Survivors of the deadly shooting rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school led hundreds of thousands Saturday in March for Our Lives events across the country, delivering a resounding message that Washington’s inaction on the scourge of gun violence is no longer acceptable.
Building on the momentum of last week’s National School Walkout, these members of a generation raised with gun violence have mobilized Americans with impassioned pleas for stricter gun control laws while honoring the 17 students and faculty members killed February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn, welcome to the revolution,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky told the throngs in Washington, where the march turned into a thunderous, standing-room-only rally.
“Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware.”
Though Washington hosted the main event, more than 800 sister marches were held across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, and around the world. Students, teachers, parents, survivors of school shootings and celebrities took their defiant message against gun violence and the gun lobby to the seats of power.
‘Hear the people in power shaking’
Kasky, who was among the Washington speakers, read the names of classmates and teachers who died in Parkland. The list ended with Nicholas Dworet, who would have turned 18 on Saturday.
“Nicholas, we are all here for you,” he said. “Happy birthday.”
Parkland student David Hogg told the massive crowd near the Capitol that “you can hear the people in power shaking” with the approach of midterm elections.
“They’ve gotten used to being protective of their position, the safety of inaction,” he said, before issuing a warning to candidates supported by the National Rifle Association.
“To those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say get your resumes ready.”
With tears streaming, Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez told the Washington crowd that the massacre lasted about six minutes, 20 seconds. She remembered her fallen classmates. She enumerated some ordinary things they will never do again.
“Since the time I came out here, it has been 6 minutes 20 seconds, and the shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free an hour before arrest,” she said.
“Fight for your lives before it is someone else’s job.”
The NRA posted a message Saturday on Facebook, saying the March for Our Lives was orchestrated by “gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites … manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”
From Washington to Utah, smaller groups of counterprotesters gathered in support of the Second Amendment.
‘Life isn’t equal for everyone’
Naomi Wadler, 11, a student from Virginia, said she spoke for all African-American girls lost to gun violence whose stories were ignored by the media. And she warned against dismissing her message because of her age.
“We might still be in elementary school, but we know,” she said. “We know life isn’t equal for everyone. And we know what’s right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol. And we know that we have seven short years until we, too, have the right to vote.”
Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., told the crowd that she, too, has a dream: “Enough is enough.”
Singer Andra Day joined Baltimore’s Cardinal Shehan School Choir on stage to sing “Rise up” for the Washington crowd.
Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Common and Lin-Manuel Miranda also participated.
Chants of “We want change!” rose over the capital after a closing performance by singer Jennifer Hudson, whose mother, brother and nephew were shot and killed in 2008 by her former brother-in-law.
The Parkland survivors and others students thanked the crowd at the end.
“We are united,” a young woman said. “Congress, politicians – you are parents. Hear your children cry.”
Said another, “We are magic. We are power.”
Parallels to civil rights marches
In New York, former Beatle Paul McCartney told CNN he marched because his friend and bandmate John Lennon was lost to gun violence in 1980 not far from where the crowd had assembled.
“This is what we can do,” he said, “so I’m here to do it.”
Earlier, a normally bustling swath of Manhattan went quiet during a moment of silence as the names of the Parkland victims were read.
When it over, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “Amazing! Final NYC tally: 175,000 joined #MarchForOurLives. And this is a movement that has JUST BEGUN. These students WILL change America!”
In Washington, a teenager drew parallels with the civil rights marches of the past, relishing the idea that he was literally following in the footsteps of icons such as King.