Hundreds of thousands gather for March for Our Lives

Yesterday, I stood in front of our country’s capital in Washington D.C with hundreds of thousands of people from varying political beliefs, religions, and cultures. Our goal: demand gun control regulation, elicit change, and establish our power. A power, not as a product of a gun in our hands, rather, as a generation of articulate students who will use their vote effectively. As the teenagers who spoke at the event continuously reiterated, it is us who will determine who stays and who goes.

As young person after young person took the stage and showed vulnerability, authenticity, and persistence in their speeches, I felt a rush of empowerment. Kids as young as eleven gave speeches that drew tears, shouts of agreement, and respect for the youth of this country.

I shake with amazement even as I write this now. These kids were more honest and well-spoken than rehearsed politicians. They displayed their perseverance in each word as their hands shook at the podium, their speeches flew away and had to be chased after, or, in Samantha Fuentes case, they threw up. In the moments she ducked under the podium amidst her speech, the entire crowd wondered what would happen next. In no less than a minute, she popped back up shouting, “I just threw up on National Television and it feels great!” She continued and finished her inspiring speech with the same rigor and determination as she started. I mean come on, when most would crumble and hide under the pressure and nerves of being watched by millions, this teenager delivered her powerful message with maturity and passion.

Mya Middleton (16), Edna Chavez (17), Alex King (18), Naomi Wadler (11), Edna Chavez (17), Trevon Bosley (19), Zion Kelly (17), D’Angelo McDade (18), Matt Post (18), Matthew Soto (19), Christopher Underwood (11), and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, Ryan Deitsch, Aalayah Eastmond, Sam Fuentes, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tarr and Alex Wind each spoke about how gun violence has impacted their lives and those around them. They displayed raw emotion in front of those watching as they spoke for those who have died. Their tears drew tears from those in the crowd. Their shouts echoed through the mouths of those without microphones. Their demands empowered those who have been kept silent.

Hundreds of thousands of people beamed with smiles as nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., led a chant: “We are going to be a great generation.”

Hundreds of thousands of people screamed the lyrics of “Happy Birthday,” in honor of Nicholas Dworet (17), one of 17 people killed in the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.

Those around me were moved by the words of D’Angelo McDade, an eighteen-year-old from Chicago. As his incredible voice reverberated through the microphone to the crowds standing in an awe of silence, his message still remains.

He proclaimed, “We are survivors of a cruel and silent nation. A nation where freedom, justice, equality, and purpose are not upheld. A nation where we do not live out the true meaning of our creed. When will we as a nation understand that non-violence is the way of life for courageous people? When will we as a nation understand that we are not here to fight against one another, but we are here to fight for life in peace? Violence cannot drive out violence, only peace can do that. Poverty cannot drive out poverty, only resources can do that. Death cannot drive out death, only proactive life can do that. I stand as an eighteen-year-old from the West sides of Chicago. I too am a victim a survivor and a victor of gun violence. I come from a place where minorities are controlled by both violence and poverty, leading us to be deterred from success, but today, we say no more…We are the survivors of unjust policies and practices upheld by our Senate.” After quoting Ephesians verses 2, 3, and 4, he stated, “my mother has this phrase that she uses…she says if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, and I stand for peace.”

After this speech, a woman next to me turned said, “I am proud to leave the future in the hands of you kids. I am so so proud.”

In Parkland student Jaclyn Corin’s introduction, she acknowledged those who have desired change for years but are not heard. I believe it was essential to address the presence of gun violence amongst communities who are ignored in order to unify the multitudes of people fighting for a common issue.

She stated, “we openly acknowledge that we are privileged individuals and would not have received as much attention if it weren’t for the affluence of our city. Because of that, however, we share the stage today with those who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.” This is an issue that affects people of all ethnicities, ages, and livelihoods. However, it is important to remember that minorities in urban areas deal with gun violence daily. This is not only an issue within schools, it causes destruction in communities, homes, and families. Naomi Wadler— an eleven-years-old— states, “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories do not make the page of every national newspaper.”

Later, I approached a group of young adults still shouting “enough is enough,” long after the march had concluded. These kids are an important reminder that after all of the celebrities have left, after there is no-one in front of the microphone to lead their protests, and after there is only a handful of those left to listen, that the fight must continue. I introduced myself to two girls in the pause between their next chant and asked them a few questions:

Where are you guys from?

Maddy: We are both from Sandy Hook and attended the Newtown High School. 

What are you doing here today?

Maddy: We are here protesting gun violence in an effort to get more gun control. 

Ellie: And we are both personally affected because we are from Sandy Hook. 

How do you feel about the mass amounts of people supporting gun control?

Maddy: It’s been so hard for me.

Ellie: Literally the two of us for the past month have been like “We can do this, It’s okay!” 

Maddy: And then when I got here, I was thinking that it’s so much bigger than us. 

Ellie: This is literally how I’m finally coping with it. It’s crazy. 

I purchased a plane ticket and attended the March in D.C because gun control is an issue I feel strongly about. Sometimes, when you feel so passionate about an issue, you literally put in earplugs to block out the opposing opinion. I admit, I fall susceptible to this same weakness. I may not understand everything about guns, and I agree that I don’t understand the hobby because I don’t own a gun and never will. However, I believe in the truth that these kids shout. I believe it because I feel that permanent change is necessary. I know that guns kill, and the list of those dead will continue to grow without it.

Even without statistics, the violence caused by guns cannot be ignored. These kids, we, cannot be ignored. Listen. Just listen. Have empathy. Show compassion. Understand that guns have only caused destruction to these children’s lives and so many others of different communities. This is not an issue that should be divided between blue and red.

Reflect on your morals, your religion, your understanding of right and wrong. I’m not condemning, just asking for a reevaluation of each person’s understanding of morality. Today, I witnessed people of all classifications—Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, women, men, children, adults, etc—stand together in acknowledgment and respect for those who have died and those who scream for change. They have put aside so much of the divisiveness that has plagued our nation these past few years in order to make positive progress towards an effective solution. I feel lucky to have experienced such an immense unity of such a diverse group of people. The Stoneman Douglas student’s voices began the journey towards change, and it is our job to persist after they have stepped away from the microphones.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”