Why Student Activists Did 50 Mile March
Issue was gun control but the inspiration was 1960s Selma to Montgomery march.
One day after the nationwide March for Our Lives, which included more than a dozen demonstrations around Wisconsin, a group of about 40 students from more than a dozen schools started a 50-mile long trek from Madison to Speaker Paul Ryan‘s hometown of Janesville in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which he has represented since 1999.
The group, called 50 Miles More, is calling for comprehensive changes to gun policy as part of the national youth activism movement that emerged in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018. Participants embarked on March 24, 2018 and marched over the course of four days, sleeping in school gyms along the way. When the students arrived in Janesville on March 28, they held a rally for a crowd of hundreds, including community members and public officials.
Wisconsin has seen a variety of instances of youth activism over the past decade, from student-driven protests during the 2011 Act 10 demonstrations to walkouts over gun policy in 2018. However, this 50-mile march intentionally sought to emulate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and the 54-mile marches in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.
“We looked to history and an earlier generation of young leaders who fueled real change,” the marchers wrote in their mission statement. “Those 54 long miles took us a long way toward progress, and are the inspiration for our march.”
According to Walter Stern, a UW-Madison educational policy professor and expert on civil rights-era student activism, the historical parallels can be drawn between the current march and Selma marches.
“The context and climate of Alabama in 1965, and the violence that participants in the march were subjected to, was quite different than today,” Stern said. “On the other hand there is a long history of young people being engaged in activism, often taking a stand when adults were unwilling or unable to act more forcefully, so historical analogies are justified.”
As the students look to expand their activism to other states, it is unclear whether the historical precedent of the civil rights era suggests they will achieve their goals.
Stern said student activism helped add to the narrative of the civil rights movement, citing one instance that became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“On the one hand it had a huge impact,” Stern said, “yet on the other hand, we still have very segregated schools today.”
Stern cited the example of Milwaukee student activist Vada Harris, who in 1967 worked to change history curricula at Riverside High School, as an example of how students can help change the narrative surrounding issues.
“I think students opened up a whole new set of ideas,” Stern said. “From there, there’s no looking back once that door is open.”
Expressing youthful enthusiasm, 50 Miles More participants claimed at least some credit for the retirement. March organizer Katie Eder told Teen Vogue “our march was that last straw” in the Speaker’s decision to retire.
Ryan cited an interest in spending more time with his family as the motivating factor in his retirement, while observers have also pointed to the political environment in Washington, D.C. and Republican prospects in the November 2018 elections.
“I think that although we aren’t the sole reason why he decided not to do it again, I think we had a big impact,” added march organizer Alemitu Caldart in an interview with the magazine.
The organizers said they plan to promote their idea of 50-mile marches to other states, and are developing seed money and toolkits to aid student activists interested in the idea.
The Inspirations Behind Wisconsin’s ’50 Miles More’ March w as originally published on WisContext which produced the article in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.
