An estimated 800,000 young people, adults and allies descended upon the nation’s capital for the “March for Our Lives” rally on March 24 along Pennsylvania Avenue to stand united for stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., tragedy. Last month, 17 students and faculty from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by 19-year-old student Nikolas Cruz.
“In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 were injured and everyone, absolutely everyone in the Douglas community was altered forever,” said Emma González, a Parkland survivor and student leader. Musicians like Ariana Grande, Common and Andra Day took the stage to perform songs, and young leaders from Chicago, Los Angeles and Florida shared their personal experiences with gun violence on the main stage. Out in the crowd, thousands watched and shared their own stories of hope for the future.
“When we go to school they say everyone should feel safe here, but with all these assault rifles and guns, it’s hard to feel safe,” said one 11-year-old boy. Some creative signs displayed red strike-through symbols through assault gun images, and others directly called out the NRA for their inaction on gun regulation and influence on politics. Young people made it clear that they were taking note of which politicians accepted money from the NRA and they would let their voices be heard at the polls.
A 10-year-old boy, who won’t be able to vote until 2026, said even he can be a part of the change he hopes for the country. “If I can be shot,” he said, “I can have an opinion.”
Ahead of the March for Our Lives rally in the nation’s capital, dozens of teens gathered at Arena Stage theater in Southwest D.C. to talk about ways to promote a just and equitable society within their own communities. Mikva Challenge D.C. planned the Issues to Action event to give high school students from the district an opportunity to present ideas to make their immediate lives better. The organization develops youth to be empowered, informed and active citizens. At the event, students presented different projects on gentrification, colorism and mental health issues. But none were more poignant than the issue of gun violence — just two days ahead of the March for Our Lives rally.
The teens said it’s a normal experience for a lot of them to hear the sound of gunfire or see the ill effects of gun violence all around them. “I guess I don’t try to go out much, because I see what could happen,” said Armando Martinez, a senior at Capital City Public Charter School. “I lost six friends in the past five years.”
According to the Washington Post, there were 116 homicides in the district in 2017. Teens could count on two hands how many friends they’d lost to guns in recent years. “I would say seven or eight kids I knew from eighth grade are dead,” said Myles Nelson, a sophomore at the Edmund Burke School.
But the students say they have not been idle about the issues they face. Instead, the March for Our Lives rally and the increased media attention it has brought have been the only difference in shedding light on their daily plight. “I’m sure people hear us protesting, they see the hashtags on social media, they see the signs, the shirts, the pins, the badges,” said Rukiyah Mack, an 18-year-old senior at Thurgood Marshall High School. “But until today it didn’t really get the acknowledgment that it deserved.”
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