In Washington, thousands join the March for Our Lives

In Washington, thousands join the March for Our Lives

An estimated 800,000 people gathered in the capital to inspire new laws and new voters.
Published: March 24, 2018 | Updated: April 23rd, 2018 at 11:02 am
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Hundreds of thousands of marchers attended the March for Our Lives rally in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON — A crowd of an estimated 800,000 people marched along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. today, cheering, “Gun problems are everyday problems.”

The marchers enveloped downtown Washington for the March for Our Lives, a call for action promoting gun legislation inspired by survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida. The mass shooting took the lives of 17 adolescents and adults. In interviews, parents, students, teachers and friends each voiced their own reasons for attending the march, but they all appeared to have a shared purpose: provoking change in gun laws and encouraging new voters.

“It’s hard to even imagine that kids have to take the lead,” said Linda Valli, a former high school teacher and a faculty member at University of Maryland. Valli wiped away tears as she spoke.

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Marchers came from all over the country, from the Colorado Rockies to downtown Miami. Jenna VeCandio, survivor of a gunshot wound inflicted at the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, observed the feeling of the crowd. “It’s pure happiness,” VeCandio said. “It’s a great feeling to see this amount of people come out to support this.”

As the march continued, it overflowed onto nearby streets, including Constitution Avenue. Parents brought their children, sometimes pushing babies in strollers and guiding toddlers by the hand. Many of the young children said that they were unsure as to why they were there, but continued to march along holding signs. Others, however, knew their purpose for marching. Alice Hedrick, a 3-year-old, said, “I want people to have safe classrooms.” Another young child said, “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Many parents said that they did their best to educate their children on gun control because they believe it is the youth who will make the difference. “I think young people always bring change,” Christina Ospina, of Phoenix, said. “That’s what brought change to civil rights, to the Vietnam War.”

Molly Preston, a 16-year-old student at York Suburban High School in Pennsylvania, said she marched because she believes that students should not have to fear attending school. She said that her own school has received threats. “No one should have access to guns that can kill so many in so little time,” Preston said. “It’s not fair. We’re in the 21st century with 18th century laws.”

Marchers expressed their frustration at current gun laws and those who enforce them. Mari Gustafson, a member of an activist group called “Gays Against Guns,” laid down a fake fashion runway for people to strut down and “sashay away” the NRA. Gustafson wore two rainbow boas and another made of fake money. “This is the blood money that the NRA gives to our president,” she said. “It is over $31 million that was given to the Trump campaign this past election cycle.”

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Gays Against Guns member Mari Gustafson protests the NRA donations to elected officials including President Trump.

Johana Rodriguez, a 15-year-old from Broward County, home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said she fears that the time for legislators to take action is now or never. “They have to wake up at this moment or else nothing’s going to change,” she said. “It’s just going to keep happening and the cycle is going to continue.”

Andrew Weinstein, a gun-owner who marched, echoed that sentiment. “I think the legislators need to be the voice of the people instead of the donors they take money from,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, some things are just too dangerous for the public to have.”

While the crowd varied in age, children and teenagers dominated the narrative. Adults looked to them for leadership and resolutions. “We’re the new generation,” said Isaiah Swanson, an 11-year-old student. “We have to stand up for our rights as the future of this country.”

Steve Todd, from Colorado, brought seven of his grandchildren, aged 11 to 23, to participate in the march. He remains hopeful that change is coming, putting trust in the resilience of the crowd. “If this doesn’t do it, we’ll get a million or two more people and do it again,” Todd said.

Throughout the march, activists encouraged passersby to register to vote. Some armed with clipboards signed marchers up on the spot, increasing the constituency that repeatedly chanted, “Vote them out.” Seventeen-year-old Marlena Tyldesley, alongside her brother and their friend, handed out stickers that told younger participants, based on their year of birth, when they would legally be able to vote. “Young people’s voting turnout is horrific, so we need to fix that. If we’re going to tell politicians we’re going to change things, we have to actually show up and change things,” Tyldesley said.

 

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High school students Lucy Gavin and Marlena and Logan Tyldesley hand out stickers with the years that young marchers will be able to vote at the March For Our Lives in Washington D.C.

Between performances from Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jennifer Hudson, the students from the Parkland high school who sparked the movement – known as #NeverAgain — appeared on stage, sometimes receiving louder applause than the celebrities. Emma Gonzalez, now one of the most recognizable faces of the fight for gun control, stood in silence in memoriam of her fallen classmates. The crowd followed suit, and for 6 minutes and 20 seconds — the length of the gunman’s rampage — her silence spread through the streets. Conversations dropped and tears fell as hundreds of thousands paid their respects to victims of gun violence.

Out of the silence grew a chant. It began with a few distant voices, and amplified and resonated as each marcher repeated after another: “Never again. Never again.”

At the conclusion of the event, 800,000 people dissipated – to the National Mall, to the Capitol, to the White House. Today they marched. Next, they vote?

Avatar for Claire Miller

is a lead news producer for The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.