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“I just want to see change:” Thousands of Madison-area students march on Capitol steps to demand gun reform

A year following the mass shooting in Parkland, staggering numbers of student activists, local lawmakers and gun control advocates have demanded reforms to be set in motion — a movement sweeping not only in the state, but throughout the nation. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

In the wake of last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., local Madison-area high schoolers decided they were tired of being ignored.

Around 3000 students marched to the Capitol steps Wednesday as part of a national school walkout to protest new gun legislation.

But the students weren’t just the protestors. They were the organizers, fundraisers and demand-crafters.

The march began at Madison East High School and grew to be as long as two full city blocks as the activists approached the Capitol.

John Crim, a student at Madison West High School, said the event and the turnout was empowering.

“To have a cohesive group of all the high schools in the area to come together for one topic, it was a really big impact to our society and I’m really glad it happened,” he said.

Crim added that there was so much unity for this event because of one commonality: They were all students.

“We live in America where gun control and gun issues [are] a problem,” he said. “So we all have to come together as a cohesive group to eliminate that.”

And as the students marched, it was the adults that either joined in or stood alongside the street clapping and cheering in support. For them, many of whom were parents of the young activists, watching students organize themselves created a heightened sense of pride.

“You can’t help but feel some hope for our kids and future generations because of the actions these kids are taking today,” said Joe Kuns, whose daughter was one of the organizers at Middleton High School.

Kuns added that while many of the student organizers can’t vote yet, they will be able to soon and that politicians affiliated with the NRA “better watch out.”

“This is a groundswell movement and these kids aren’t going to forget,” he said. “For whatever reason, this is the time where these kids have said ‘enough is enough, we’re not going to put up with it anymore.’”

Chloe Baumbach, a senior at Memorial High School, was one of the organizers of the event and said afterward that the whole day was surreal.

“I was a little terrified of how today would go,” she said. “Being students organizing something, you never know if you’re going to get listened to or not.”

But listened to they were. Streets were closed, employees cheered from their balconies and camera crews filmed the scene. However, for these students, their only barometer of being heard is whether legislation is enacted.

After the students arrived at the Capitol, both student leaders and elected officials, including state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, spoke about the need for more stringent gun legislation.

Jadah Mims, a freshman at Madison West High School, said she specifically wants to see assault weapons banned.

“That’s the main problem,” she said. “The guns that fire faster are taking more lives in our schools.”

Kelda Roys, a Democratic candidate for governor and former assemblywoman, accompanied her two stepdaughters in the march and said that Gov. Scott Walker has the opportunity to do right by the young people in attendance.

“These are not hard calls,” she said, referencing some of the new legislation passed in Florida like keeping guns away from domestic abusers and raising the minimum age of purchase to 21.

Some of the students then made their way inside of the Capitol rotunda, congregating outside of Walker’s office to make sure that their demands were heard.

Walker was in Florence, Wis., a four-hour drive north of Madison.

As the protest concluded, students rallied attendees to keep up the momentum and maintain pressure, highlighting the nationwide March For Our Lives event on March 24.

Just as Kuns mentioned, Baumbaugh is looking forward to turning 18 and being able to vote.

“We could show up at the Capitol every day and protest, but nothing is going to happen unless we vote them out,” she said.

Roys said it’s about time political parties put forth candidates that matter to younger voters, noting that post-boomers are now a larger voting block than baby boomers.

“If we want to capture the energy and the activism of these students, we’ve got to run candidates who will appeal to them and prioritize the issues that matter in their daily lives.”

The estimated number of protesters was updated at 5:40 pm on March 18 after an MPD incident report clarified a more exact estimate. 

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