Q&A: Lily Cohen of NU Students Demand Action discusses advocating for gun safety on Capitol Hill


Photo courtesy of Lily Cohen

Lily Cohen (second from right) with other members of Students Demand Action and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Students met with senators on June 23, when the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed.

Charlotte Varnes, Managing Editor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of gun violence. 

Weinberg sophomore Lily Cohen co-founded Northwestern’s chapter of Students Demand Action, a student group focused on organizing to end gun violence, during Winter Quarter 2022. But she’s long been involved with SDA, joining the organization in her sophomore year of high school.

Following the mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a bipartisan group of lawmakers began to work toward a comprehensive gun safety bill. From June 6-8 and on June 23, Cohen went to Washington, D.C., and lobbied for the legislation as part of a broader effort led by SDA’s parent organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. The Daily spoke with Cohen about her advocacy and experiences with SDA in D.C.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

The Daily: How did going to D.C. and lobbying for SDA come about?

Cohen: I was in D.C. with a cohort of SDA volunteers from across the country as well as Moms Demand Action volunteers (and) survivors through this last-minute initiative organized by Everytown for Gun Safety (called) “Don’t Look Away,” where we rallied and many of the participants had the opportunity to lobby with elected officials. I was involved in a lobbying meeting. The meetings were all set up pretty similar, where there were a couple student volunteers as well as survivors, as well as an Everytown liaison who understands the lobbying process a bit more than students may. I spoke with staffers and explained why we’re in this movement and why we find it so critical that Congress take concrete action to address the gun epidemic in the United States.

The second part of it happened (June 23), which was the day the Senate voted to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This was once again organized by Everytown for Gun Safety. There were many students who’ve been volunteers, Moms Demand Action volunteers, survivors, same kind of thing. We gathered in a Senate committee meeting room on Thursday afternoon. While we were waiting on the Senate to vote on this bill, senators who either played an integral role in pushing this legislation through or had been longtime champions for gun safety came and spoke with us … Eventually, we went into the Senate gallery and watched the Senate vote on this historic legislation.

The Daily: What was it like going from lobbying to finally watching the bill pass?

Cohen: (It was) exhilarating. It’s been a very long fight. I’ve been in the movement since SDA came to be in February 2018 right after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Even more than that three-week stretch between the “Don’t Look Away” initiative to seeing that legislation pass, there was this general sense of excitement because this is the first time we’ve seen our efforts pay off in substantive federal legislation. 

The Daily: Did NU SDA do anything to lobby for the gun safety bill?

Cohen: Throughout this year, we have worked to push for legislation — just not this bill specifically. Throughout the year, we shared QR codes around campus and with our members to send messages to their senators and representatives to pass substantive gun legislation. This has been a collective effort for a while even though we are on hiatus for the summer.

The Daily: Is there anything you’ve learned while lobbying in D.C. that you plan on bringing back to the broader group at NU?

Cohen: I had never done any lobbying before this summer. Not only from being in the lobbying meeting, but also from talking with other volunteers, I realized how much we can do (to lobby). There are always ways to continue strengthening laws. That’s something we can bring back and start trying to do at a local and state level. It doesn’t need to be necessarily lobbying Congress, but it can also be lobbying leaders who can make differences at a more local level. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

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