Student leaders who have organized, marched and pressed for government action to halt gun violence sound as if they’re just getting warmed up.
Plans are taking shape for April 20 school walkouts tied to the anniversary of the Columbine High shootings, along with a rally that afternoon at the State Capitol.
Next weekend, students in the south metro have called for a town hall meeting — with invites sent to elected officials — hitting again on themes that propelled them to rally and protest: the senselessness of gun violence and the hesitance of some lawmakers to take corrective action.
“I think legislators who do nothing on this subject do so at their own peril,” said Joe Campbell, a communications consultant whose GoFundMe campaign sent dozens of Henry Sibley High School students to Washington, D.C., for last weekend’s March for Our Lives.
He attended the event, too, and came away thinking, “If I were a politician, and I saw this, I’d be shaking in my boots.”
Adrian Ali-Caccamo, a junior at St. Paul Central High School, and Ben Jaeger, a junior at Minneapolis Roosevelt High School — lifelong friends who spoke at the rally that drew 20,000 people to the State Capitol last weekend — were back last week tending to school work. A quarter was ending, and they had finals.
But they were organizing, too, aiming to build on connections made with Henry Sibley students and others statewide, thinking ahead to get-out-the-vote efforts in the fall.
The potential is there to create change via the voting booth.
A study released last week by Tufts University placed Minnesota at the top among states where the youth vote could matter most in 2018.
“Young people are poised to have an extraordinary impact at every level in Minnesota,” said a news release accompanying the study, which was based on factors including the competitiveness of races and voter turnout in previous midterm elections.
U.S. House races for seats now held in Minnesota by Democrats Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, and Republican Erik Paulsen fall within the Top 10 of House races nationwide where young people could have the greatest sway in November, according to the 2018 Youth Electoral Significance Index.
“That is incredible and good to know ... because that’s where we want to go,” said Jaeger, who serves as student representative on the Minneapolis school board. He now is helping to arrange a “day on the hill” for high school Democrats, but wants people to know: He is perfectly happy to work with Republicans, too.
“I don’t want this movement to be partisan,” Jaeger said Friday.
Devin Bauert, a senior at Henry Sibley, was aboard the bus that traveled to and from Washington, D.C., and was a bit bleary-eyed upon its return to the Twin Cities area about 7 a.m. last Monday. But a news conference had been scheduled at the State Capitol on proposed gun control measures. So she changed out of her pajama pants and headed to St. Paul, grabbing coffee along the way. Seeing the people in Washington and hearing their accounts about gun violence had strengthened her stance.
“It set it in stone: The march isn’t where it’s ending,” she said.
At the Capitol, however, not all the news was encouraging. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, Public Safety Committee chairman, told reporters that the panel would not be considering further gun control measures — a message he also shared with Sibley students during an impromptu private meeting that day.
“As we grow and we get stronger, he will understand that his constituents have this as a priority,” said Emily Klein, a Henry Sibley sophomore who attended the meeting. “His constituents will demand action very soon.”
The Henry Sibley students have organized under the name, #MNeverAgain, and connected with peers in Minneapolis, Duluth and Inver Grove Heights. It is #MNeverAgain that has scheduled a town hall meeting for noon Saturday at Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church in Sunfish Lake.
Limmer is among the elected officials who have been asked to attend. The public is invited, too, but the students will be the ones asking the questions, Bauert said.
Jaeger and Ali-Caccamo have personal stakes in a Senate proposal calling for background checks on people who buy guns through private transactions and online sales. Jaeger wrote a version of the bill for a youth assembly; Ali-Caccamo created a petition in support of it that has more than 1,800 signatures.
Ali-Caccamo since has decided, however, that finding ways to sustain the student activism of recent weeks is more important. He is part of the group Students Demand Action and wants to build a network with the likes of #MNeverAgain: “It’s about figuring how to fit these puzzle pieces together,” he said.
Student leaders are not giving up, however, on the possibility of meaningful gun restrictions being passed this legislative session.
They want lawmakers to know: “November is coming, and we will be voting,” Ali-Caccamo said.