Over 200,000 people gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue and in an estimated 800 other locations across the world for the March for Our Lives to protest gun violence and mass shootings Saturday.
The protest was youth-led, headed by survivors of the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. Survivors of the shooting announced their plans for the rally just four days after the fatal attack that left 17 dead. The movement is “dedicated to student-led activism around ending gun violence and the epidemic of mass shootings in our schools today,” according to its Facebook page.
Although it was referred to as a march, the event more closely resembled a rally, with several speakers and performers taking the stage as hundreds of thousands crowded to watch, cheer and chant.
During the event, people gathered in the streets with homemade signs covered in statements like: “Arms are made for hugging,” “Congress, how much is my life worth,” “Art rooms not panic rooms” and “Fire congressmen not guns.”
Several survivors of the shooting were present and spoke at the event, including some who have had an active media presence, such as David Hogg and Emma González. The march focused on gun violence in general, with speakers addressing the intersectionality of gun violence, including shootings in cities such as Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles in addition to school shootings.
Trevon Bosley, a 19-year-old whose brother Terrell who was killed leaving church spoke at the event, and reminded the crowd that gun violence is an issue many Americans face daily, outside of random mass shootings.
“Gun violence is more than just a Chicago problem or a Parkland problem. It is an American problem,” Bosley said.
Delaney Tarr, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, asked the crowd to stand up against those who oppose gun control, like the National Rifle Association, in her speech.
“We cannot move on,” Tarr said. “If we move on, the NRA and those against us will win. They want us to forget. They want our voices to be silenced, and they want to retreat into the shadows where they can remain unnoticed. They want to be back on top unquestioned in their corruption, but we cannot and we will not let that happen.”
Another Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, Sarah Chadwick, called out politicians in her speech.
“This is not a red versus blue issue. This is a moral issue. And to the politicians that believe that their right to own a gun comes before our lives, get ready to be voted out by us,” Chadwick said. “We have been fighting since Columbine, Sandy Hook, since Pulse, since Las Vegas. And we will continue to fight until we put a stop to gun violence in America.”
Other speakers included former Sandy Hook students, children who had lost family members to gun violence and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King. Speeches by student activists were interspersed with videos showing military veterans calling for the regulation of assault weapons and Malala Yousafzai encouraging the protesters, among other speakers.
Several artists, including Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lin-Manuel Miranda performed at the event. Students from Parkland also performed a song for their fallen classmates.
The final speaker of the protest was Emma González, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and a student-activist leader. González became a household name following her “We call B.S.” speech at a Florida gun control rally just three days after the shooting at her high school.
“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 forever altered,” González said. “Everyone who was there understands. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands.”
She called out the names of her classmates who had been killed. After naming the students who had lost their lives, she stood silently for just over four minutes, matching the total length of her time on stage to the six minutes and 20 seconds the Parkland shooter spent in her high school.
“Since the time that I came up here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds,” González said when she broke her silence. “The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
Many protesters are hopeful that this march will be a catalyst for gun reform. However, Liza Gold, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine, said that effecting change takes extensive effort and that it will take more than one event to produce visible, long-term results.
“Lasting change is not an event, it’s a process — this process began before the Parkland shooting, and will continue after either by those inspired by this moment or others who were in this for the long haul even before now,” Gold wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Lasting change will come about the way gay marriage became legally accepted — state by state, not by the federal government, until the momentum of the states legalizing it made it impossible for the federal government to do otherwise. Same will be true for the reform of firearm legislation.”
Gold also said that the issue central to the march goes far beyond mass shootings and that it should be addressed through a public health lens.
“Gun violence is a complex problem that occurs in a variety of contexts,” Gold said. “There is not going to be one clean solution. The best approach is a public health approach, where we intervene on many levels to decrease morbidity and mortality, without stigmatizing or focusing on any one group of people, such as people with mental illness.”
An estimated several hundred Georgetown students attended the event in support of ending gun violence. Annemarie Machado (COL ’21), a Florida resident, said the shooting in Parkland hit close to home and motivated her to speak out against the recent shootings.
“The number of shootings in the past five years alone is horrific to even think about, two of which happened in my very own state. When I think of the people injured, killed, and affected by the shootings in Orlando and Parkland, Florida, I think of how easily that could have been me or someone I care about,” Machado wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I attended the march because I should not have to worry or wonder what things might have been like if it were me or my friends in these situations.”