Fueling momentum for a cause

Six student speakers from the "PR Campaigns" class present their ideas to the March for Our Lives members. Photo: Evan F. Garcia/University of Miami

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

Six student speakers from the "PR Campaigns" class present their ideas to the March for Our Lives members. Photo: Evan F. Garcia/University of Miami

Fueling momentum for a cause

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
UM public relations students unveiled their plans to reposition March for Our Lives to attract college students and spread their message in 2019.

“We call BS.”

This short phrase, mentioned in multiple speeches by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has been used to rail against politicians who said they supported gun control, but then voted against it. Inspired by the words, 19 University of Miami students used the phrase as a slogan in their campaign to propel the March for Our Lives movement forward, which they unveiled in a presentation Monday.  

The grassroots, youth-run movement sprung from the tragedy that rocked Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Valentine’s Day, when 17 students, staff and teachers were killed by an intruder carrying an assault weapon.

“Our class has dedicated more than 1,000 hours toward planning the next phase of March for Our Lives,” senior Nathaniel Derrenbacher said, after opening the presentation. 

“March for our Lives has made it clear that a new generation is here. One that will take no BS,” added senior Kelly Marie Castro.

The public relations students went on to detail their plans and suggestions to keep the momentum going for a movement that found significant traction in a short time. In the months after the tragedy, March for Our Lives garnered millions of dollars in donations and support from celebrities across the country, and its student leaders were featured in a number of national news outlets.

That’s why Heidi Carr, public relations lecturer in the School of Communication, thought the group would be a great model “client” for this senior-level course. Carr contacted March for Our Lives leaders last summer and the students met and contacted members of the group throughout the semester to clarify their needs.

Two members of the organization were in attendance for the final presentation Monday, cofounders Bradley Thornton, an alum of the high school, and John Barnitt, a current senior at the Parkland school, along with the parents of two survivors, Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña, who wrote the song “Shine,” to memorialize the 17 victims. Before students began their presentation, one student played the song on her guitar and sang the lyrics. The class was streamed on Facebook Live through the School of Communication, so that students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High could tune in from school.

Earlier this fall, several March for Our Lives members came to the class and explained that they needed help reaching college-age adults in their mission to promote gun control. During the class, students did extensive research by surveying more than 1,000 people in the age range of 18 to 29 years old.  They found that most supported gun control, but many did not want to join a college chapter of March for Our Lives. Yet, they would be interested in attending an event with celebrities speaking about gun control.

A banner created by UM students that can be used at rallies and events. The background features text messages students sent the day of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Therefore, students proposed that March for Our Lives do a college tour at 22 universities called “You Up for Change?” where the slogan “We call BS” would be used on clothing for sale and on orange bracelets distributed to participants. Events would feature celebrity appearances and performances, as well as panel discussions with March leaders about gun control. Students also proposed a social media challenge where supporters of gun control would write “No BS” on their hands and post a picture of themselves with the hashtag on Instagram Stories or Snapchat. They also demonstrated this using photos of students currently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High who wrote “No BS” on their hands.

“I was blown away at the level of detail and focus they put on certain topics and how they dissected our organization to find ways to show our strengths … and ways that we can implement things in the new year,” said Barnitt. “We may not go straight on tour, but there were many things we can use in general like amping up our social media presence, and the ‘No BS’ challenge.”

Finally, the UM students suggested creating a new music video for the song “Shine” with celebrity appearances, similar to what was done with Michael Jackson’s hit “We are the World.” 

Many UM students said they savored the ability to use their skills and creativity to help advance the movement. They spent weekends on campus perfecting their presentation, and each student had a chance to be on multiple teams in class — covering design, writing, events, and big ideas, Carr said.

“In a campaign this size, you can run into some last minute challenges, and this class taught us to use the resources available to us, while also making sure our client is always at the forefront of everything we do,” Derrenbacher said.

Carr said that her students’ work has forged an ongoing relationship with the movement. On the evening of Feb. 5, 2019, four to five members of March for Our Lives will be at UM for a town hall discussion on gun control at the Shalala Student Center, she said.

“Everybody seemed to like what we had to offer, of course the proof will be in what’s done,” Carr said.