More about the Gun Violence
- Democrats Push Medical Marijuana, Red Flag Law - Laurel White - Oct 7th, 2019
- Municipalities Calling For Mass Violence Reform - Alana Watson - Sep 26th, 2019
- Evers Wants Gun Laws - Shamane Mills - Sep 25th, 2019
- Rep. Anderson in Support of Extreme Risk Protection Orders - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Sep 19th, 2019
- Evers Renews Call for Red Flag Gun Law - Laurel White - Sep 19th, 2019
- Republican Inaction Ignores Urgency of Gun Violence Crisis - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Sep 19th, 2019
- Senator Craig Reacts to Evers’ Statement on Gun Confiscation - State Sen. David Craig - Sep 19th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Backs Extreme Risk Protection Order Legislation - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Sep 19th, 2019
- What Will It Take To Act? - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Sep 19th, 2019
- Democrats Announce Extreme Risk Protection Order Legislation to Prevent Suicide and Gun Violence - Gov. Tony Evers - Sep 19th, 2019
- Wis. Republicans Once Backed Gun Control - Robin Bravender - Aug 30th, 2019
- Sen. Taylor and Mothers Against Gun Violence Partner to Educate during National Life Insurance Month - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Aug 29th, 2019
- Celebrating the Life of Quanita ‘Tay’ Jackson - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Aug 26th, 2019
- Shooting takes a positive agent for change in the community - Ald. Khalif Rainey - Aug 26th, 2019
- Op Ed: Congress Must Take on Gun Industry - Ray Dall’Osto and Chris Strohbehn - Aug 23rd, 2019
- Alderman Urges Gun Control After Attack - Alana Watson - Aug 22nd, 2019
- Gunfire too common and too close for comfort – time for action on firearms - Ald. Cavalier “Chevy” Johnson - Aug 21st, 2019
- Op Ed: Gun Control Has Wide Support - State Sen. Jeff Smith - Aug 19th, 2019
- Op Ed: State Needs Republican Leadership on Guns - Gregory Humphrey - Aug 16th, 2019
- Rep. Gordon Hintz: Statement on Universal Background Checks - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Aug 15th, 2019
- Evers, Democrats Unveil Background Checks Bill - Laurel White - Aug 15th, 2019
- The Time for Universal Background Checks is Now - State Sen. Jon Erpenbach - Aug 15th, 2019
- Hesselbein Supports Common Sense Background Checks - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Aug 15th, 2019
- Representative Lisa Subeck Joins Governor Evers, Democratic Colleagues Introducing Universal Background Check Legislation - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Aug 15th, 2019
- Wisconsin Democrats Announce Universal Background Checks Bill, Call on Republicans to Act - Gov. Tony Evers - Aug 15th, 2019
- “I Don’t Have the Answer” to Mass Shootings - Laurel White - Aug 14th, 2019
- Survivor of Gun Violence Opposes the Death Penalty - Erik Gunn - Aug 10th, 2019
- Dem Lawmakers Push Bill to Tax Guns - Erik Gunn - Aug 9th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Echoes Call to Action Against Gun Violence - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Aug 8th, 2019
- Rep. Anderson Introduces Legislation to Create a Statewide Fund for Victims of Gun Violence - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Aug 7th, 2019
- State Leaders Divided Over Gun Laws - Laurel White - Aug 7th, 2019
- Rep. Hintz: Statement on Gun Violence Prevention - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Aug 6th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: About Those Good Guys With a Gun - Bruce Murphy - Jul 30th, 2019
- Representative Subeck Introduces “Safe Storage for Gun Safety” Package to Curb Gun Violence and Accidental Shootings - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Jul 26th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Supports “Wear Orange” for Gun Violence Prevention - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Jun 7th, 2019
- Rep. Zamarripa Statement on Wear Orange Weekend - State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa - Jun 7th, 2019
- Op Ed: Suicides Up Since Gun Waiting Period Ended - Chris Walker - Apr 21st, 2019
- Representative Lisa Subeck Praises Federal Background Check Expansion Act Introduction - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Jan 9th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Background Check Expansion Act To Reduce Gun Violence - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jan 9th, 2019
