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Parkland students make political point in Naperville: ‘Tweeting isn’t enough’

Parkland student Chris Grady at the March For Our Lives town hall meeting at The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, Naperville, June 16th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Parkland student Chris Grady at the March For Our Lives town hall meeting at The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, Naperville, June 16th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

NAPERVILLE – Continuing the momentum started by the March for Our Lives, Chris Grady, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and an organizer for the march in Washington, says the movement’s bus tour is about creating a united front to get control.

“You can tweet as much as you want, and it’s an amazing tool, but it only goes so far as far as connections are concerned,” Grady said. “To actually go to the people, talk with them, build relationships is a whole different thing, and we knew that would be the most effective way to get these voters to listen and to go out and vote.”

After attending St. Sabina’s annual end-of-the-school-year peace march and rally Friday, the town hall discussion Saturday at the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church was the first stop in mobilizing young people to get gun control measures passed. Naperville was chosen because of the NRA’s influence in the area, Grady said.

The goal of the bus tour is twofold: get everyone registered to vote and have in-person conversations about the need for gun control.

The March For Our Lives town hall meeting at The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, Naperville, June 16th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Parkland students have planned stops in cities like Saturday’s visit to Naperville where Republican Congressman Peter Roskam has been a consistent supporter of gun rights and has received donations from the NRA. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida have been at the forefront of a renewed conversation about gun reforms since a shooting Feb. 14 killed 17 people at their school. Since then, they’ve led marches and banded together with young people from Chicago and the city’s suburbs to highlight everyday incidents of gun violence.

“We know we have a platform, so we wanted to use our privilege and our platform to bolster their voices,” Grady said of collaborating with youth from Chicago and the suburbs.

“It’s incredible to see all of the support, and it’s really humbling,” Grady said. “My favorite part is that we’re up here with these other youth groups who are fighting harder than we are because they’ve been at this for years, and we’ve only been at this for a few months.”

In the sanctuary room of the Naperville church, students from Parkland were joined by young people from the St. Sabina Church and four young women from Downers Grove.

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For roughly an hour they answered questions about potential gun controls, like disarming domestic abusers, universal background checks and digitizing ATF records, to name a few.

They also cleared up common misconceptions about the movement and urged young people to educate themselves and others on gun violence and the toll it can take on individuals and communities.

“Gun violence is one of those things in this country where sometimes we can train ourselves not to care about it until it reaches our front step,” said Anthony Lovelace, a B.R.A.V.E Youth Leader at St. Sabina. “The best way to stop gun violence is prevention … A lot of times, as Americans, we don’t want to inconvenience ourselves … but we can’t do that when it comes to an issue so severe as gun violence.”

The Parkland students will now take their message around the country, including stops in over 20 states including Iowa, Texas, California, South Carolina and Connecticut; they’ll also visit every congressional district in Florida as part of a separate tour of the Sunshine State.

Locally, on July 7, Rev. Michael Pfleger plans to shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway with a demonstration for gun control.

Rev. Dr. Michael Louis Pfleger of St. Sabina Church holds his hand in the air during the march. At the rally, Pfleger requested for 1,000 people to participate in the shutting down of the Dan Ryan on July 7. | Colin Boyle/Chicago Sun-Times

At the rally featuring Parkland students on Friday, Rev. Pfleger urged 1,000 people participate in the shutting down of the Dan Ryan on July 7. | Colin Boyle/Chicago Sun-Times

Though they’re leaving Illinois, the Parkland students and youth leaders urged those in the room to continue having conversations about gun violence and to keep empathizing and listening to one another. And vote.

“If the conversation stays in this room, if you do not continue this conversation beyond these walls then we have failed you and you have failed us,” Matthew Dietsch said. “You have to have a tough conversation so we can win because if we keep talking about this we will find solutions, we will find ways to save lives and make this country safer.”

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