DC teens set up home sharing for March for Our Lives participants

Students hold up their hands as they participate in a protest against gun violence February 21, 2018 outside the White House in Washington, DC. Hundreds of students from a number of Maryland and DC schools walked out of their classrooms and made a trip to the U.S. Capitol and the White House to call for gun legislation, one week after 17 were killed in the latest mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

With the March for Our Lives, the teen-led protest for gun control, coming to Washington, D.C., on March 24, many are expecting a crowd akin to the women’s marches that have taken place across the country over the last year. The event’s permit application estimates that 500,000 will attend.

But there’s one crucial difference, logistically speaking: The teenagers who may be planning to come to the event, organized in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, will have a much harder time traveling and finding a place to stay without their parents.

Four local students believe they have a solution. Friends at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, have quickly organized a home-sharing network with host families for students coming to D.C. for the march. In the space of roughly 48 hours, the group has secured potential housing for hundreds of teens in local homes, churches, and synagogues in the D.C. area, with nearly 100 students already signed up to stay—some coming from as far away as California, and some from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“A lot of students are feeling empowered, even though their age might stop them from doing certain things,” says Gabrielle Zwi, 17, one of the four teens organizing housing. “We’re here to help them do that.”

Talking earlier today during their lunch break, Zwi, Kate Lebrun, 18, Michaela Hoenig, 17, and another classmate described how they set up the home share system.

The effort came together quickly. On February 21, a week after the Parkland shooting, Lebrun, Zwi, Hoenig, and their friend decided to form a group, Students Against Gun Violence. That day, students from their high school—along with other schools in Montgomery County, Maryland—walked out in protest over the lack of gun control efforts. After the school received a bomb threat that same day, the group of friends found themselves “sick of sitting on the sidelines and watching all this stuff happen and not be participating.”

After considering their options for helping the March for Our Lives, they hit upon the idea of organizing housing.

On February 27, the group posted a Facebook message promoting the host families plan. On February 28, Sarah Chadwick, a Parkland survivor with hundreds of thousands of followers, retweeted the message. Now the group is getting multiple emails an hour from potential guests, and more and more volunteers coming forward with space.

Lebrun said that the one of the reasons this event sparked so much action was that most people her age can relate to the situation. Teenagers have grown up with active shooter drills: Students at Bethesda’s Walter Johnson experienced a code blue drill, a less severe safety precaution for an active shooter scenario, in 2016 when a shooter stalked a local mall, not to mention the bomb threat last month. When the students at Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, who were following instructions and staying quiet, still weren’t OK, it was “terrifying” for those who grew up practicing those same drills, says Lebrun.

“I think every single school in America has had something like that happen to them,” Lebrun says. “It’s a really prevalent issue we’ve all felt in some way. And we’re all done with it. We’re tired of feeling like we’re going to school and will get shot by someone.”

Zwi said that many people refer to those in the new teen-led gun control movement as kids, but that they shouldn’t be underestimated.

“The majority of us high schoolers will be voting in the next presidential election,” Zwi said. “We’ll have a voice legally soon, but we can have a voice socially now.”

The parents of the four organizers are in support. Abbe Milstein, Michaela’s mom, said they’re ready to host any marchers, if her daughter needs her.

“I think it’s great, and it’s about time,” she says of the student effort. “The fact that kids are making the statement is much more poignant than any made by an adult could be.”

The student organizers at Walter Johnson plan to host a dinner the night before the march, and head in together as a group to D.C. that Saturday via the subway. Those applying for space who are under 18 need to include a parent’s phone number, for safety reasons, and need have parental permission to stay. Those wanting to host can contact the group via email.

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Claudette Patterson