Florida shooting survivors work to get out young voters
PARKLAND, Fla. — Nine months after 17 classmates and teachers were gunned down at their Florida school, Parkland students are facing the moment they’ve been anticipating with marches, school walkouts and voter-registration events throughout the country: their first election day.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student activists set their sights on the 4 million U.S. citizens turning 18 this year. They’re hoping to counteract the voter apathy that’s especially prevalent among young people during midterm elections. Many of the activists, now household names like David Hogg, postponed college plans to mobilize young voters. Many of them support gun reform, in the name of their fallen classmates.
“It is kind of the culmination of everything we’ve been working for,” said senior Jaclyn Corin, one of the founders of the March for Our Lives group. “This is truly the moment that young people are going to make the difference in this country.”
Corin, who voted along with her dad at an early polling site on her 18th birthday, recently visited a half-dozen cities in just a handful of days, getting up at 3 a.m. to board planes.
It has been a whirlwind for the students, with celebrity support from Oprah Winfrey to Kim Kardashian, a Time magazine cover, late-night TV spots and book deals — but all of it misses their main target unless it motivates young people to cast ballots.
At a University of Central Florida event during the final week of election campaigning, Stoneman Douglas graduate and current UCF student Bradley Thornton escorted fellow students to the campus’ early voting site.
UCF student Tiffany McKelton said she wouldn’t have voted if the Parkland activists hadn’t shown up on campus. “I actually did it because of them,” said McKelton, a psychology major from West Palm Beach.
In the past months they’ve boarded countless buses and planes, passed out T shirts, and hosted barbecues and dance parties on college campuses around the U.S.
Thornton said talking things through often does the trick.
“I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had that were like, ‘Ah, I’m not interested’ ... and through just a simple, really nice cordial conversation, they get this magical inspiration to vote,” Thornton said.
The 30-and-younger crowd is more likely to vote in this year’s midterms than in the past. Forty percent say they’ll vote, compared with just 26 percent in 2014, according to a poll by Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. They’re being pushed, in part, by a strong disapproval of President Trump.
David Hogg (center), who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., joins a Vote for Our Lives rally Wednesday in Orlando.