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March for Our Lives was the beginning. Town halls are next.

Organizers are pushing for lawmakers to host events on April 7.

Thousands Join March For Our Lives Events Across US For School Safety From Guns Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

March for Our Lives organizers will now try to confront politicians face to face. They’re calling it “Town Hall for Our Lives” and are pushing every single member of the House of Representatives to host a town hall on Saturday, April 7.

March organizers are partnering with the Town Hall Project, which helped rally progressives during the congressional fight over health care, to help activists organize.

Congress is on recess through April 8 (April 9 for the House), so some lawmakers already have town halls scheduled. March for Our Lives and the Town Hall Project are encouraging gun control activists to rally around those already established events — or pressure representatives without a town hall scheduled to host one next week.

David Hogg, a Parkland survivor and one of the March for Our Lives organizers, said this goes for Republican and Democratic Congress members — they want all 435 representatives to participate. If not, primary and general election opponents will be invited to attend in their places, or activists will consider holding an “empty chair” town hall to call attention to their absence.

“We’re not for Democrats or Republicans,” Hogg said. “We’re simply trying to save kids.”

According to Nathan Williams of the Town Hall Project, 123 town halls have been scheduled in response to the movement — set up either by a member of Congress, or organized by gun reform activists who are holding empty chair town halls, or inviting opponents or primary challengers. A total of 31 lawmakers, all Democrats, scheduled public events in response to the Town Hall for Our Lives campaign.

Student activists across the country have pressed politicians to accept invitations to these town halls. Not all have been successful. In Hickory, North Carolina — about an hour outside Charlotte — organizers are hosting an event at a local church, and, as of this week, the Democratic nominee and GOP primary candidate for Congress agreed to attend.

Salt Lake City’s organizers have been unable to confirm lawmakers’ attendance for town hall events. They will instead host a demonstration at the Wallace Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City. It will include a 6-minute-and-20-second “die-in,” the duration of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, followed by an empty chair forum where students can ask questions they would have directed toward politicians.

Hogg said he hopes activists hold politicians accountable for accepting money from the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby, though he encouraged all constituents to attend — not just advocates of gun control, but those who have opinions about school safety or mental health policy.

“I would just say everyone should come out and make their voices heard, regardless of what their opinions” are, he said.

Another sign that this new gun control movement is gaining strength

More than a million Americans marched on Saturday, March 24. Thousands got up from their desks and walked out of classrooms on March 14. Another walkout is scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

The April 7 town hall push is a sign that teenage activists and their allies are escalating pressure on lawmakers ahead of the 2018 midterms. “Vote them out” was a common refrain at the March for Our Lives on Saturday, and calls for political change melded with those for gun control. The march revealed that voters are ready to hold politicians accountable; this town hall push is another early sign this movement is gaining political strength.

Large turnout at town halls around gun control could also signal a much larger shift: that voters are willing to go to the polls on this issue, which could force Congress to finally act.

Gun control measures, such as universal background checks, have strong bipartisan support. But the problem, as Vox’s German Lopez has written, is issue intensity — most voters don’t passionately cast ballots over gun control legislation. The march, followed by town halls and more demonstrations, could hint at a transformation in how voters are seeing the issue, one lawmakers will be paying attention to ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Town halls have effectively pressured lawmakers on other political debates — most notably the Affordable Care Act. Town halls became the staging ground for the Tea Party in 2009, and images of angry constituents furiously confronting lawmakers about “death panels” propelled a conservative backlash and GOP lawmakers to consider Obamacare toxic.

The same town hall activism worked in the reverse during the 2017 push to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This time, constituents faced down GOP lawmakers in support of Obamacare, helping to increase the law’s popularity and aid its survival of the repeal effort.

Williams, of the Town Hall Project, told Vox that while young people mobilized around ACA repeal, teenagers are the ones mobilizing and taking the lead in organizing these town hall events. “There are a high percentage who are in high school,” he added. “A lot of them cannot vote.”