Why Students Organizing to End Gun Violence Are Helping to Register New Voters

By Kathleen Walsh

September 25, 2020

“I’m horrified and terrified that our democracy might not have been as strong as it was and that there is just so much violence that is so enabled by firearms,” one high schooler said.

In the past two months, more than 400 volunteers for Students Demand Action (SDS) have made nearly 90,000 calls and registered tens of thousands of voters. 

The organization—a part of Everytown for Gun Safety, working to eradicate gun violence in the United States—launched its Summer of Action Voter Registration Initiative in July with the goal of registering 100,000 young voters by November. On National Voter Registration Day alone—Tuesday, Sept. 22—volunteers and survivors of gun violence helped more than 19,000 people get registered.

With less than 40 days to go until the election, they have never been busier. Whether personally or indirectly touched by gun violence, these students organizers are passionate about creating a country where they can feel safe. They aim to accomplish that by voting for legislators who will advance common sense gun laws and pressing issues, such as climate change and civil rights. 

COURIER spoke with three volunteer leaders with SDA, who said they felt that growing the number of voters in November was the single most important thing they could do to make a difference in the country. That is not, however, where their political involvement ends. They are also volunteering on campus, joining local political campaigns, and urging friends and family to get involved as well. 

Catie Jacobson, 16
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Jacobson is too young to vote in the coming election, but she said she’s always been interested in politics and wanted to find a way to make her voice heard. Because she’s a teen, she said she has more time on her hands to devote to Students Demand Action and phone banking. 

“Even though I can’t vote,” she said, “by registering other people, I’m still making my voice heard because they can vote for me.”

Though she hasn’t lived through it herself, Jacobson said the threat of gun violence and the frequency of mass shootings in the United States has created an atmosphere of fear in her community and the places she should feel the most secure and safe. 

“It got to the point where my synagogue had to hire an armed guard, which is something that we really can’t afford, because we were so afraid. And my school now has a school resource officer who’s armed. And places that we should feel the most grounded and the most focused—our schools, our churches, our mosques, our synagogues—are becoming unsafe.” 

Though she is frightened for the future, Jacobson said she is inspired by the dedication of her peers and fellow volunteers, and is encouraged by the power of their collective outreach. 

“I’m horrified and terrified that our democracy might not have been as strong as it was and that there is just so much violence that is so enabled by firearms,” Jacobson said. “But I have to say, every single time I get in a phone bank at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and I see 12 students across the country all phoning in and, you know, postponing their homework, and people coming back from soccer practice in the car getting on the call to phone bank to register voters—every single time it amazes me how committed, how capable, how powerful the youth are.”

Mitchell Pinsky, 20
Dayton, Ohio

Pinksy is currently a student at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, but calls Southern Florida home. The young activist began volunteering with SDA in high school, shortly after the mass shooting in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland.

“The Parkland shooting was not 10 miles from my home,” Pinsky said, adding that he can recall every detail of the moment he learned the news. “I remember coming home and my brother let me know that there had been a mass shooting … I walked in and I was white as a sheet, is what I was told.”

Pinsky is a devoted political volunteer. In addition to his position as Group Leader for SDA at OSU, he is also involved in student government. He noted that people can make a huge difference at the ballot box, which is why he is so passionate about this initiative to get folks registered to vote. 

Though he volunteers in Ohio, Pinsky said that he will be casting his own absentee ballot in his home state of Florida. “So I say I can make a difference with my vote in Florida and make a difference by volunteering in Ohio.” 

Talia LeVine, 15
Seattle, Washington

LeVine first started volunteering with SDA in March, She had been looking for a way to become active politically, and her friends encouraged her to join the student organization. Now, she joked, she’s talked so much about voter registration that she’s been kicked out of group chats. 

“I just want people to vote. And I want people to know that their voices matter,” LeVine said. “In 2016 a lot of young voters didn’t vote because they’re like, ‘my vote doesn’t count.’”

LeVine is passionate about ending gun violence, reflecting that having more lockdown drills in school than fire drills is not and should never be normal. But she’s also fired up about voting for other reasons as well. 

“One thing that makes me scared is that I’m a queer person, and I want to be protected under the law,” LeVine said. “When I’m an adult, I want to know that I can’t be fired for being queer. And that my friends are also protected under the law.”

The climate crisis is also top of mind for her. In Seattle where she lives, wildfires have made the air quality around her so bad it is sometimes difficult to even breathe.

“My eyes were tearing up whenever I would go outside and my throat got super sore for a few days,” LeVine said. “If I do choose to have children, I want them to be able to grow up in a world where they can breathe.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where Ohio State University was located. We regret the error.




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