‘March for Our Lives’ an example of increasing youth activism, GVSU administrators say

GVL / Emily Frye 
Student leaders from Forest Hills Northern High School direct the March For Our Lives protest in Grand Rapids, MI on Saturday March 24, 2018.

GVL / Emily Frye Student leaders from Forest Hills Northern High School direct the March For Our Lives protest in Grand Rapids, MI on Saturday March 24, 2018.

James Kilborn

Thousands of people congregated at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday, March 24, to call for gun-control reform. The “March for Our Lives” was organized in response to the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people killed. Local members of the West Michigan community, including current students, came together to call on representatives in Congress to address what they see as ineffective gun-control legislation. 

Mark Richards, chair of the political science department at Grand Valley State University, sees the student activism displayed in the “March for Our Lives” as an opportunity to get students more involved in politics and more civically engaged. 

“Government and politics affects students’ lives now and in the future in areas ranging from immigration and taxes to the environment,” Richards said via email. “Perhaps the recent events regarding school shootings will galvanize current students.”

Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life for civic engagement and assessment, also sees the event as evidence of students’ increasing role in politics, both at the local and national levels.

“This was a historic march in that it was entirely led by young people,” Baker-Boosamra said. “As most people know, this was in response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and really demonstrated what can happen when young people get themselves organized and the potential power that they have when they decide to organize themselves around a particular issue.”

Following the shooting in Parkland, legislators have been under increasing pressure to address what some see as relaxed gun-control laws, and solutions such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases have been brought up in response. A recent authorization bill to allocate $50 million toward improving school safety was passed in the House of Representatives, with U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) voting for the legislation, while U.S. Rep Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township)  voted against it. Many people within local communities remain skeptical, however, and calls for stricter gun-control laws in the wake of the Parkland shooting were voiced at the “March for Our Lives.”

Baker-Boosamra sees the recent events as opportunities for students to become more active advocates for their positions on issues, citing the recent organization of the “March for Our Lives” as evidence. 

“I think we’ve seen an uptick in students paying attention,” Baker-Boosamra said. “I think we’ve seen an uptick in students deciding to take action. I think that comes in large part due to challenges that students are facing and a sense of indignation and unwillingness to sit by and passively accept things they don’t think are right.”

Both Baker-Boosamra and Richards emphasized the importance of student involvement in politics, and they hope students will continue to voice their opinions on issues in the future.

“I would really encourage students to seek out student organizations on campus as a way of mobilizing themselves and as a way of advocating for those particular issues,” Baker-Boosamra said. “Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, I think it’s important for students to see student organizations as potentially more than opportunities to build relationships, more than opportunities to give back to the community and more than an opportunity to have fun. 

“In addition to those things, student organizations can really be a site for student political mobilization and power.”

Richards hopes students stay informed on current topics, discussing them with others to encourage a dialogue between different viewpoints, and, most importantly, register to vote. 

Events on campus are also tailored toward encouraging student involvement in politics, such as the Democracy 101 lectures and the upcoming “Backyard Civics 101” event, which is tailored to student engagement in local governments. 

“We have an upcoming workshop on April 21 that will be ‘Backyard Civics 101,’ which will teach participants to leverage their power at the local, county and state levels,” Baker-Boosamra said. 

For more information about becoming civically engaged at GVSU, visit www.gvsu.edu/service/