Students behind the March For Our Lives campaign made stops in Eastern Iowa Thursday as part of their nationwide bus tour to continue the conversation on gun control. The activists are hoping to mobilize young voters, and it’s no coincidence they came to Iowa's competitive 1st Congressional District.
Survivors of February’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida and young people impacted by gun violence in Chicago are traveling the country in what they're calling the "Road to Change" tour. The effort is primarily targeted at educating young people and registering them to vote.
The March For Our Lives activists met with students and young organizers at the RAYGUN retail store in Cedar Rapids and are slated to host a townhall at Linn-Mar High School in Marion on Thursday evening. The group also protested outside of Republican Congressman Steve King's office in Sioux City on Wednesday.
Lexi Newport is an incoming freshman at Linn-Mar High School and said the recent spate of school shootings has had a marked impact on her day-to-day educational experience.
"A lot of the lockdown drills for school shootings and stuff didn't happen until Stoneman Douglas," she said.
But now Newport said her teachers encourage students to be constantly aware of potential escape routes in case a shooting happens.
“In the hall, they tell you to think, if something were to happen, 'where would I go?’ Or in your classroom, ‘what can I do?’ So you could be walking down the hall to the restroom and you have to think, ‘what would I do if someone came into this school with a gun at this moment’.”
At age 9, Karrah Marion was one of the youngest people in attendance. She's enrolled at St. Pius X Elementary School in Cedar Rapids and said she feels safe there. But the shooting in Parkland, Florida has been on her mind.
"My grandma and grandpa have a condo in Florida and I heard about the shooting so I wanted to come [to meet the Parkland students]," Marion said.
Marion said she still has some time to form her political opinions, but said she's excited at the prospect of voting.
"Sometimes I help my parents with voting when they go to vote," Marion said.
But the organizers behind the Road to Change bus tour are also hoping to strike a chord with voters who are eligible to vote in the upcoming 2018 Midterm elections. This year's contests were a factor in how the group decided which cities to visit, including the two stops in Iowa's Congressional District 1. It's currently held by Republican Rod Blum and is a prime target for Democrats hoping to win back the House.
Jaclyn Corin is an incoming senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and said young voters can have an impact in the race.
“If young people actually show up in the polls, they can actually make a difference in this district. A large difference actually. So it’s really just about educating young people. Letting them know that their one vote will make a difference. And they need to get out there,” Corin said.
According to 2012 Census data, 57 percent of Iowa voters 29 and under turned out, compared to 72 percent of voters who were over the age of 30.