choose to be suppressed by politicians that don’t care about us,” Hogg said.
When asked to give a message to BHS students, González did not hesitate in her answer: “Vote”.
Several Burlington High School (BHS) seniors have already taken the steps to make their voices heard in the upcoming midterms. On Tuesday, October 23rd, Burlington mayor, Miro Weinberger visited the BHS cafeteria to encourage students to exercise their right to vote.
Mason Beck is one of those seniors who registered on Tuesday.
“It’s good to get in the game early, because later in life we’ll be responsible for voting as well,” Beck said. “We bring a different view on the nation.”
BHS senior Narou Diop says that as a citizen, she can vote to raise the voices of those who are not.
“I can speak up for people like me,” Diop said. “There’s so many of us [eighteen year olds]. It’s good for our voices to be heard. Like we said, we’re the future.”
Isaac Jenemann, another senior at BHS, sees voting as a way for the many politically active students of BHS to exercise their voice.
Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington, says there is hopeful speculation around the country that young people will show up en masse at the polls this year.
“Voting is the bedrock of our democracy,” Weinberger said. “The youth vote is something that ebbs and flows. […] We’re just in the beginning of the voting period, so no one really knows if that’s going to happen. Democracy is a team sport. It’s one that requires participation.”
BHS senior Manny Dodson is not sure how much of an impact his vote makes, partially because of the state he lives in.
“It’s only one vote so it doesn’t make a huge difference, but I feel like everyone who can vote should vote so that the democracy is functioning as well as it can,” Dodson said.
A 2016 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) study showed that many Americans share Dodson’s skepticism.. For some, it can be enough to discourage them from voting at all. According to the survey, 57% of all respondents did not think their vote mattered. Two thirds of the 18 to 29 year olds in the study shared this view.
The 2018 midterm elections are being viewed as a decisive point in America’s story that will determine the direction of the country. The question remains: will young voters take part in the decision?
Some argue that if history is any indicator, young voters will fail to show up.
In the 2016 presidential election, the United States Census Bureau reported that 61.4% of eligible Americans voted. In the age group of 18 to 29 year olds, only 46.1% of young voters showed up at the polls.
In addition, midterm elections are notorious for low voter turnouts. According to the United States Census Bureau, of the 59.3% of the population registered to vote, less than half reported voting in the 2014 election cycle. Only 39.1% of the 18 to 24 year olds were registered; US Census estimated that 15.9% actually exercised their right to vote.
The predicted turnout for the upcoming elections is still unclear. As of June, a new 2018 PRRI survey showed only 35% of young respondents reported they are “absolutely certain to vote”.
“Anytime you vote, you’re getting a direct say in your government. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain because you didn’t try,” González said at the Burlington event.
Although the impact of the youth vote, or lack thereof, will not be known until November 6th, something seems to be working; on this year’s National Voter Registration Day, September 25th, more than 800,000 voters registered, an all time record.
The March for Our Lives activists are not the only ones taking up the fight to raise voter turnout. Celebrities, social media companies, and schools are actively encouraging voter registration, particularly targeting the younger generation of eligible voters.
“History is in the present. It’s in the making. You have the chance to go out there and make history and be part of that change,” Hogg said. “Get morally just leaders, people of color, women, and people that represent your ideologies elected to office to create change in this country that needs you so much. And you can. Just vote. And get five other people to vote too.”