- Senator Larson & Representative Bowen: Call on Gun Manufacturers to Prioritize “Smart Gun” Technology and Other Gun Safety Measures in Order to Reduce Gun Violence - State Sen. Chris Larson - Sep 13th, 2018
- School Safety Grant Program Avoids Larger Issues of Gun Violence - State Sen. Chris Larson - Jul 24th, 2018
- Most School Shooters Get Their Guns at Home - State Rep. Terese Berceau - May 22nd, 2018
- Governor Walker Orders Flags to Half-Staff Following Tragedy in Santa Fe, Texas - Gov. Scott Walker - May 18th, 2018
- Bryce Releases Statement on Santa Fe High School Shooting - Randy Bryce - May 18th, 2018
- Why Student Activists Did 50 Mile March - Will Kenneally - Apr 20th, 2018
- Roys Marks 19th Anniversary of Columbine Shooting - Kelda Roys - Apr 20th, 2018
- Marchers Seek Gun Control - Margaret Cannon - Apr 5th, 2018
- Giffords Endorses Rebecca Dallet for Wisconsin Supreme Court Against Gun Lobby Backed Candidate - Rebecca Dallet - Mar 30th, 2018
- Mayor Tom Barrett Applauds Passage of Bill Prohibiting Straw Purchasing - Mayor Tom Barrett - Mar 28th, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs $100 Million School Safety Plan into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 26th, 2018
- Republicans Again Did Nothing to Address Gun Violence - State Sen. Chris Larson - Mar 20th, 2018
- School safety package is rushed, needs significant fixes - State Rep. David Bowen - Mar 20th, 2018
- Tom Palzewicz Releases Comprehensive Gun Safety Reform Plan - Tom Palzewicz - Mar 20th, 2018
- Dana Wachs Responds to Gov. Walker’s Short-Sighted School Safety Plan - State Rep. Dana Wachs - Mar 15th, 2018
- Gov. Walker fails to act on gun safety - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Mar 15th, 2018
- No Child Should Ever Feel Unsafe in School: Governor Walker Calls $100 million Special Session on School Safety - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 15th, 2018
- I stand with our children - Ald. Chantia Lewis - Mar 14th, 2018
- National Walkout Day: I Sit in Solidarity with Students - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Mar 14th, 2018
- Youth Council measure urges support of National School Walkout Day and March for Our Lives - City of Milwaukee Youth Council - Mar 13th, 2018
- Mayor Tom Barrett, City Leaders Call For Gun Safety from Children - Mayor Tom Barrett - Mar 12th, 2018
- The State of Politics: School Safety Bill Renews Gun Debate - Steven Walters - Mar 12th, 2018
- The Intersection of Guns and Race - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Mar 8th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Cosponsors Critical School Safety Legislation - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 6th, 2018
- Representative Subeck Statement on Governor’s Comments on School Safety - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Mar 1st, 2018
- Roys calls on Walker to pass common sense gun reform during proposed special session on gun violence - Kelda Roys - Mar 1st, 2018
- Op Ed: Thoughtful Discussion Needed on Guns - Kyle Hagge - Mar 1st, 2018
- Guns, Grief and Grace - Elizabeth Baker - Feb 28th, 2018
- The time for action on gun violence is now - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Feb 28th, 2018
- The Contrarian: The Real “Gun Nuts” - George Mitchell - Feb 26th, 2018
- Did Michael Screnock Promise the NRA He Supports More Guns in Schools? - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 23rd, 2018
- Universal Background Checks Fail on Party Line in WI State Assembly - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Feb 21st, 2018
- Bryce Calls on Speaker Ryan to Meet with Students from his District - Randy Bryce - Feb 21st, 2018
- Republicans block school shooting precautions - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Feb 20th, 2018
- Passage of Senate Bill 408 - State Sen. Chris Larson - Feb 20th, 2018
- Republican Bill Would Put Guns in Wisconsin Schools - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 19th, 2018
- Speaker Ryan Chooses Campaign Donors Over South Florida Teacher - Randy Bryce - Feb 17th, 2018
- Dana Wachs Calls for an Overhaul of Assault Weapon Laws and Other Measures to Fight Domestic Terrorism - State Rep. Dana Wachs - Feb 16th, 2018
- GOP Chair of State Assembly Committee on Education, School Principal Shares Article Romanticizing Guns in Schools in Aftermath of Florida Mass School Shooting - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 16th, 2018
- Data Wonk: The More Guns, Less Crime Scam - Bruce Thompson - Oct 18th, 2017
- Op Ed: 5 Ways to Reduce Gun Deaths - Patrick Dunphy - Oct 16th, 2017