Massive Crowd Calls for Common Sense Gun Laws at National #MarchForOurLives Protest
WASHINGTON, D.C. – They held hands. They had to.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held on to their fathers and mothers, their sisters and brothers and each other as they threaded their way through the hundreds of thousands of people that they convened Saturday in the nation’s capital to stop gun violence.
They formed a long, broken single-file line through a crowd that filled Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks. They made their way through people carrying signs and chanting and occasionally applauding the students and their families as they were recognized.
“I’m here to rally for the kids who can’t be here because they’re dead,” said Stoneman Douglas sophomore Daniel Bishop as the line stalled for a moment and waited to clear security.
Then he pointed at the US Capitol, the backdrop for the main stage at #MarchForOurLives, and added, “We’re here to make a rumble loud enough so those guys right over there can hear us.”
They made a rumble that reached the halls of the US Congress and the White House and burst from more than 800 “sibling marches” in all 50 states and from Berlin, Tokyo, London and Rome. Crowd estimates for the march here reached from 200,000 to 800,000.
The Stoneman Douglas students who lost 17 classmates during a February 14 shooting said they were determined not to let the massacre fade from public memory like so many other school shootings. They gathered stars like “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jennifer Hudson. They made new stars like 11-year-old Naomi Wadler who astounded the DC crowd with her impassioned oratory. Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., also spoke.
“We hope we will see real change from this. And in history books in the future, people will say these kids made a difference,” said Sophia Berman, a Stoneman Douglas sophomore who was on the phone with a friend as the friend fled the school building targeted in the attack.
While the line of Stoneman Douglas families paused on its way to the stage, Craig Harris, a father of two students at the School, said “These kids are going to make a change. It has to happen.”
As the line started to move again, Harris added, “Sending kids to school not knowing whether they are going to come back…” His words trailed off as he moved ahead, holding onto his daughter’s hand.
Early in the day, the crowd began gathering in Washington near the stage at 3rd Street in the dawn hours. The protesters brought handmade signs:
- “I want to read books not eulogies”
- “Thoughts and prayers blah, blah, blah”
- “Don't let violence be followed by silence”
In a day of full protest, silence was rare--except for Stoneman Douglas student speaker Emma Gonzalez's profound minutes of silence honoring her 17 lost friends and those injured and "forever altered." As the crowd grew through the morning before the stage’s noon start, occasional chants burst out:
- “Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”
- “No justice. No peace. No AR-15s!”
- “Enough is enough!”
- “More pizza, less guns!”
Clinging to a spot in the crowd about 150 feet or so from the main stage, Janet Symonaick held close to her daughter Hannah Raymond and her friend Haley Moran. They left their homes in West Brookfield, Mass. at 12:30 a.m. to be in the capital. “I think this is a turning point, a special piece of history and hopefully changing things,” Symonaick said.
For her daughter, change cannot come soon enough. She’s wearied and worried by repeated frequent drills like ALICE training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) that prepare students to respond to an active shooter in their school. “We just practiced ALICE yesterday. Basically, our administrative people get on the school intercom and they say were the intruder is so if you can get out of school, you get out instead of barricading yourself,” Raymond said. “I think it’s ridiculous we have to do this so regularly. I like knowing what to do but it’s got to the point where it’s out of hand.”
Many participants remarked that the march had tangible echoes to other youth-led protests: those against US policies in Vietnam. In fact, the NRA chant that rang out had the same cadence and rhyme of the chant that taunted President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1960s: “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
Jerry Stewart, who came to the march from his home in Sterling, Virginia, recognized similarities with the earlier era: “Then, kids were protesting being sent into war zones. These kids are protesting the exact same thing.”
Shortly before the main program began, Virginia’s top elected officials worked the barricade talking to the crowd near the stage. Gov. Ralph Northam made time for a brief interview as Lt. Governor Justin E. Fairfax and state Attorney General Mark Herring thanked protesters for being there and offered encouragement.
“We’re just here to support the young people of Parkland and say enough is enough,” Northam said. “This movement is not going away.”
He said change is needed to end the many gun-related tragedies, including a massacre in his own state—the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that claimed 32 lives. “We hear so often ‘thoughts and prayers…’ and that’s kind, but it’s time to take action,” Northam said.
From his place in the front-middle of the crowd near 3rd Street, Washington, DC-native Sundiata Street said he came to the protest to “show my physical support and let them know they’re not alone.” Like others, he is hoping that those in power respond to the demands for change. “I’m not sure some of these politicians have a heart—or a heartbeat,” Street said.
Then he stepped back and considered the student-led protest and prospects for the future:
“Tomorrow is the most important day after this. It’s going to be some work.”
See what happened at the #MarchForOurLives in Washington DC: Images of 7 human moments.
Read quotes from 8 people at the march. From students to the governor of Virginia. Voices in the Crowd: What #MarchForOurLives Protestors Told Us
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