TALLAHASSEE — Emma González joined a dozen student leaders on the steps of the state Capitol Monday with a message to young voters: "Tomorrow is your chance to be a hero for yourself."
The students have been traveling the country on a nine-month voter registration effort — the Vote for Our Lives tour. Many of the activists, now household names like González and David Hogg, put off college plans to engage the youth vote. They support gun reform, in the name of their fallen classmates, and have worked to spread their message to the 4 million U.S. citizens turning 18 this year.
The tour, launched in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has brought the students to hundreds of communities to push for voters to elect candidates that demand change and promote gun safety.
Surrounded by a dozen fellow student activists, many from Parkland, González spoke of what the movement has accomplished in the past year, and what it could accomplish with the help of voters.
"We ran over mountains in the eyes of the nation and ran ourselves into the ground," she said. "This Congress has had 20 moments of silence for mass shootings, but they haven't voted on a single bill to combat gun violence. Not a single bill."
After the Parkland shooting and the political fallout during the 2018 legislative session, it was widely believed that gun safety would emerge as a hot-button issue in this midterm election. It has come up most frequently in the race for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, where NRA-endorsed Rep. Matt Caldwell is competing with Everytown for Gun Safety-endorsed Nikki Fried.
The 30-and-under crowd is more likely to vote in this year's midterms than in the past. According to a new poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, 40 percent of these young voters say they'll head to the polls Tuesday, compared to just 26 percent in 2014.
Jaclyn Corin, co-founder of the March For Our Lives group and Stoneman Douglas' senior class president, said she voted on her 18th birthday at her polling location at home.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate and Never Again founding member Sofie Whitney said she believes this vote could potentially "change the course of history."
"We are unrepresented in our current Congress, and if we don't vote for people who will put our best interests first, we may not have lives in the next election," said Whitney, 18.
A new analysis by University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith shows that trends in Florida's early voting show a steep increase in young voters. Of the 124,000 people aged 18 to 29 who had voted at early polling stations as of last Thursday, nearly a third did not vote in the presidential election in 2016.
González said in an interview that she's just happy people are actually turning out to vote. The group has spent the last few months going on "dorm storms" at college campuses, holding free barbeque events and rallying young voters across the country. She said it's "insane" how many people have showed up, but that the real work is to be done on Election Day.
"Tomorrow is your chance to be a hero for yourself and everyone you love by casting a ballot and participating in our democratic system," González said. "For some, this is our first election. Some say we have to fear what is coming, but we have to stand tall with open ears and open minds to talk things through. We will end gun violence."