March for Our Lives, a youth movement launched by student activists after a 2018 school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla., is dropping a powerful new ad Thursday targeting Generation Z voters across nine states.

The six-figure digital and television ad buy will air in key electoral battlegrounds: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and Colorado. On Thursday, it will run on MSNBC during morning programming, as well as Fox News, the president’s preferred cable network.

The ad comes as New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday calling for the dissolution of the National Rifle Association and the ouster of its CEO, Wayne LaPierre. The suit alleges LaPierre and others raided the group’s coffers to the tune of $64 million over three years to finance a luxury lifestyle.

New York attorney general seeks to dissolve NRA in suit accusing gun rights group of wide-ranging fraud and self-dealing

March for Our Lives submitted a letter via its attorneys to the New York attorney general in November 2018 in which it alleged a “long-standing pattern of significant governance lapses at the NRA, including a pattern of related-party financial transactions over a period of years that appears to have enriched friends and relatives of key personnel in the NRA.”

The new political ad, narrated by Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland shooting and co-founder of March for Our Lives, urges young activists and protesters to continue to embrace their “power” in the fight against gun violence and systemic racism. González specifically calls out demands for “weapons of war to be banned for good,” for lawmakers to listen to young people, and for an end to the killing of Black people at the hands of police officers.

“When we were stuck inside we wondered, would we face the plague of gun violence again?” González says in the ad. “Will we fear gathering in our schools and our churches again? Will we be shot for the color of our skin again? But a fight for justice forced us out to fill the empty streets.”

“It’s clear the fight for racial justice is still on, and we won’t live without it,” she adds.

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Crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco in March 2018. AP Photo/Josh Edelson, File

The intersectional message pieces together the organization’s long-running campaign against gun violence with the fight for racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. This is the first time since the Parkland shooting that the group has engaged politically in a presidential election year.

The ad is also a rallying cry for young voters who made an extraordinary showing in the 2018 midterm elections, hitting a 100-year high, to turn out again in November.

Polling shows young voters, ages 18 to 25, are motivated to oust President Donald Trump, and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads Trump among all young Americans (51% to 28%), according to a Harvard Institute of Politics youth poll released at the end of April.

The March for Our Lives activists say their campaign is not about Trump but is all about reaching voters motivated by issues, not candidates. With less than 90 days until the election, this first ad is part of the group’s “persuasion phase” to influence young voters who haven’t already done so to connect with the group. A second ad explicitly encouraging young people to turn out and “vote for our lives” will follow.

Don’t expect “Dump Trump” slogans or anti-Trump attacks: The mission of the organization largely run by Gen Zers and millennials is to amplify policy issues it believes will drive youth participation. The presidential contest ranks behind local races in the group’s playbook: The students are prioritizing turnout for gubernatorial, Senate and attorney general races where they’ve already seen their efforts drive change on gun policy.

“We endorse policies, not people,” said Eve Levenson, the 20-year-old policy and government affairs manager for the group. “The most change we’ve seen in gun violence prevention happens on the state and local level. … and there’s already so much information out there on the presidential.”

Levenson pointed to a slate of gun-control laws that passed in Virginia after Democrats flipped the legislature to take control of state government for the first time in a generation.

Younger voters are less inclined to support Trump than older ones, but Democrats are still worried the demographic’s enthusiasm for Biden and what they perceive as the establishment is too milquetoast. Young people preferred more progressive candidates advocating for systemic change during the Democratic primary, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. But young people didn’t turn out in the same numbers as Sanders expected during the primary.

“Have we been as successful as I would hope in bringing young people in?” Sanders told reporters in March after losing most Super Tuesday states to Biden. “The answer is no.”

Biden’s initial struggle to capture young voters might help explain why March for Our Lives is pushing policy and not personalities, focusing its pitch on gun control, climate change, student debt, health care and racism.

“He’s getting the benefit of the doubt – and now they’re beginning to like him,” John Della Volpe, the Harvard Institute of Politics polling director, said in an interview about young people’s relationship to Biden. “They want to know, listen and feel better about him.”

Della Volpe said that “the most active of activists” understand that electing Biden is necessary to “make systemic change on these issues” and that the former vice president’s “coattails” at the top of the ticket may “bring in a Democratic Senate.”

“That’s what active young people understand and are inspired by,” he added.

March for Our Lives rolled out an ambitious policy proposal, “A Peace Plan for a Safer America,” last summer. The organization still stands by its demands for federal change – a federal gun buyback program, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the creation of a national licensing and gun registry, and the installation of a “national director of gun violence prevention.” But it’s directing the thrust of its efforts at change at the local level.

That may be because Trump has done little to address the outrage from young people and their families in the wake of multiple mass shootings at schools. Senate Republicans blocked efforts to expand background checks.

“It’s not always about the president,” said Daud Mumin, a 19-year-old March for Our Lives board member.

“When we engage folks at a local level, and present them with the opportunity to talk with people in the same state or town or city they grew up in, they are more motivated to get the work done because they are making a difference for the place they grew up in,” said Maxwell Frost, the group’s 24-year-old national organizing director.

He conceded the pandemic has disrupted election year activity but said the group has transitioned successfully to online organizing.

March for Our Lives, along with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Team ENOUGH, a youth-led lobbying group for gun reform, has also launched a campaign focused on voting rights. The joint effort will provide literature and tool kits to help organizers in 10 states navigate concerns and confusion surrounding voter access and mail-in voting. The effort will also provide poll workers with personal protective equipment.

“We’re channeling all of the actions we’ve taken – not just over the past couple of months but the uprising that’s happened over the past two years since [March for Our Lives] launched,” said Crystal Cooper, the group’s communications director. “And one simple action in November, or October if you’re voting by mail, can really propel the movement.”


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