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Young people from all over the nation marched in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

March for Our Lives

Hundreds of thousands of young people marched in Washington and other cities, demanding action from lawmakers on gun control.

Standing before vast crowds in the nation’s capital and in cities and towns across the country, the speakers—nearly all of them students—delivered an anguished and defiant message: They are done hiding from gun violence and will stop at nothing to get politicians to take action to prevent it.

The students seized the nation’s attention on Saturday with raised fists and tear-streaked faces, vowing that their grief about school shootings and their frustration with adults’ inaction would power a new generation of political activism. The marches were planned by student activists in response to the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

“If they continue to ignore us, to only pretend to listen, then we will take action where it counts,” Delaney Tarr, a 17-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas, told hundreds of thousands rallying in Washington. “We will take action every day in every way until they simply cannot ignore us anymore.”

For many of the young people, the Washington rally, called March for Our Lives, was their first act of protest and the beginning of a political awakening. But that awakening may be a rude one—lawmakers in Congress have largely disregarded their pleas for action in the five weeks since the Parkland shooting.

The crowd in Washington was estimated at several hundred thousand. Hundreds of thousands more rallied at about 800 coordinated marches around the country and abroad, where students, like those in the capital, made eloquent calls for gun control and pledged to use their newfound political power in the midterm elections this fall.

Aerial video captured seas of people—in front of Trump International Hotel in New York; in a central square in Tokyo; along the streets of Boston; at a rally in downtown Fort Worth, Texas; and crammed into a park less than a mile from Stoneman Douglas High.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Emma González with other young victims of gun violence onstage at the end of the Washington, D.C., rally

‘Graduations, Not Funerals!’

With soaring speeches, emotional chants, and hand-painted signs, the protesters offered angry rebukes to the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), the nation’s most powerful gun rights group, and to politicians who have for decades largely declined to pass stronger gun laws. A sign in Washington declared “Graduations, not funerals!” while another in New York said “I should be learning, not protesting.” Crowds in Chicago chanted “Fear has no place in our schools” as they marched.

Celebrities, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus, performed in Washington, where politicians and adult activists were largely sidelined while the students took centerstage.

The most powerful, and impassioned, moments came from the student survivors of the Parkland shooting, who declared themselves angry, impatient, and determined to stop school shootings.

“Today, we march,” Tarr said. “We fight. We roar. We prepare our signs. We raise them high. We know what we want, we know how to get it, and we are not waiting anymore.”

Emma González, a senior at Stoneman Douglas High who has become famous for her activism in the aftermath of the shooting, spoke for just under two minutes at the Washington march, describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and reciting the names of classmates who had been killed. Then she stood silently in front of the sea of people for four minutes and 26 seconds—until a timer went off.

“Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds,” González said, referring to the amount of time the shooting at Stoneman Douglas lasted. “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,” she continued, and then walked offstage.

The Parkland students weren’t the only ones to share their stories. An 11-year-old girl from Virginia, Naomi Wadler, captivated the audience as she declared “Never again!” on behalf of black women and girls who have been victims of gun violence.

“People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own,” she said. “People have said that I am a tool of some nameless adult. It’s not true. My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know.”

Organizers at national gun control groups, who provided logistical support and public relations advice as the students planned the Washington rally, noted that demonstrations took place in 390 of the country’s 435 congressional districts.

“The mass shooting generation is nearing voting age,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group that advocates for tougher gun laws. “They know the midterms are six months away, and they plan to make sure that they vote and they get others to register to vote. They are absolutely poised to turn this moment into a movement.”

Gun rights organizations, which have worked since the Parkland shooting to head off any significant new gun restrictions, largely stayed silent on Saturday. A spokesman for the N.R.A. declined to comment.

But small counter-protests in favor of gun rights did take place in several cities. In Salt Lake City, several hundred people gathered near a high school, some carrying signs with messages like “AR-15’s EMPOWER the people.” Brandon McKee, who wore a pistol on his belt, brought his daughter, Kendall, 11, who held a sign that said “Criminals love gun control.”

“I believe it’s their goal to unarm America, and that’s why we’re here today,” McKee said of the Washington marchers. 

Ron Harris/AP Images

Congressman John Lewis (center) joins students marching in Atlanta. Lewis was an influential student activist in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. 

36 Hours on a Bus to D.C.

The pro-gun protests were swamped by the huge crowds marching for gun control, with many teenagers traveling for hours to attend the rallies in cities across the country. Sebastian Jennings, 18, said he spent 36 hours taking a bus to Washington from western Arkansas.

In towns like Dahlonega, Georgia, protesters at smaller rallies sought to demonstrate a desire for new gun restrictions even in rural, Republican-leaning communities where gun ownership is common and support for the Second Amendment is strong.

“We’re going to be the generation that takes down the gun lobby,” Marisa Pyle, 20, said through a red megaphone to a group of several hundred people gathered in Dahlonega.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Marchers in New York City 

Marches were also held in several European countries, as well as Japan, Brazil, Haiti, Australia, and other places around the world.

Protesters in Rome jammed the sidewalk across from the American Embassy, raising their voices in chants—“Hey hey, ho ho, the N.R.A. has got to go,” and waving signs with messages like “A gun is not fun” and “Am I next?”

About 150 to 200 people in Berlin gathered in solidarity in front of the Brandenburg Gate, just steps from the American Embassy. Many carried hand-painted signs, among them: “Arms should be for hugging” and “Bullets aren’t school supplies.”

One of the largest gatherings outside Washington was in Parkland, Florida, at a park not far from Stoneman Douglas High School. During that event, 17 students from the school silently took the stage to represent the students and staff who had been killed. (Florida prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty against the alleged Parkland gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.)

Anthony Montalto, the brother of Gina Rose Montalto, one of those killed, held a sign that said: “My sister could not make it here today. I’m here for her.”

“Turn this moment into a movement,” Sari Kaufman, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, implored the sea of students, parents, and teachers. She urged her classmates to vote out of office politicians who receive money from the N.R.A. “They think we’re all talk and no action.”

But the largest rally, by far, was in Washington, where a stage and giant television monitors were set up in the shadow of the Capitol—the focus of much of the anger from students throughout the day. One protester carried a sign that said “If the opposite of pro is con, then the opposite of progress is Congress.”

Most Republican and Democratic members of Congress had already left the city to return to their home districts for spring break. President Trump spent Saturday afternoon in Florida at the Trump International Golf Club, less than an hour north of Parkland. A White House spokeswoman said in a statement, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.”

 

For more on student activism in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, click here.

With reporting by The New York Times.

Close Reading & Discussion Questions

 

1) What do the student activists who organized March for Our Lives say they are trying to achieve?    

2) How did Emma González use her time onstage at the march? Do you think her approach was effective? Why or why not?      

3) What do gun rights protesters say about why they turned out to demonstrate?    

4) What does John Feinblatt mean when he says that student activists are going to turn “this moment into a movement”? Do you think he’s right? Explain.    

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