Claire Silberman
Features Editor
September 28, 2016

    On Friday afternoons, school is the last place where students want to hang out. On September 16th however, around 40 eager students filed into the media center to listen to a lecture by Vinny DeMarco, a veteran advocate for public health and gun violence prevention. Hosted by the Atholton Young Democrats of America (YDA) club, this guest speaker event was the first in a series aimed at increasing awareness about critical political issues.
    “I want to leave you all with one message,” said DeMarco. “Public health measures work, and we can overcome the powerful opposition to get them enacted.”
    For the determined advocate, this isn’t just talk. DeMarco led the students through an overview of how he tackles each policy hurdle. As president of the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition, he has been instrumental in several cigarette tax hikes and gun violence prevention measures, including a ban on “Saturday Night Specials,” a type of inexpensive handgun disproportionately used in homicides.
    “I have a six step process” he told the group.
    First he plans. As an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, he utilizes research facilities to project the impact of a future policy.
    Next is polling. DeMarco uses the litmus test: “Would the public base an election off this?” If there is not enough public support for a measure, it usually is not the right time to attack the issue.
    Third is coalition building. This is DeMarco’s signature trademark. DeMarco, a former Young Democrat himself, is a strong believer in the importance of getting youth engaged and often collaborates with the Maryland Association of Student Councils. One year during an anti-tobacco campaign, he got creative. “The students went down to the Inner Harbor and threw cigarettes into the water, demonstrating their independence from tobacco,” as if to imitate the Boston Tea Party. The environmentally conscious activist added, “Of course, we picked up [the cigarettes] afterward.”
    Fourth is media engagement. DeMarco’s organizations are on various media platforms, although he admits he doesn’t have too much social media savvy. Follow @healthymaryland on Twitter for updates on his organization.
    DeMarco’s next goal is to make his cause a voting issue in the next election. After he drums up enough grassroots support, he believes candidates are forced to take a stand.
    Lastly, DeMarco takes his issue to the legislature to get it passed.
    “It takes time,” DeMarco said. But it seems to work. Right now, his organization is working on a prescription drug affordability initiative in response to the spikes in Epi-Pens costs. If passed, it would require drug corporations to disclose their plans for price increases and the basis for their pricing. It would also allow the Attorney General to intervene to prevent price gouging.
    Going up against big money in politics is not unusual for DeMarco. “Cigarette companies, the alcohol industry, and the gun lobby don’t like these measures because it reduces their sales, even though they save lives.”
    DeMarco referenced a study from John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research called “A Tale of Two Cities.” According to the report, Missouri experienced a 25% increase in homicides with a firearm when a background check was repealed. However, Connecticut saw a 40% decrease in homicides with a firearm when legislators enacted a similar background check requirement.

“I want to leave you all with one message,” said DeMarco. “Public health measures work, and we can overcome the powerful opposition to get them enacted.”

    Students found DeMarco’s lecture quite engaging. “Vinny spoke about things that are relevant to us, especially since we are teenagers,” said Young Democrats Secretary Utsa Santhosh. “It was great to have someone with so much knowledge educate us about what is really going on with controversial issues, like public health care and gun control. It helped us understand the issues facing our community, and what is being done to prevent them.”
    Young Democrats of America is a relatively new club to Atholton. Each month, they plan student-led discussions and guest speakers to raise awareness about a particular issue. Their first event, a discussion on criminal justice reform, happened in April earlier this year. September’s topic was gun violence prevention. The executive board wanted to emphasize this issue in light of the recent shooting in Orlando.
    Co-President Josh Kim hopes that the club will help to get more students involved with the political system, no matter what they think or who they support. “With partisanship rampant in Congress, many Americans feel as though a party is a specific set of beliefs and values. At Atholton, the Young Dems club strives to present the entire spectrum of arguments surrounding an issue instead of leaning towards a single-minded approach.”
    Ms. Burns, the club’s sponsor, commented on the meeting’s success. “I was really pleased to look around the media center and see students with differing political views but all there with a common interest in improving public health. I love seeing students engaged in the political process, researching issues, and then participating in spirited discussions.”
    YDA will be hosting more guest speakers and discussions this year on a variety of topics, such as the environment and judicial system. They will also be co-hosting a voter registration drive before the election.
   In the midst of what is arguably the craziest election year yet, the club remains dedicated to engaging Raiders in the political process. “They are committed to impacting positive change,” continued Ms. Burns. “Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious.”    To stay in touch with the club on social media, follow @ahsyoungdems on Instagram and @atholtonYDA on Twitter.

Claire Silberman is the co-President of Young Democrats.

Posted by Claire Silberman

Claire Silberman is Comma Placer in Chief at The Raider Review. As a Raider Nation Senior, she spends her time bribing underclassmen to come to debate practice and napping on the cozy auditorium floor during rehearsals for the musical. She spends her free time binge watching House of Cards, eating breakfast for dinner, and returning misplaced modifiers to their rightful home.