Wisconsin Students Take Protest To House Speaker's Backyard

Mar 29, 2018

This post has been updated.

A week after the national school walkout, some Wisconsin students went the extra mile, or this case - 50 miles, to protest gun violence. The students wrapped up a four-day, 50-mile march from Madison to Janesville Wednesday, following last weekend's nationwide March For Our Lives rallies.  And the organizers say their work isn't done, even if the march is.

Katie Eder says gun violence isn't a political issue; but rather, students are literally fighting for their lives.

Eder is a senior at Shorewood High School. She says the Parkland, Florida school shooting last month felt like it hit close to home. The shooting left 17 people dead, and Eder says those victims could've just as easily been 17 kids at her own school.

She says she knew right away that she wanted to get involved in the push for gun control, after seeing the resilience of the Parkland survivors.

Members of the 50 Miles More movement rally before they marched to Janesville.
Credit 50 Miles More

Shorewood was one of a number of Wisconsin schools that participated in the national walkout last week. And when the school's superintendent toyed with the idea of taking a bigger protest to House Speaker Paul Ryan's hometown, Eder says students jumped at the opportunity.

"For anyone to say we don't know enough or we aren't ready to step up and take action, I think they obviously haven't spoken to teenagers anytime recently because you know, we know what we're talking about. We know what we're talking about because we care. We're passionate," Eder says.

The journey took them Wednesday to Janesville's Traxler Park.  The approach to the park took them on a bridge over the Rock River, echoing the march that inspired them - the Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965.  "The Selma bridge photo, with all those marchers coming across," Eder explains, "was something that really inspired us.  We wanted to capture that moment."

High schools along the way allowed marchers to sleep in their gyms, and community organizations provided the food, while the marchers averaged around 13 miles a day.

Eder says shootings in the country seem to have become the norm and that's part of the problem. She says the March For Our Lives movement is still moving forward because people are fed up.

"It's been 19 years since Columbine and still no action has been taken to prevent gun violence in this country and that's something we know. We see that shootings in schools and in communities and on street corners in neighborhoods have become so normalized. We don't about it anymore, and we want it to be and we're saying that we're going to continue to push this message until that is no longer something that's normal because it shouldn't be," she says.

Eder says the administration at Shorewood High School does a good job making students feel safe, however she adds that the thought of what to do if a gunman walked into the school is a question students ask themselves every day.

"Where would I go? Who would I text? Where are my friends right now? That's something that goes through my mind I would say a couple times a day," she explains. "That right there is why gun violence and guns are the reason we feel unsafe."

Eder says students who marched the 50 miles from Madison to Janesville are pushing for three specific things: a ban on all military style weapons in civilian society, a ban on accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, and increased regulation on gun purchasing.

A sign from the rally held before the 50 Miles More marchers walked from Madison to Janesville.
Credit 50 Miles More

She says one thing about kids is that they're stubborn, and they're not going away: "The point of our 50 Miles More march is to show that, you know even after March For Our Lives events end, youth aren't going anywhere. We're going to continue to march, and we're going to continue to walkout, and we're going to continue to raise our voices until change is made."

To that end, Eder says the group has launched a new camapign - #50more in #50states, challenging people in the other 49 states to walk 50 miles to the office or hometown of one of their elected representatives before the November general election. Eder says she hopes to be a part of some of those marches, as well.  "Marching in Hawaii would be a lot more fun that marching in freezing cold Wisconsin," she laughs.