The Florida Teens Started Their Movement In A Parent’s Living Room. Now These Big Progressive Groups Are Helping Organizing Them.

Several large progressive organizations, donors, and a high-powered public relations firm are backing the March For Our Lives movement, which is quickly evolving from a student-run social media effort to end gun violence into a one backed by some of the most influential activists in the country.

In the days after the shooting in Parkland, Florida which killed 17 people, the teenage survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were impossible to ignore. They blanketed cable news coverage, built a massive following on social media, and began to organize a rally in the county's capital in support of gun reform.

Barely two weeks ago, the student survivors sat in a circle in the living room of one of their parents homes, planning a trip to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers and handling nitty-gritty matters like which media outlets to talk to.

Since then, major players and organizations — including Everytown, Giffords, Move On, Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March LA — told BuzzFeed News they are helping the students with logistics, strategy, and planning for next month’s March For Our Lives rally and beyond. Much of the specific resources the groups are providing to the Parkland students remains unclear — as is the full list of supporting organizations — but there are broad outlines.

Giffords, an organization started by former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that fights gun violence, is working with Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to plan the main march on Washington — as well as sister rallies across the country.

With the event scheduled to happen in less than a month, a spokesperson for Giffords told BuzzFeed News the organization “will be lending support in any way the students need, especially helping to operationalize these marches from logistics to programming.”

“We applaud these students for demonstrating incredible leadership and demanding that our lawmakers do more to help protect Americans from gun violence,” the spokesperson said.

Everytown for Gun Safety — bankrolled mostly by Michael Bloomberg — recently secured a $1 million donation from entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad.

MoveOn said it will encourage its millions of members to follow and promote the March For Our Lives movement on social media and attend the rally next month. The group said it offered support in organizing logistics such as security and portable toilets, but it is unclear if the students have taken them up on their offer.

And a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said the group is “teaching and hosting trainings” for a new and rejuvenated crop of student activists across the US “to keep momentum going so they don't get burned out.” The spokesperson said the students are the ones telling the organizations what type of help they need.

Democratic US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County resident for nearly 30 years, told BuzzFeed News she has been in touch with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas since the day after the shooting, helping them connect to state legislators and plan their trip to Tallahassee last week.

Wasserman Shultz said that because this is the first time many of the students have interacted with legislators, she advised them on communication strategy. She also said she been in contact with Mark Kelly — Gabrielle Giffords' husband and one of the founders of the Giffords foundation.

The students also traveled to DC this week — they posted selfies on Tuesday returning on a plane — and met with a handful of Democratic leaders, including Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders, US Rep. John Lewis and Speaker Paul Ryan.

The American Federation of Teachers, who helped bus students and parents to Tallahassee multiple times last week, are now assisting with the March For Our Lives rally. The federation’s president told BuzzFeed News that they are also helping support next month's march as well as helping to shape the vision and mission for the group once the rally is over.

“There are a lot of people who know how to put on a march in Washington and we are here to help support the teens with that experience in terms of logistics and strategy but it's still early and they have some time to figure that out,” AFT President Randi Weingarten told BuzzFeed News. “We will be here for that 'oh shit moment' when they realize they need things like permits.”

Weingarten said “this moment is different,” and there will be a lot of work to do after next month's march.

AFT, as well as the growing contingent of organizations backing the student-led march, are working to cultivate and build upon the movement after the rally. Weingarten noted that the groups are also behind the “National School Walkout” taking place in April to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Columbine.

After that, she says the goal is to carry that momentum until November — with some of the students already using the hashtag #votethemout.

“We are also marching towards midterms,” she said, adding that the activists intend for gun control and student safety to be a major platform and key issue for voters in the midterm elections.

“With their angst, anger, and authenticity, these students have pierced through the normal polarization of this debate,” Weingarten said. “This moment is different.”

Many details around the march remain unclear, including the exact location. Last week, a co-director of the Women's March Los Angeles, Deena Katz, filed a permit application with the National Park Service for the “March for Our Lives” rally estimating that 500,000 people will show up.

But a spokesperson for the National Park Service told BuzzFeed News on Monday that the permit has yet to be granted as they are “still waiting for the organizers to settle on a location.” Katz has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The students and their parents have also brought on 42West, a public relations firm in the entertainment industry, to help “the March For Our Lives group manage the flood of media inquires that their campaign has attracted,” a spokesperson for the March For Our Lives told BuzzFeed News.

42West is not providing the students legal advice or financial advice, the spokesperson said, and refused to provide details on who is helping manage the millions of dollars in donations they have received.

“We are so busy helping the kids manage the hundreds of media requests they've received to talk about what can be done to end gun violence that we really don't have time right now to get into all this procedural stuff,” a spokesperson for 42West said in response to a list of questions from BuzzFeed News. “And in any case, a lot of the things you ask about, like the foundation’s structure and the kids’ long-term plans, haven’t yet been worked out.”

Cameron Kasky, the student-organizer who started the March For Our Lives GoFundMe page, tweeted Sunday about “working with money people and law people.”

In addition to the millions of dollars raised by A-list celebrities including Oprah, George and Amal Clooney, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the March For Our Lives GoFundMe page has raised an additional $2.7 million as of Tuesday.

Some of the highest GoFundMe donations have come from philanthropists such as Jeff Raikes — the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — and his wife Tricia, as well as Chris and Camille Bently, who run the Bently Foundation, which supports organizations in the areas of the environment, the arts, and animal welfare, according to its website.

“My husband has been a supporter of sensible gun laws/rights, he owns guns himself but respects the responsibility involved,” Camille Bently said in an email. “We support extensive rigorous background checks, raising the minimum age to purchase weapons and banning assault weapons. Gun laws should be advancing with the advancement of weapons.”

Jeff and Tricia Raikes donated $25,000 saying they are “awe of [the students'] moral clarity and courage.”

“The students of Stoneman Douglas High School’s leadership in the aftermath of the horrific shooting at their school is a powerful reminder that young people can change the world,” they said in a statement.

Aaron Levie, the founder of the cloud company Box, who has been vocal on Twitter about the work the student survivors have been doing, donated $10,000, telling BuzzFeed News he won't be able to join the march on Washington but will be supporting the students from afar.

“I think these young leaders have a real chance of changing our country for the better — FINALLY — so wanted to throw in a tiny bit of support,” Levie told BuzzFeed News in an email.

Chris and Camille Bently told BuzzFeed News they have not been in direct contact with the students but plan to march alongside them “and hope to further their cause.”

“These children have more courage at 16 years old to better our country than our law-makers do,” Camille Bently said. “I would love to give every one of those kids a big hug.”

Additional reporting by Remy Smidt


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