As millions of Americans marched in hundreds of demonstrations across the country, the communities closest to the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School flocked to Parkland, Florida’s March for Our Lives to show their support. David Guetta’s pop ballad “Titanium” blared over the loudspeaker as streams of teens, tweens, toddlers, and parents flooded the field at Pine Trails Park, sporting catchy and combative signs, and chanting “never again”.
Among the t-shirt stands, where the teen volunteers were operating via cash or Venmo, voter registration groups were out in full force.
“We’re the voters for 2020,” Lara Jiménez said confidently. ”So we better start now.” Jiménez and Anabella Cabrera, both 15, carried a sign that read “Girls clothing in school is more regulated than guns in America!” The young women said it’s “very frustrating” that they won’t be old enough to vote in the midterm elections, but they plan to register as soon as they can.
Alana Petrovani, 16, wore a t-shirt advocating for “art not war” over a rainbow palette, and held a sign that read “Politicians take note, soon we will vote”. She was pre-registered at her school in Plantation, Florida, by a friend. “It made it easier,” she told Bustle.
Florida implemented online voter registration in October 2017, and is one of 14 states that allows citizens to “pre-register” to vote at 16 or 17 years-old. Typically, a resident fills out an application to vote, and is added to the voter registration list with their status marked as “pending.” Once they turn 18 and become eligible to vote, their registration immediately becomes active. (The state does not have automatic voter registration.)
“I’m tired of feeling scared to go to school."
As the crowd shifted from the park to the march, Kaitlyn D., a 16 year-old who lives 30 miles away from Parkland, approached a table staffed by the League of Women Voters. She wanted to know if she could pre-register using her driver’s permit. Less than five minutes later, her paperwork was in. All of the women Bustle spoke with at Saturday’s March are registered or pre-registered as Democrats, but this teen pre-registered without a party affiliation because she wants to see if Democrats make good on their legislative promises.
“I’m tired of feeling scared to go to school,” she told Bustle. “And every vote makes a difference,”
They’re Too Young To Vote, But Not Too Young To Know Mass Violence
Caitlyn Sands was seven years-old the first time that her classroom went into lockdown. Now, 12 years-old, she speaks of mass shootings with the maturity of someone who knows too much. Parkland. Pulse. Vegas. Sandy Hook. The shorthand of each of these atrocities rolls off her tongue as if it should be common for someone her age to know such horrors. If it weren’t for the neon rubber bands on her braces, it might be easy to forget that she is so young.
Last year, when Sand’s friend Bella Cordero was in the seventh grade, her school staged an active shooting drill. “We didn’t know it was a drill,” Cordero, 13, told Bustle. “Everybody was crying.”
Parkland is just about 30 miles north of where they live in Hollywood, Florida.
“When we have a lot more kids who are our age who can vote, who can see what is going on, there will be more votes for gun control."
“When I found out about the Parkland shooting, I wasn’t shocked,” Cordero said.
“We’ve become accustomed to it,” Sands added. “It can happen anywhere. Nowhere is actually safe.”
These blunt truths from America’s youngest generation have made teens some of the most compelling leaders in the gun violence debate. The Parkland students behind March for Our Lives have sparked a movement, one they want to expand into voter registration and mobilization. And if the young women Bustle spoke with at the Parkland march are any indication, these young people plan to do more than march; they plan to vote.
How Generation Z Plans To Make Their Move
Eleven million 18 to 20-year-olds were registered to vote in 2016, but only 39 percent of those voters actually voted. Experts predict that this weekend’s efforts, together with increases in automatic and online registration, could cause that number to “skyrocket”.
"I can’t sit home and not do anything when kids my age are doing so much.”
Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer has pledged $1 million to register high schoolers to vote, in the hopes of advancing gun control legislation. On Saturday HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that works with musicians to promote democratic participation, registered 4,800 voters nationwide.
In Parkland, young Florida voters told Bustle that their proximity to the shooting is motivating them to take action.
“This was really close to home and I felt it more real,” Abigail Taylor, 18, of Boca Raton, said of the shooting. She is registered to vote. Her friend, Gillian Saperstein, 17, is pre-registered.
“We want to vote as soon as we’re able to,” Saperstein told Bustle.
“When we have a lot more kids who are our age who can vote, who can see what is going on, there will be more votes for gun control,” Taylor insisted.
“It’s so cool how a bunch of kids are standing up for their beliefs and what they deserve: safety in schools,” Tai Precilla, 15, told Bustle. “I want to be a part of the movement. I can’t sit home and not do anything when kids my age are doing so much.”