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Students Demand Action at Advocacy Day

Lobbying for gun safety laws at the State Capitol
Students Demand Action at Advocacy Day
Mary Kay Napoli

After weeks and weeks of diligent planning, the Students Demand Action (SDA) cohort from AFS made our way to Harrisburg for a day of learning and demanding change on May 7, 2024. We began in front of a Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting, where a crowd of Ceasefire PA staff eagerly greeted us. Boarding the jam-packed bus, we split up to fit in seats surrounded by other advocates- the vast majority of whom were over 50- and settled in for a roughly two-hour bus ride. 

I ended up at a seat alone.  A kind man sitting across from me introduced himself, and I explained what we do in Students Demand Action at AFS, and how we had gotten involved with Advocacy Day. After asking a few questions, he introduced me to Adam, a fifth grader on the bus with whom I believe were his parents. The man I spoke to excitedly urged Adam to tell me why he was on this bus and not in class, and I sat in for a story.

Adam awkwardly explained how attending this Advocacy Day was part of a school project related to gun violence advocacy he had connected to Ceasefire PA’s work because of his family’s connection to the group. “Impressive kid!” I thought.  

I was so inspired to see someone years younger than me who knows anything about the state of gun legislation in our country, and who is motivated enough to try and make a difference, heading to the state capitol with us. I hadn’t even been to Harrisburg, and Adam had also come to Advocacy Day the year before! After talking with Adam and his family about what to expect during the day, we sat on our separate sides of the bus and waited to arrive at the capitol. 

I only mention this quick interaction in the grand scheme of the story of Advocacy Day because it’s a perfect example of the tone and mood I experienced from many of the other participants we encountered. 

As a whole, the group was caring and so passionate about keeping citizens around the state safe with the legislation we were supporting. It was inspiring, and, dare I say,  patriotic even (as someone who has mixed emotions about that word, I don’t use it lightly) to see so many other Pennsylvanians show up in support of this legislation with Ceasefire. 

Once we got off the bus, masses of students and adults alike filed into the astonishingly beautiful Capitol building, where we saw over 600 volunteers and Ceasefire PA staff inside ready to support our shared advocacy mission. Our group found our way to State Senator Art Haywood’s office for our first meeting after blending into the masses with orange t-shirts proclaiming our purpose in the space. 

The eight of us, four junior and two freshman students along with AFS English teacher Haley Hellmann and Director of Upper School Admission Mary Kay Napoli, filed into the Senator’s office along with other lobbyists. We had an almost twenty-minute-long meeting about the bills the group and Senator Haywood supported, where we gained critical information regarding our approach to lobbying during the day.

After getting a great picture with Senator Haywood, we spent the rest of the morning in at least three corners of the huge capitol building. We participated in different meetings and activities, like an art project and making phone bank calls. A very early lunch in the surprisingly delicious Capitol cafeteria led us outside to the front steps of the building for a rally culminating the morning’s events and leading up to the House of Representatives vote on the two bills we were all advocating for, House Bill 335 and HB 2206. 

Respectively, these bills would ban machine gun adjustment switches for handguns, and modernize the system in which firearm dealers and manufacturers must report their product sales to state police for legal tracking. 

For a fully captivating two hours, the rally on the front steps of our State Capitol was accompanied by inspiring and deeply moving speeches from legislators, family members of victims, doctors and nurses, different faith leaders, and more. The profound call to action, both for our legislators and the larger community, and apparent care for our state’s safety from gun violence, were apparent in the messages we heard. I found a lot of hope in the fact that so many people from different perspectives and backgrounds could come together to speak out for our well-being as a collective, and as individuals on those stairs. 

After the rally was over, our group made our way back inside the Capitol and into the gallery box of the House of Representatives. There, after a bit of a wait, we were determined not to lose our good seats- we got to see the vast room filled with our legislators and Representatives, actually voting on different bills right in front of our eyes.  

Unfortunately, even after our long wait, we needed to get back on the bus to get home in time for dinner from the two-hour drive out of Harrisburg, back to the Whole Foods where our early morning began. Reboarding the bus, we brought our day full circle with the diverse group we started the morning off with, most of whom I hadn’t seen since we arrived at the Capitol, even though we were all at the same events. Just goes to show how massive the group of people who came out to support this legislation on Advocacy Day was! 

Finally, after settling in on the bus, we got the news via phone call, from our lovely event coordinator for the day, Sarah Jones, that our legislators had failed us this time. The House of Representatives, with a current Republican majority, vetoed both bills, with votes split clean down the party line. If even one more Republican Representative had voted ‘yea’  for these bills, we would have two more perfectly logical gun sense control laws coming into place in our state, both mandates that wouldn’t affect any law-abiding gun owner or distributor. 

Even as disappointed by these unnecessary and ridiculous blockages to common sense safety as I am, I’m more determined than ever to carry on the mission of Students Demand Action, for SDA and Ceasefire PA to continue our fight for change, and I know we won’t stop here. We can use all the help we can get, by the way. We’ll be back at Advocacy Day next year! At AFS, Students Demand Action is only beginning a new chapter in our fight, as Senator Haywood wisely reminded us–with advocacy, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

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