June 23 2018
After the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students dead, high school students everywhere took action, leading thousands of walkouts and marches across the country. Though many teenagers cannot vote on the laws and regulations that affect them, high school students have begun using their voices in a way that has caused politicians and voting adults alike to take notice. With an attendance of anywhere from 200,000 to 800,000 people at the Washington, DC March for Our Lives (an event organized mainly by Parkland survivors), and more attending hundreds of sister events around the globe, the impact of these voices was immense.
In Champaign, Illinois, the student organizers behind the local March for Our Lives took their fight for justice one step further. They decided to form the Champaign-Urbana Student Activist Organization, or C-U SAO for short. This entirely student run organization creates a platform for liberal youth to take action on issues they are passionate about – from saving the environment to pushing for gun reform. At meetings, members are able to discuss issues and share specific events the SAO can attend and/or volunteer at.
Since its origins as the March for Our Lives organizing team, this organization has evolved tremendously, tackling many different issues and creating substantial change in their community. Revolution Now spoke to three SAO leaders to learn what it takes to run an activist organization at such a young age.
What do you do for the organization?
Juliann Xu: I was an organizer for the March for Our Lives, and also the town hall that we had for gun control in Champaign-Urbana, and I also organized the Walkout/Teach-in. I was actually the host of that event, along with Isaac Gewirth and Zanden Duncan. And also, I recruit people to join our meetings.
Annemily Hoganson: I just generally do whatever needs to be done, I’ve... been around since we first got started working on the March for Our Lives, and then I worked on a couple other projects and now I’m working on just trying to [make the organization] something that will last.
Isaac Gewirth: I’m the head graphic designer.
How did you decide to create SAO?
Juliann Xu: It originally started as an unnamed coalition of students from every [high] school in Champaign Urbana, and we were focusing on gun control and gun reform… [we] eventually realized that we wanted to expand the issues we were focusing on, which is how the Student Activist Organization was born.
Isaac Gewirth: I was kind of inspired by previous youth movements ... and the potential for there to be a [multi] school organization in CU that does liberal activism.
How do you reach out to people about events or ask to table at an event?
Juliann Xu: We use social media a lot, that’s mainly how we find out about events. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and we have people who have contacted us.
How do you start organizing events?
Juliann Xu: When you get a group of really ambitious and driven students in a room together, I’ve come to realize that something will always be done... [For the] March for Our Lives, that was to raise awareness for gun reform and gun control, and get a conversation going in Champaign-Urbana.
Annemily Hoganson: [For the March for Our Lives] we started by thinking about what our goals were, and what we wanted to accomplish from the event, and then... from that we broke it down into the specific steps we needed to take to create an event that would reach those goals.
What do you want to do with this organization in the future?
Juliann Xu: In the future, we really just want to see a shift in our community. We want more education around things like sexual education, consent education, and especially about how the local government works, because how real change happens is a lot of the time through government... When less than 50% of students in the Champaign-Urbana area know how government works, it’s really hard to make change happen locally, and we really want to see that change.
Annemily Hoganson: I really just want to support local students who want to change things, and I want to give students an avenue for their voices to be heard.
Isaac Gewirth: I want to impact legislation, especially around educational curriculum having to do with sexual education, and consent education.
Do you think other communities across Illinois and/or the US should have student created and led organizations like this? Why or why not?
Juliann Xu: I definitely think they should because the nation is waking up to the idea that students have a voice and we aren’t just a bunch of teenagers who spend all their time on social media reading other people's’ opinions. We can form our own opinions.
Annemily Hoganson: It’s really important that student voices get heard; there are a lot of issues that particularly affect students, and students should have a say in deciding how those issues get dealt with. When they get left out, the issues aren’t dealt with in the best way.
What impact has SAO had on the community thus far?
Juliann Xu: SAO has brought students out of the shadows who were afraid of voicing their opinions because they were worried about not fitting in, losing friends, etc. It has also showed Champaign-Urbana that young people are capable of organizing and coming together in times of terror.
CU - SAO is proof that people of any age can be politically involved and influential in their communities. With passion and drive, anyone can create an organization that amplifies the voices of teens. It is up to the teenagers of America to step up, and partake in the change they want to see.
For more information on how you can start SAO in your community, contact the Champaign-Urbana Student Activist Organization:
- Email: StudentActivistOrganizationSAO@gmail.com
- Instagram: @cu_sao
- Twitter: @StuActivismOrg
- Facebook: Student Activist Organization
- Sign up for the biweekly newsletter by emailing SAO here
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