Over 500,000 people braved the crowds in Washington DC today to attend the March for Our Lives rally planned by student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida on February 14. The shooting, which left 17 of their classmates dead, has promoted student activists like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg to national prominence as leaders of the Never Again and Enough is Enough movements.
The rally today, five weeks after the shooting in Parkland, was organized chaos of the best kind. People from all over the nation flooded the streets, holding signs, chanting, and listening to the stories of survivors of gun violence. Tension mounted throughout the tragic stories until the first Parkland survivor took the stage. “If you think today is good just wait for tomorrow — the future looks very bright,” Cameron Kasky said to a transfixed audience.
Not long after, a hush fell over the crowd as a video of the harrowing news reporting from February 14 was played for the crowd. After Kasky spoke, the rapper Common came out and performed a song for the audience. While there was a celebrity contingent in attendance, including Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, and others, one of the speakers was quick to remind the crowd that this was “not Coachella”.
A group of students who had travelled from Miami spoke to RVA Mag. Among them was 18-year-old Alice Roayer, who said, “People like me and people my age are being killed and injured and I feel that’s not right.” She continue, “…the march here today is going to bring awareness to how angry we are. We need to make a change and this is just one step towards it.” Roayer also commented on how it was important for people of color to be represented at the rally, reflecting criticism by rally organizer David Hogg who recently said , “The media’s biggest mistake while covering the shooting was not giving black survivors a prominent voice.”
Another student in Roayer’s group, Trey Burrows, said he came out for representation. “I think it’s important to march here today to clarify that when we say ‘march for our lives’, okay, well whose lives are we marching for,” said Burrow. He told RVA Mag that in his community gun violence is a daily occurrence, saying, “In 2016, 255 kids died from gun violence, yet I did not hear a story about that, I didn’t hear media coverage about that. My community is crying out, we need help.”
The speakers at the rally were diverse and not limited to the student survivors from Parkland. Survivors of gun violence from Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Chicago were also on stage, providing an inclusive environment that focused on more than just white victims of gun violence. D’angelo McDade, a speaker representing young people from Chicago, spoke to the crowd about the everyday problem of gun violence in his community, “Shootings are an everyday problem. I am here to speak on behalf of everyone who’s been shot and killed.”
Registering voters also played a critical role in the rally today with volunteers swarming the streets and metro stations encouraging people to “vote them out” in the upcoming midterm elections. Peninsula Voices for Change (PVC), a Hampton Roads non-profit traveled via bus with members, allies, and affiliates to show support, not only for the victims of gun violence, but to raise awareness.
Their director and founder, Cassie DeSena-Jacobs, spoke with RVA Mag about their organization and why they traveled to participate in the rally. “I think that in the last 14 months there have been so many explicit things for PVC to get involved with, but this feels like a no-brainer,” said DeSena-Jacobs. “Registering to vote and attending elections is what’s going to bring change. But, having massive numbers attend marches is what’s going to make us feel hope right now.”
While there were many intersections present at the rally, there was an admirable presence at the event different from the other massive demonstrations since November 2016: Young people. They are who will be voting for the next generation of lawmakers and having current lawmakers see the vast numbers of people who came out today has the ability to directly affect policy.
Two women aged 20 and 22 who attended the rally from Maryland spoke to RVA Mag, choosing to give only their first names. “Someone has to stand up. I’m glad there’s a lot of us here today,” Hannah said. “Change doesn’t happen without the people.” Her friend Samantha echoed the sentiment, urging all young people to get involved. “You can sit at home and do nothing or you can actually make a change,” she said. “The government needs to understand how much this matters to the people.”
As the event winded down the overall atmosphere was somber but optimistic, with people vowing to fight for awareness and change. One of the speakers towards the end summed up the spirit of the young people advocating for the change needed to end the epidemic of gun violence throughout the US. Yolanda King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr, paraphrasing her famous grandfather, said, “I have a dream. That enough is enough.”
*Photos by Landon Shroder