Parkland survivors, local students support gun control at Naperville town hall
Students from Chicago, Downers Grove and Parkland, Florida, came together Saturday evening in Naperville in front of hundreds to advocate for better gun controls and an end to gun violence on the second day of the nationwide Road to Change tour.
Each for his or her own reasons, student activists from Florida, the city and the suburbs promised to demand changes that they say will make people safer from gun violence.
Calling themselves a "stubborn and impatient" generation, the students who spoke during Saturday's town hall at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church said recent school shootings, including the one that took 17 lives on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, have shocked them into realizing it's not something to ignore.
"We cannot sit back and pretend this isn't happening," said Emily Gornik, a recent graduate of Downers Grove North High School, who helped coordinate Saturday's Road to Change event with the Parkland students. "Because it is, and it's an issue."
Organizing students said they were pleased with the turnout of roughly 500 who packed the church to hear young voices speak against shootings.
"It's just a testament to the community and how much they care about this issue," said Bridig Miller, a 2017 graduate of Downers North.
"It also shows the heart of the Parkland students, them touring around to make a change in other communities," said Prevail Bonga, who graduated from Downers North this spring.
While adult volunteers from the church and gun-control activists forming a "wall of love" kept watch outside, students shared the legislative and social changes they want to see to decrease violence via guns. Despite their different hometowns, the students said they've found common ground.
"A lot of people that I've talked to throughout our time in Illinois have said that Naperville's very similar to Parkland, demographically," said Matthew Deitsch, a 2016 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who said he feared for his younger siblings on the day of the shooting. "And I think that by connecting through what we have experienced, we know that we can rise up together to make sure no one feels helpless, like I did that day."
While originally aimed at students and young adults, the event became a campaign stop for Democratic candidates all up and down the ballot. In the audience were 11th District U.S. Rep. Bill Foster; Democratic candidates for congressional seats including Sean Casten in the 6th District and Lauren Underwood in the 14th; and several other Democrats seeking seats as state representatives or county board members.
Naperville police and private security kept the event orderly from before the bus of Parkland students pulled up at 5:38 p.m. Church volunteers said they saw a few people who may have been counterprotesters drive by or take pictures, but no one confronted event attendees or displayed gun-rights signs.
Volunteers with the League of Women Voters of Downers Grove, Woodridge and Lisle attended to register people to vote, as they did earlier Saturday at a car wash to support the cause at a Downers Grove church.
Incoming Downers North senior Riley Hornilla, 16, said her peers' efforts to help the Parkland students have been met with an outpouring of support, including donations from generous car wash attendees -- one of whom gave $300.
"We want to help the Parkland students and allow them to be able to use this money however they deem necessary," she said. "They can donate it to victims' families, or they use it for rallies and protests on the Road to Change tour."
After Naperville, the tour plans nearly 50 more stops in 20 states. To keep the movement going, Parkland student Cameron Kasky said he and his peers plan to focus on unity and harnessing "the same American spirit that says we need to be better, we can do it together as a unified front."
The students directed attendees to their website, marchforourlives.com, to see the legislative proposals they support and find ways to get involved.
"Welcome to activism. Welcome to education. Welcome to standing together as one. Welcome to the freedom summer of 2018," Hornilla said. "Everybody here today, welcome to the road to change."