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New B-N Youth Activists Group Plans Candidates Forum

Allie Beam, Elli Diggins, and Gavin Cunningham of BN Youth Activists
Jon Norton
Allie Beam, Elli Diggins, and Gavin Cunningham of BN Youth Activists.

Student protests following the Valentine’s Day mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, have not ebbed.

A Bloomington-Normal youth group formed to advocate for more gun control will hold a town hall Oct. 12 with local political candidates.

BN Youth Activists is comprised of high school and middle school students from Bloomington-Normal.  Members Allie Beam, Ellie Diggins, and Gavin Cunningham stopped by the GLT studios to talk about the event to be held at the McLean County Museum of History.

Beam said though the town hall is open to the public, the format allows students to have a voice in political matters specifically for the upcoming midterm election.

“Students are future voters,” said Beam when asked why politicians should listen to people not yet eligible to vote. “It’s really important to make sure that everyone is informed now so in a couple years when we’re voting, we know what we are voting for.”

Gun reform is certainly one of the issues that will be discussed.

“Especially what’s going on in town over the past year,” said Cunningham. “But we really want people to ask questions about things they care about, and things they want to know from their representative, or people that want to become their representatives.”

Cunningham said the activism of the students at Parkland continue to inspire him and his fellow students.

"Students are realizing we have a voice, and people will listen to us if we make that voice heard."

“Students are realizing we have a voice, and people will listen to us if we make that voice heard,” said Cunningham. He pointed to the organized school walkout last spring as evidence that political awareness is wider among Bloomington-Normal students than the handful of members of BN Youth Activists.

The group has received support from parents, teachers, and other adults, according to Diggins, one of the main organizers of a walkout last spring. But she has received some pushback on her activism from parents who cited her age as someone susceptible to being brainwashed.

“Mostly it was online, and some of my friends' parents giving me some backlash. But we didn’t really listen to them, and continued to protest,” said Diggins.

Any topic is on the table for the upcoming town hall, but its clear gun control is still front and center for Beam, Diggins, and Cunningham.

“Speaking on behalf of many students in our country, this is an issue we have to deal with daily. Nobody at Parkland expected it would be them. So now we have to be aware this is a real possibility for all of us, and we need to be able to take all the precautions necessary to ensure this is not happening anymore,” said Beam.

Cunningham said local politicians confirmed for the town hall include Normal Mayor Chris Koos, Illinois House candidates Ben Webb and Jill Blair, and McLean County Board candidate Shayna Watchinski. They said a representative for 13th Congressional District candidate Betsy Dirksen Londrigan will attend, and were waiting on a final confirmation from state Rep. Dan Brady.

Beam said the group is hoping to convert what happens during the town hall into education, one of the group’s main priorities.

“We’re making sure people are engaged in going out to the polls and voting,” said Beam.

Cunningham thinks they are making an impact.

“More people are listening to us, more people are starting dialogues. We’re seeing that in our own community. People are willing to talk to people that maybe don’t agree on all political issues,” said Cunningham.

Though the main issue of gun control suggests these students lean progressive, Beam said BN Youth Activists is designed to be nonpartisan.

“That is our goal … to make everything as straight forward and allowing people to be able to see both sides of any issue,” said Beam.

She said the group hasn’t had as much interest from more conservative-minded students.

“But we are incredibly open and looking forward to including members not only conservative vs. liberal, but also libertarian or socialist people who want to be a part of it,” said Beam.

Socialism. It’s not a dirty word to many high school and college-aged Americans. Which is quite a shift from a few decades ago. And much has been made of the increased cost of college and lack of blue-collar jobs today compared to those decades past. Beam said that’s partly what also drives this group.

“Sometimes there are factors on the outside keeping people from achieving these same types of things. But on a grand scheme, we’re all trying to aid people who aren’t given the same opportunities,” said Beam.

Despite that, this group remains optimistic that opportunities are still plentiful for young people today.

“Maybe everyone’s not on the same level because of outside factors,” said Beam. “But I think with this generation, we can work, and I’m optimistic we can help everyone be able to achieve what they want to do.”

Though the Oct. 12 town hall is being organized, directed, and moderated by students, group members said they’re hoping to get the community at large involved. There is limited seating, so the group is asking those who wish to attend to register on the BN Youth Activists website.

Full segment from WGLT.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.