By Ashley Skinner
Students across the U.S. led a Town Hall for Our Lives event April 7, calling on congressional candidates to answer questions from the local youth regarding gun control.
Students in Hays County met with five political candidates from the TX-21 district to discuss youth activism and their platforms on gun reform. Rebecca Bell-Metereau, the candidate for the Texas House and English professor at Texas State, said she was excited about the event.
“All of the students were very civil with each other and were not afraid to speak up for what they believe in,” Bell-Metereau said. “My hope is that this movement is a real turning point for holding candidates accountable.”
The goal of the town hall, organized by Melanie Louch, San Marcos High School senior, was to educate community members and students on local gun laws and how they can get involved.
Louch said she was influenced by David Hogg, an activist and survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.
“I follow David on Twitter and I saw him tweeting about student-led town halls across the nation,” Louch said. “I got onto the official town hall website and I realized there was nothing for Texas District 21. I figured I could be the one to organize it.”
Over 120 town halls were scheduled for April 7, according to the official website. Over 30 Democratic members of Congress organized a town hall or accepted invitations to a forum. However, Republican counterparts did not comply according to Louch.
“I would like to make it known that we had solely Democratic representatives because none of the Republican members responded to or accepted our invitations,” Louch said. “We really wanted to have both perspectives.”
The congressional panel consisted of candidate Joseph Kopser and a representative for candidate Mary Wilson, Jovan Poursamadi. Bell-Metereau and Erin Zwiener, candidates for the Texas House and Ruben Becerra, candidate for Hays County Judge were also on the panel.
Candidate for Hays County Commissioner Omar Baca helped Louch organize the town hall.
“I’ve run many town halls and have been politically involved since their age,” Baca said. “I know a lot of the fallouts from where not to spend the energy and where to put the energy, so I just helped them allocate. Really, truly, this was all them.”
The student panel was made up of eight students from surrounding high schools and colleges to facilitate discussion on youth activism.
San Marcos High School junior Julian Ybarra is the president of the school’s chapter of Junior State of America (JSA) and is running to be Texas JSA’s next Speaker of the House.
“I sat on this panel because I am very passionate about making sure people are heard, especially the youth,” Ybarra said. “JSA is really big on fighting apathy and we believe that is the first step to making things happen.”
Elizabeth Contreras, freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, was the chief of staff for Texas JSA’s lieutenant governor her senior year in high school. Contreras said she was on the panel because she believes San Marcos has a horrible voter turnout.
“During my time in high school, I was very active in JSA,” Contreras said. “I attended a school board meeting my junior year and the room was full of people with opinions about school scheduling. However, because so many of those people didn’t vote in the school board elections, our opinion was silenced.”
While all of the students and candidates on the panels had something different to say about gun control, the concept of stricter regulations to obtain a firearm resonated.
“The conversation in Texas seemed to change overnight after the… shooting in Florida,” Zwiener said. “It went from trying to get people whatever gun they wanted to looking at stricter obtaining policies. We have an opportunity here and we need to take it.”
Louch said this is the beginning of something she thinks is desperately needed: a platform for students and what they want from their candidates.
“I know the students in my school care about the topic of gun control, they just don’t have the platform they need to express their concerns,” Louch said. “This is not the last time you are going to hear from the youth of San Marcos. This is the beginning of a movement and I am proud to be a part of it.”