Today’s Walkout and the Future of Youth Political Action on Gun Violence Prevention
Today, students across the nation are participating in the National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools. This student walkout falls on the 19-year anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, which left 13 people dead. It also comes on the heels of months of student activism on gun violence prevention (GVP). Now more than ever, young people are powerfully making their voices heard in the gun reform debate.
As a college student, I have felt both empowered and inspired by the activism of young people across the nation in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. Attending the March for Our Lives, I was moved by the passion and strength of the students — some still in elementary school — who spoke about their lived experiences of gun violence to an audience of 800,000 and unapologetically demanded political change. Likewise, nationwide school walkouts last month sent a resounding message about the scope of young resistance to legislative inaction on GVP, as well as the incredible organizing capacity of young people.
While I am certainly in awe of this work, I cannot say I am surprised that these students have been able to so resiliently champion gun reform. My own experience as a young person involved in political activism in Virginia has reaffirmed to me both the power of young people to affect meaningful political change and the growing strength of gun violence prevention as a political issue on which young voters will readily stake their ballot.
Working on campaigns up and down the ballot in Virginia last fall, I saw firsthand that young people are becoming an increasingly formidable voting bloc. Not only did I see young people highly represented in political activism and campaign work, but in Virginia, 34% of young people turned out to vote in the 2017 election- a massive leap of over a third since the last gubernatorial election. Virginia isn’t alone here either: an unprecedented spike in youth turnout gave Doug Jones an edge in his Alabama Senate race win in December, and the proportion of millennial voters nationwide has been growing significantly in the past few election cycles. Increasingly, young people are deciding to take their futures into their own hands — and events like Parkland only galvanize us to step forward to fight for the change older generations have refused to bring us, in any and every capacity we can.
What’s more, this wave of energy has been increasingly centered around GVP. In the Virginia election, over two-thirds (69%) of the youth vote for governor went to Ralph Northam. Northam unapologetically campaigned on gun reform: implementing an assault weapons ban, expanding background checks, and reinstating Virginia’s successful “one handgun a month” law. Northam won the election with nearly 1.5 million votes — 252,000 of which came from young voters. Likewise, Democrats in local races across the state with similar stances on GVP swept their elections, flipping 15 seats blue from Hampton Roads to Prince William County. These wins were not in spite of strong stances on gun violence prevention; they were because of them. I heard from countless voters who viewed gun violence prevention as a top voting issue — and saw this reflected in exit poll data, which revealed that gun violence prevention was the second-most important issue for Virginian voters. People weren’t only voting for Democrats (or against Republicans); they were voting for candidates who would champion progressive gun reform policy, and against those who demonstrably would not. These trends are being driven by young people, who overwhelmingly favor both gun reform and the Democratic Party.
As students walk out today, they are sending a reminder that it is children who are most directly affected by gun violence- and it is children who have, time and time again, illustrated their resilience towards pushing societal change. In this instance, young people have tapped into a growing movement towards gun violence prevention and become the faces and voices that have rallied national political will towards gun reform. Today’s walkout is not the beginning of our fight for change — and it certainly will not be the end. I’m not surprised students have taken the lead on the GVP movement, and I will be equally unsurprised when young people across the country, including myself, hold politicians at all levels accountable during this November’s midterm elections for their records on gun control. Young people are saying that enough is enough — and the rest of the nation is ready to hear us.
Mia AAssar is an intern at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. She is an undergraduate student at George Mason University double-majoring in history and conflict analysis and resolution. She is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina.