March for Our Lives builds grassroots momentum at student volunteer meeting

Chad Lyle

After an unexpected showing of student volunteers, organizers for the Austin March for Our Lives event were forced to relocate their Saturday meeting from Mozart’s Coffee Roasters to a large picnic table overlooking Lake Austin — still, not everyone could find a seat. 

The large turnout at the first volunteer meeting was great news for Conor Heffernan and Jack Kappelman, seniors at Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School and two of the three organizers of the march in support of gun control laws.

Heffernan called the turnout a pleasant surprise.

“It’s one of those situations where … we didn’t think there would be this many people and then a ton of people showed up,” Heffernan said.

Kappelman said the Austin March for Our Lives will remain a student-led movement for gun safety in keeping with the national movement.

“I think it sends a more powerful message, having (the March) student organized,” Kappelman said. “This is an issue that primarily affects students, and to see that students are willing to get engaged with it and take on really serious leadership positions … shows how much we as students are in need of actual change.”

Kyle Legg, a junior at Vandegrift High School, said he contacted the organizers through Facebook because he wanted to take action after the Parkland shooting. Now, he’s working to boost turnout at the march by reaching out to his classmates via the communication tool Remind 101. 

Though the volunteers were largely high school students, Texas Tech University sophomore Jenny Matthews also attended the meeting and is now one of two people in charge of doing press releases.

“I was at home with my parents (in Houston) when the march (on D.C.) was announced,” Matthews said. “And I was thinking to myself, ‘I really want to help organize a march in Austin because there’s no way I’d be able to make it back to Houston for one.’”  

Grace Bodine, who will help manage the march’s email account, is a classmate of organizers Heffernan, Kappelman and Kari Siegenthaler. Bodine said she will turn 18 four days before the March, which will take place on March 24 and feature voting registration tables. 

“I’m definitely going to register to vote at the March because it works out so perfectly,” Bodine said. “It’ll be the first really big political event where I can go to exercise my rights for the first time as an adult.”