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March for Our Lives - Washington D.C.

by Tori Martinez - Managing Editor
Tue, Mar 27th 2018 09:00 pm

“Enough is enough!” “We want change!” “Vote them out!” These were just a few among the many chants that ricocheted off the Capitol Building and down Pennsylvania Avenue as the Parkland, Florida shooting survivors and their allies took to the streets after the latest mass school shooting on February 24.

You wouldn’t have known it was Valentine’s Day if you were at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on that hot Wednesday afternoon. It was a day meant to spread and share love, but instead, gunshots rang out, killing 14 students and three faculty members, and injuring another 15.

This was the catalyst for the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., put together and run by the Stoneman Douglas students. Thirty-eight days after the shooting, an estimated 200,000 people travelled to D.C. alone in an effort to show support and march in solidarity with the students, as well as bring awareness about the issue of gun violence.

Orange and white plastic barricades and police lined Pennsylvania Avenue where a sea of students, teachers, parents and activists stood with raised fists and colorful posters donning messages such as, “Stop capitalizing off of student lives,” “I’m a teacher, not a cop,” and “Kids are lucky to go to school, they shouldn’t feel lucky to go home.”

Though the march started at noon, it was impossible to get close to the stage at 10 a.m. if you walked through the barricades; thousands of people had already lined up across four lanes about 500 feet from the stage.

At John Marshall Park, just around the corner from the stage, students from around the nation lined up along and on top of short, concrete barriers that lined the park, some chanting, some clutching posters. For nearly two hours, Emma Waechter, a student from Lewiston Porter Senior High School in Lewiston, New York, held a white poster with a giant red heart and the message, “Arms are for hugging / protect children, not guns.”

“I’m marching because I believe that militarized weapons should not be in the hands of everyday people, they should be for the military,” Waechter said in an interview with The Stylus. “The only reason that everyday people like us would have them is to kill people, so I believe it should just stay in the military’s hands.”

Nearby was a woman who held a sign asking a similar question, “Is your hobby more important than lives?” She attended the march with her 18-year-old daughter Haley Joyce, a senior at Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Virginia, who herself was gripping a sign with the message, “We are the generation of dreamers and we will not be silenced.”

Joyce organized a school walk out on March 14 at Patrick Henry, joining high schools all around the country, including Brockport High School, where students walked out of class and onto the front lawn of the campus. Joyce helped read all 17 of the Parkland victims’ names with a following seven minutes of silence. She estimates that hundreds of students walked out.

 “We live in a very conservative area, so not many people like to speak out about [gun violence], but we thought someone needs to speak out about it or no one’s ever going to hear about it,” Joyce said of the walk out  during an interview. “I’m marching today to represent all the kids, teenagers and young adults, and that we have a right to say what we feel and not have guns at our schools. We have a right to live … we just need rules and regulations for guns.”

A few feet away was a family of four wearing purple hats that read, “Make America Safe Again.” Parents April and Scott Hagaman drove out from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to bring their 10-year-old son Alex and 12-year-old son Will. April said the boys felt it was time they came out and make a statement, and that when they expressed that desire, there was no question that her and Scott would bring them.

“Actually, they brought us,” Scott said.

Alex had a lot to say about the march. He wanted to come because of “everything that was happening with guns” recently, including the lack of proper regulations and the idea behind arming teachers.

“The last straw for me was when Donald Trump said that we should give teachers guns. Even if they did give teachers guns, it wouldn’t feel right at all. It would just always bug me seeing a gun with a teacher. Teachers should teach, not protect,” Alex said. “If Donald Trump wants us to have a safe nation, we shouldn’t have to give everyone a gun.”

He also believes that the age restriction to purchase firearms should be at least 21. People who are still in high school shouldn’t have access to guns.

“Having mentally sick people when they’re 18 be able to walk into a gun store and buy [assault rifles] is not at all correct in the sense of anything,” Alex said.

Students from The College at Brockport were present as well, as communications professors Kim Young, Marsha Ducey and Carvin Eison brought 10 journalism students to cover the march for classes or The Stylus, as well as four social work students who drove down on their own and were there in support of the march.

Mark Cuminale is a student of Young’s. He attended the march to cover it for a class assignment, but regardless, he would have gone anyway. This is a movement he supports.

“I was really moved,” Cuminale said after the march was over. “I hope they continue to believe that by organizing, they can affect change, because I don’t know that that’s something I necessarily believed when I was their age.”

Though he feels strongly about the movement, it doesn’t get in the way of his reporting. He says it is possible to be a student journalist and an activist, especially in this situation, because he doesn’t feel the need to say something that someone else can.

“The students and young people I interviewed, their stories and their feelings on it are so much more important and so much more poignant than anything I could even say about it. Just let them speak for themselves,” Cuminale said.

By noon, the sea had turned into a tsunami as hundreds of thousands of people spilled onto the sidewalks, and at the peak of attendance, completely covered half a mile of Pennsylvania Avenue and surrounding streets and parks. Children sat on parents’ shoulders or climbed trees to get a better look at the students giving speeches and singers such as Andra Day, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande each performed a song.

The speeches were not exclusive to Parkland students either; students from Chicago and Los Angeles also spoke out about their experiences with gun violence and urged for everyone to be part of the change.

Parkland student Cameron Kasky spoke first, saying, “Politicians, either represent the people or get out. Stand up for us or beware: the voters are coming out.” He also mentioned that, “The march is not the climax of this movement; it’s the beginning.”

Other notable speeches were given by young children like 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, a student from Virginia who organized a walk out at her elementary school. Wadler said she was there to represent the African-American women who have become victims of gun violence, “who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls.”

Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., gave an inspiring message reminiscent of her grandfather’s: “I have a dream that enough is enough, that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”

In an interview with CNN right after the Parkland shooting, many students explained that they thought they were experiencing just another drill. It wasn’t until they heard helicopters or saw teachers pushing students into their classrooms, and later seeing bodies on the ground, that they knew it was real. For almost six and a half minutes, students, faculty and staff hid in fear while an active shooter was on campus. It was understandable then when Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland shooting and one of the faces fofthe March for Our Lives, incorporated four powerful and uncomfortable minutes of silence in her speech.

To begin, she talked about the terrifying moments of what it was like to be in the middle of a school shooting and the devastating news that followed, mentioning all 17 victims’ names. Then, soft, silent tears dripped down her face as she stood stoically at the mic, holding her head high, staring straight into the crowd, her gaze only wavering when she took a moment to wipe away a tear. The total time of her speech was the same amount of time the shooting lasted. Six minutes, 20 seconds.

“Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds,” Gonzalez said in the conclusion of her speech. “The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives, before it’s someone else’s job.”

Later that night, Gonzalez took to Twitter to address any confusion about her moment of silence.

“Real quick: my speech today was only abt 6 mins & 30 secs, including both my speech and my silence,” Gonzalaz wrote in the tweet. “The fact that people think the silence was 6 minutes… imagine how long it would have felt if it actually was 6 minutes, or how it would feel if you had to hide during that silence.”