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March for our Lives Road to Change panel

Seated panelists from left: Matthew Deitsch, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Arieyanna Williams, Kami Yelk, Lydia Hester, Emayu Edari-Sellassie, Ellie Roth, Gino Vanden Brook. 

As an 18-year-old growing up in a generation marked by gun violence, Arieyanna Williams is thinking about the kids behind her.

“All youth want to see their generation prosper, and they want to see their future generation prosper,” Williams said. “We have to protect our future so that others may enjoy it.”

Williams was one of 11 students joining peers from Chicago, Wisconsin and Parkland, Florida, who stopped in Madison at the Alliant Energy Center Friday to advocate for stricter gun control legislation and register voters as a part of the summer-long March for our Lives: Road to Change tour.

March for our Lives began as a student-led demonstration in Washington, D.C. with hundreds of parallel events in cities across the country, including in Madison, following the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“Ultimately marching is just not enough sometimes, so we wanted to take that energy and passion and unity from that day and kind of transcend that day into a long-term movement,” said Parkland student Jaclyn Corin, 17.

The students shared different experiences on how gun violence has affected them. Williams has lost three family members to gun violence and Corin and her fellow students grieved 17 classmates in the school shooting. Ellie Roth, 17, a senior at De Pere High School, described how fellow students held instruments defensively in her school's band practice room during a lock down drill in case there was an active shooter.

Earlier in the day, the students visited House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office in Janesville.

In March, following the March for our Lives event, Democratic lawmakers attempted to amend Gov. Scott Walker’s school safety bill with measures including including universal background checks, a ban on bump stocks and reinstating a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.

“Even if lawmakers aren’t listening to me, the people who are listening to my story are then going to take it to their friends and the people they know,” Williams said.

The students were also sincere in their mission to engage in productive discussions with those who are opposed to their 10-point gun violence prevention agenda.

When questioned about what an attendee viewed as a “hard lined defensive tactic” in communication, particularly referencing Parkland student David Hogg’s interaction with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, the student panelists and speaker had a prepared response.

“I appreciate your question, like big time,” Matthew Deitsch, 20, March for our Lives chief strategist, said. “For the most part our language isn’t necessarily attacking, it’s more like a response to these already vicious attacks against us.”

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The panelists also clarified misconceptions they feel critics have about March for our Lives, chief among them that the group is against the Second Amendment.

“We’re not trying to take anyone’s guns away,” Hogg, 18, said. “Honest to God, we’re just trying to live.”

NextGen America organizers made signs for the event at their office near the UW-Madison campus. NextGen is a political action committee started by billionaire Tom Steyer focused on turning out the youth vote in the fall election.

Joe Waldman, regional organizing director, said young people are motivated around advocating for gun reform because it is a unifying experience.

“So many young people have that shared experience where they grew up in an age where they had to do shelter drills and heard about school shootings on the news and that’s a fear to us,” Waldman said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.