While most high school seniors are focused on their futures after graduation, the organizers for the March for Our Lives in Austin are focused on the future of gun control after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.
Kari Siegenthaler, along with Conor Heffernan and Jack Kappelman, are seniors at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy organizing the Austin March for Our Lives. Kappelman said he was fed up with America’s culture of mass shootings and the political inaction he sees as enabling it.
“I’m tired of the fact that lockdown drills and active shooter drills are normal,” Kappelman said. “It speaks measures to the culture that we have in the U.S. today that the thought of somebody coming into your school and shooting it up is normal.”
Heffernan first thought of organizing a protest two weeks ago, while watching interviews of survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, where 17 people were killed in Parkland, Florida. He reached out to Siegenthaler and Kappelman to plan an event to focus on lax state gun laws. However, after the official announcement of the March for Our Lives by the Parkland survivors in Washington, D.C., the three students decided to rebrand their protest to mirror the national one.
“Amongst our younger generation … there’s going to be a wave coming that will help push this issue in a different direction than it has been for twenty years.” Heffernan said.
Kappelman said the event turned into something larger than they anticipated. On the event’s Facebook page, 3,300 people said they were going and 9,400 people said they were interested. Confirmed speakers include Austin Mayor Steve Adler, State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, and Jack Haimowitz, a Stoneman Douglas shooting survivor who will be attending UT next fall. A statement will also be read from U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
The event is set for March 24 to coincide with the flagship march in Washington D.C. and several sister marches across the country. The route has yet to be released, but the procession will start at City Hall and end at the State Capitol.
Siegenthaler said benefactors, such as Custom Ink, have been quick to support the March.
“One hundred percent of the profits from the shirts (designed for the event) is going to us to help pay for things like road closures and providing water the day of,”
Heffernan said all excess fundraising will go towards groups advocating for the same gun legislation the march is supporting, such as Sandy Hook Promise.
To ensure the momentum for common sense gun legislation doesn’t waver after the march, voter registrars have volunteered to register all newly-18 participants at the rally to vote. Among those planning to register the day of is march organizer Keppelman.
“One thing that this national movement has been getting a lot of flak for is that a march doesn’t change policy,” Keppelman said. “A march does raise awareness, and awareness does change policy.”