Hundreds of thousands cheered and many cried as a group of mostly high school students told of their loss of loved ones to gun violence in or near their schools during Saturday’s March For Our Lives rally in the nation’s capital.
Several students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 14 students and three staff members were killed in a Feb. 14 school shooting rampage, made impassioned pleas for Congress and state legislatures to pass stronger gun control laws.
“In the weeks since the tragedy on Feb. 14 we as students decided that if adults weren’t going to take action we would,” said Alex Wind, a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School who joined other student speakers on a stage near the U.S. Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“If they continue to ignore us, to only pretend to listen, then we will take action where it counts,” said Delaney Tarr, another Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who was among the school’s students that initiated the March For Our Lives.
In a little over a month since announcing plans for the march and rally, the school’s student survivors of the Feb. 14 incident have been credited with triggering a massive, nationwide student movement to push for stronger gun control laws.
Some have estimated the Washington rally on Saturday, March 24, drew as many as 800,000. As many as 800 “sibling” marches and rallies initiated by the students’ actions were also held on March 24 in cities across the U.S. and abroad.
One of the speakers at the Washington rally that drew the loudest applause and stirred the emotions of many in the crowd along Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd Street, where the stage was placed, to close to the White House, was Emma Gonzalez, who serves as president of the Stoneman Douglas High Gay-Straight Alliance Club.
“In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us,” she said in delivering the last of nearly 20 speeches at the rally. “Fifteen were injured and everyone, absolutely everyone in the Douglas community was altered,” she said.
“Six minutes and twenty seconds with an AR 15 and my friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice,” she said. “Aaron Feis would never call Kiera Miss Sunshine. Alex Schachter would never walk into his brother Ryan,” she continued in reciting the names of all the victims.
“Scott Beigel would never joke around with Karen and Ken,” she said while holding back tears. “Helena Ramsay would never hang out after school with Max. Gina Montalto would never wave to her friend Leon at lunch,” she continued. “Joaquin Oliver would never play basketball with Sam or Dillon.”
After mentioning the names of all of those shot to death at her school, Gonzalez stood facing the audience in silence without saying why. Some on stage began chanting, “Emma! Emma!” while others shouted, “We love you Emma.”
Minutes later Gonzalez’s phone timer beeped, and she said her silence of exactly six minutes and twenty seconds was aimed at highlighting the time it took for the fatal shooting of 17 people and the wounding of 17 others.
She did not mention the name of the shooter, former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, who has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder.
“No one could comprehend the devastating aftermath or how far this would reach or where this would go,” she said. “For those who still can’t comprehend because they refuse to, I’ll tell you were it went – right into the ground, six feet deep.”
Zion Kelly, a senior at D.C.’s Thurgood Marshall Academy High School also drew loud prolonged applause and moved many in the crowd when he told of how his twin brother was shot to death on the street near their school and home.
Kelly was among the students who spoke of how gun violence impacts kids in many of the nation’s inner cities as they walk to and from school as much as shootings inside schools.
“I’m here to represent the hundreds of thousands of students who live every day in constant paranoia and fear on their way to and from school,” he said.
“Today I raise my hand in honor of my twin brother, Zaire Kelly,” he said. “Zaire was shot on Sept. 20, 2017 on his way home from a competitive after school program called College Bound.”
Zion Kelly then told of his brother’s accomplishments and aspirations — how he was the captain of the track team and was running for president of the student government. He noted that the young man charged in his brother’s murder committed the crime while committing a robbery with a gun he obtained illegally.
“Can you imagine how it feels to lose someone that close to you?” Zion Kelly said. “From the time we were born we shared everything.”
Nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., was among the speakers that also drew prolonged applause.
“I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun-free world, period,” she said.
Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg, whose outspoken calls for stronger gun control legislation have drawn national media attention, told the rally he and others working on the issue plan a major get out the vote effort for young people in the upcoming midterm congressional elections in November.
“The winter is over,” he said. “Change is here. The sun shines on a new day and the day is ours. First time voters show up 18 percent of the time in midterm election – not anymore,” he shouted.
“If you listen real close you can hear the people in power shaking,” he continued. “They have gotten used to being protective of their positions through the safety of inaction. Inaction is no longer safe. And to that we say, no more!”
“They will try to separate us by religion, congressional district and class,” he said. “They will fail. We will come together. We will get rid of those public servants that only serve the gun lobby. And we will save lives,” he said, adding, “Let’s put the USA over the NRA. This is the start of the spring and the blossoming of democracy.”
Wind, the Stonemason Douglas student, reiterated many of the student speakers’ criticism of the National Rifle Association and its reported influence over many in Congress who oppose stronger gun control laws based on the belief that such laws violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution affirming the rights of citizens to bear arms.
“All it comes down to is life or death,” Wind said. “To all the politicians out there, if you take money from the NRA you have chosen death. If you have not expressed to your constituents a stand on this issue you have chosen death. If you do not stand with what I’m saying – we need to pass common sense gun legislation, you have chosen death.”
Mya Middleton, a 16-year-old student from Chicago, and Edna Chavez, 17, from Los Angeles, addressed the high rate of gun-related crimes and deaths that impact the African-American community.
Chavez, who said she lost her brother in a shooting, said the threat of gun violence is sadly a common occurrence in Los Angeles and other cities.
“This is normal,” she said, “normal to the point where I’ve learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read.”
Prior to the start of the rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, several D.C. high school students spoke about the need for stronger gun control legislation and for Congress not to attempt to weaken D.C.’s strong gun control laws at a rally in Folger Park on Capitol Hill that was organized by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Bowser, City Council Chair Phil Mendelson, and D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton were among those who spoke at the pre-march rally. Among those who attended were Council members Robert Washington, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, Kenyan McDuffie, Vincent Gray, and David Grosso.
Bowser expressed strong objections to efforts by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to push legislation in the Senate to weaken D.C. gun control laws in a way that would make it legal to possess, among other things, AR 47 assault rifles.
“In D.C. we will join the students to say enough is enough,” Bowser said, in calling for strong opposition to what she said was Rubio’s attempt to interfere with D.C.’s locally elected government.