About 20 students, faculty and local activists convened on the University of Michigan Diag Monday afternoon for an anti-gun violence rally jointly hosted by Shattering the Silence, an organization dedicated to increased gun control measures, and the advocacy nonprofit NextGen America. The rally served to commemorate the 58 lives lost in Las Vegas a year ago — the deadliest mass shooting in American history — and urge people to demand stricter gun control policies.
The rally signaled the beginning of a 37-day campaign of activism and voter registration by NextGen leading up to the midterm elections. According to NextGen Field Organizer Hudson Villeneuve, the organization has already registered 35,000 people in the state and hopes to increase that number even more before election day.
Similarly, the University joined the Big Ten Voting Challenge in September 2017 to try and register the most voters of all 14 schools in the Big Ten conference in the upcoming year. The results will be tallied after the midterm elections this November.
Student organizer Jen Chalom, a Northville High School junior, emphasized how imperative it is for younger generations to get involved in causes they care about. Chalom, who began organizing the rally in mid-August after coordinating her school’s walkout the previous year, also stressed how registering people to vote should be one of the main objectives of the campaign.
“These are people who wouldn’t have voted if we didn’t come here,” Chalom said. “Because of something I did, someone will be going to the polls and voting. That just seems like a huge impact, even if I get five people registered to vote. Three percent of young people who can vote, do. That just seems crazy — you see all these problems and watch the news and hear about these things but no one seems to be doing anything about them.”
Chalom said she and other student activists reached out to organizations like Moms Demand Action to recruit speakers such as U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Medical School student Solomon Rajput. Rajput highlighted how a lack of focus on statewide issues causes so few people to routinely call their representatives to demand change.
“People feel like the national stuff is sometimes more important, more worthy of their attention,” Rajput said. “But the state level stuff really, really makes a huge difference in terms of our lives in the state. Sometimes it’s hard for people to remember that. It’s definitely less sexy, and there’s less media attention, but it’s so important.”
LSA freshman Josie Graham said she was especially impressed by the high school student organizers of the rally who have inspired younger generations to pursue activism, even though many of them cannot yet vote. Graham said her experience attending a gun control walkout in high school left her empowered to support that kind of activism at the University.
“It gave students the ability to do something on a larger scale and gain the community’s attention and tell them how we feel because at that age we couldn’t vote yet,” Graham said. “It’s a way to express ourselves and finally have a voice that is amplified.”