Taking Our Advocacy to the Next Level: Young People Demand a Seat

Author: Anna Whittle

Guns are the number one killer of my generation. Since I’ve been a student at Hope College inMichigan, there’ve been at least two school mass shootings in the state. On Nov. 30, 2021, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling were shot and killed at Oxford High School. In the wake of the Oxford school shooting, my friends and I established a Students Demand Action group at Hope College. Being a founding member and leader for Students Demand Action at my college has taught me so much about how to lead when emotions are high and tragedy is present.

Our new Students Demand Action group was just beginning to gain momentum when a tragedy close to home forced us to quickly spring into action. Almost a year and half after the horrific Oxford shooting, on February 13, 2023, Arielle Diamond Anderson, Brian Fraser, and Alexandria Verner were shot and killed at Michigan State University. While it’s easy to be disengaged from a problem that’s not affecting you directly, it’s impossible to do nothing and ignore gun violence when it hurts someone you know.

The Michigan State shooting was a spark for many Hope students, who had friends and family on campus that night. People from across the state showed up in droves to demand common-sense gun legislation at the State Capitol in Lansing. I even led a trip for Hope College students to attend a rally with Giffords and Moms Demand Action, where we advocated for a package of three common-sense gun violence prevention bills. That day in Lansing sparked something within me as I heard the stories of leaders, legislators, and students affected by gun violence. I knew that I wanted to continue to be involved in the gun violence prevention movement, not only at Hope College, but also on a larger scale.

Earlier this year, Governor Whitmer went on to sign the three common-sense gun safety bills I advocated for: Establishing universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, and laying out safe storage requirements. I remember celebrating all these wins with our Students Demand Action group at Hope.

Still, I wanted to do more. After applying, interviewing, and being selected, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Denver, Colorado over fall break to participate in the inaugural Demand a Seat: Students Edition program. Demand a Seat is an election training program hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety, where we learn from seasoned campaign pros, politicians, and their staff about the fundamentals of building a winning campaign. During this extensive three-day program 40 high school and college students from across the United States came together to learn about the ins and outs of campaigns and build community with one another.

My generation is sick and tired of politicians putting their political careers over our safety, so we are not only holding our current elected officials accountable, but we’re now demanding a seat at the table. Because we should have a say in the decisions being made about our futures. If current lawmakers refuse to change, then we will just work to replace them by running for office or working on campaigns. Our weekend in Denver was all about empowering young people to demand action by teaching us the fundamentals of political campaigns. Overall, the message from program leaders, guest speakers, and fellow students was crystal clear: Young people are not the future— we are the now. My time in Denver was meaningful because it restored my faith in the political system by reminding me that change is possible and that students like me can be at the forefront of the change we hope to see within politics.

Guns are the leading cause of death for children, teens and college-aged people in America. But while we continue to bear the brunt of this crisis, we’re also leading the fight to end it. At least seven Michigan students have been killed during school mass shootings in the past two years, and hundreds of Michiganders die by guns every single year. Something needs to change, and my participation in Demand a Seat: Students Edition showed me that young people will be the ones demanding this change and replacing those who refuse to protect us.

Anna Whittle is a junior at Hope College, studying Environmental Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies. She enjoys being a part of the gun violence prevention movement and has filled many volunteer roles for Hope’s group including Communications Lead, Interim President, and Event Lead.


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