A crowd of 200 filled Selby Library auditorium in Sarasota Wednesday night for a town hall featuring students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Hundreds more were unable to get a seat after the hall reached capacity.
This summer, students involved in the March For Our Lives movement are traveling across the country to energize young people. Local organizers say they want to educate and encourage them to vote.
14-year-old Nicole Walkiewicz said she hopes people are inspired by the South Florida students who survived February's school shooting.
“Because they are stepping up and fighting against injustice when so many others haven’t really been doing that,” she said. “I admire them because it must be really hard to say something like that especially when you experienced it.”
On The Florida Road to Change tour, the students are discussing gun violence, school safety, and making a pitch to their peers to become involved in helping shape policy in Tallahassee and Washington D.C.
In Sarasota, the Parkland students teamed up with a local group, Students Stand Up - Sarasota. A member and organizer of Wednesday’s event, Hailey Landry, stressed that the student group is bipartisan.
“We're not endorsing any candidate,” she said. “We believe in policy and not party. We're just here to show people that we want an end to the gun violence that's happening now at schools, churches, movie theaters. Literally everywhere in the U.S.”
The Florida tour is a companion project with the national Road to Change voter-education and registration drive that began June 15 and is scheduled to hit 50 locations in 20 states.
By and large, young voters do not tend to show up to the polls in mid-term elections. The goal of the tour is to turn the wave of young activism they helped spark into an energized voting bloc in November.
According to the Census Bureau, only 16 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the last midterm cycle in 2014. According to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, just 2.17 percent of people aged 18-20 are registered to vote in the county.
Democratic Florida state representative Margaret Good served as the moderator for the Sarasota Road To Change event, and asked tailored questions to the students and then took comments from the audience.
When one audience member asked the students how they were dealing with trauma, Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr said that they were coping through activism. “It wasn’t necessarily fair but it’s helped us and helped propel us forward.”
Before the town hall ended, MSD student John Barnitt asked the audience to keep advocating for student safety. "If you leave this room and the conversation ends, you have failed us and we have failed you," he said.
The Florida Road to Change tour is scheduled to visit all 27 congressional districts in Florida. Organizers said they will be coming to Lakeland, Tampa, and St Petersburg in July.
They added, that for safety reasons, details on individual stops will be revealed on social media only as the bus tour progresses.