Students at Center Stage of ‘March for Our Lives’
D.C. rally draws hundreds of thousands; Youth nationwide call for stricter gun control laws
Common, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda were upstaged at Saturday’s March for Our Lives by teens and tweens who had survived school shootings and those who face the threat of gun violence in their daily lives. A diverse group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Newtown, Conn., as well as schools in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles inspired cheers – and tears – from at least 200,000 protesters gathered in Washington, DC, and hundreds of thousands more in “sibling protests” around the country.-
The Parkland, Florida teens were the primary force behind the protests, held just six weeks after the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 people dead and 25 seriously injured. The marches were intended to advocate for stricter gun control measures and to draw attention to the pervasive impact of gun violence on the nation’s youth, according to the leadership of the #NeverAgain movement.
The enormity of the protests was summed up by The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer:
By far the most radical part of the March for Our Lives was this: Hundreds of thousands of adults stood outside on a bright, cold spring day and seriously listened to children and teenagers talk about their lived experience. It was a day when adults paid attention to the everyday lives and traumas of young people—not out of fear, anxiety, or frustration—but out of respect. When was the last time so many adults gathered to hear teenagers talk—and not out of overweening fascination or prurient interest, but sincere admiration?
Student voices were heard across the country and around the globe, with more than 800 satellite marches reported. That included hundreds of protestors outside the U.S. Embassy in London, according to the BBC.
Back in the U.S., Massachusetts students gathered first at a vocational high school in Roxbury before marching to the Boston Commons, where the crowd swelled to more than 50,000 people. Leonora Munoz, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, was among them, reported The Boston Globe. Her sister, Beca, attends nearby Northeastern University. From the Globe’s coverage: “The thing that sets the people of Parkland apart is our wealth and the color of our skin,” (Beca) Munoz said. “We cannot be complacent with a system that designates certain areas as safe while communities of color continue to be neglected, abused, and disproportionately affected by gun violence.”
In Memphis, speakers emphasized the daily threat of gun violence in many students’ lives, not just school shootings, wrote Chalkbeat’s Caroline Bauman: “It can happen anywhere, anytime,” John Chatman, a junior at George Washington Carver College and Career Academy, told Chalkbeat. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis daily.”
In Washington State, tens of thousands of students marched in solidarity with their peers nationwide. Some drew attention to how their own daily school experiences have been impacted by the recent spate of school shootings. “Every time I walk in a classroom I’m looking for a place I could hide,” 15-year-old Nabrath Sheriff told The Seattle Times. “I deserve to go to school and feel safe.”
The march in Chicago — a city long-plagued by gun violence — drew tens of thousands of protesters from across the Midwest. The Windy City event was put together by a coalition of about 20 high school and college students. As The Chicago Tribune reported, the marchers “came from both bullet-riddled city neighborhoods and off packed trains from the suburbs. They were high school students, adults who wanted to support them and people who held up photos of loved ones killed by gunfire.”
In some notable instances, the small towns went to Washington. That included student survivors and families of the victims of the 2013 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 first graders and three educators dead. Among them was Jackson Mittleman, 16, now a student at Newtown High School, reported The Connecticut Post: “After Parkland, we feel hope,” Jackson Mittelman said, as he and others presented a banner Saturday to students from that Florida town, where grief has galvanized into youth activism. “After the media trucks leave, we will stand by you.”
Also from Ed Week, Evie Blad examined the likelihood of the student-organized protests resulting in changes to the nation’s gun laws. The 74’s coverage is here, including with an analysis of Emma Gonazalez’s “deafening moment of silence.”
For more voices, take a look at Youth Radio’s coverage of the D.C. march, as well as excellent work by reporters on the scene for The Eagle Eye — the campus newspaper of Stoneman Douglas High School. We will discuss the impact of gun violence on young people, as well as student advocacy, at EWA’s 71st National Seminar in Los Angeles May 16-18. Find out more about how you can join us.