Dozens of Wisconsin high school students are spending their spring breaks this week walking more than 50 miles to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) hometown of Janesville to deliver a message: Pass meaningful gun reform legislation now.
A group of students from Shorewood High School, roughly four miles north of Milwaukee, organized the march to call out Ryan for blocking gun legislation reform and to demand lawmakers take immediate action to curb gun violence.
“We started 50 Miles More to keep the national demand for gun reform going after the March 24th March for Our Lives events are over,” according to the movement’s website. “Our generation has grown up watching school shootings destroy lives and then get swept out of the spotlight. We refuse to let this happen again.”
It wasn’t my original plan, but I’m much happier doing this and effecting some change with my fellow students than just being on a beach somewhere. Brendan Fardella, 17
It’s no coincidence that the four-day, 54-mile trek from Madison began Sunday ― exactly 53 years after Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of civil rights activists into Montgomery, Alabama, to conclude a five-day, 54-mile march that began in Selma.
“We looked to history and an earlier generation of young leaders who fueled real change,” the 50 Miles More website says. “In 1965, civil rights leaders organized the multi-day, 54-mile Selma to Montgomery marches. Those 54 long miles took us a long way toward progress, and are the inspiration for our march.”
March participation swelled to at least 40 young people by Monday, with students across Wisconsin joining the journey. At the end of every mile walked, the 50 More Miles participants honor a victim of gun violence. The march is expected to end Wednesday with a rally in Janesville.
“We’re definitely a little sore in the feet and in some of the joints, but our spirits are high,” Brendan Fardella, a 17-year-old student at Shorewood High School, told HuffPost by phone Monday as he marched through the “middle of nowhere.”
“This is definitely what I’d like to be doing on my spring break,” he said. “It wasn’t my original plan, but I’m much happier doing this and effecting some change with my fellow students than just being on a beach somewhere.”
The marchers have been subjected to a few negative statements from passing drivers and bikers but overall have felt supported, said Alemitu Caldart, who also attends Shorewood High School.
“We just respond by saying, ‘Spread love, not hate,’” Alemitu, 15, told HuffPost.
“[We hope] to show people that we’re not done until actual change is made,” added Alemitu, who plans to participate in a spoken-word performance about gun violence at the rally in Janesville. “We’re still here. We’re stubborn. We’re going to keep on fighting for our lives to be safe every single day.”
Asked by HuffPost for comment on the march, a spokeswoman for Ryan said he “respects those expressing their views.”
“The House recently enacted new laws to keep children safe without infringing on constitutional rights,” she added.
But the legislation she likely referred to, which includes expanding federal background checks for gun purchases, is only a tiny step forward when it comes to the reform proposals pushed by many firearm safety advocates.
The 50 Miles More movement laid out a heftier list of demands on their website:
Military-style weapons, and all weapons of war, should be banned from civilian society.
All accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, such as bump stocks, should be banned.
Four-day waiting period on all gun purchases.
Require background checks on all gun sales.
Raise the legal purchasing age of all guns to 21
“I stand here today to say to all of you that now is the time to do the impossible,” Katie Eder, an 18-year-old organizer of the march, said Saturday in a speech at Milwaukee’s March for Our Lives. “If the politicians won’t listen to us, if the politicians won’t make the change, then come November, we are prepared to change the politicians.”
This article has been updated with quotes from students participating in the march.