WASHINGTON, D.C. — The future is here, and it comes in the form of activated high school students.
On March 24 an estimated 850,000 people marched on Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s capital. There have been conflicting reports on the actual size of the march, and law enforcement officials have yet to release a precise number. Regardless of the number, this movement, entirely led by students, involved millions worldwide and is making waves across the globe — from London, to Berlin, to Sydney. Not only have teenagers taken the lead on this issue, they’ve been trailblazers for other kids and adults to follow.
“I’m having my voice finally heard,” said Michelle DeCosta, 17, of Columbia, MD. “It’s time for the students to have their voices heard and show that what’s happening now in the country isn’t allowed anymore.”
If you caught any of the coverage on Saturday, you may have noticed that not a single adult made a speech on the stage. The youngest speaker was just 9 years old, Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. While the Trump era has sparked similar marches, this was the first major protest almost exclusively organized by students.
“This is the first [march] there have been this many children, and I think that speaks to the heart of the issue,” said Megan Kurten, 26, a law student from Little Rock, AK, “You can’t make a pro-life argument without talking about saving lives from assault weapons.”
DeCosta went to several swim meets with Jaelyn Willey, the 16-year-old student who was shot by her ex-boyfriend inside a Maryland high school on March 20.
“That one particularly got me close to home,” said DeCosta.
Tracey Johnson, 49, of Howard County, MD, knew a young man who was shot at a 2018 New Years Eve party, and died two months later.
“I think it’s time for the adults to listen to the kids,” said Johnson. “This is their world. We need to honor what they want.”
In addition to the heartbreaking stories of gun violence told by children and teens, they reminded us that real change will happen at the voting polls in November. Chants of “vote them out” rang up and down the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue, and across the world. Thousands of protestors reportedly registered to vote during the March for our Lives, according to NBC News.
“Every single person here is a constituent,” said Kurten, as we shuffled together through a claustrophobic crowd of protesters, posters in hand. “Every single person here has at least four representatives they can contact and tell them that they’re tired of them taking NRA money, and that they’re ready for them to stand up and be advocating for gun reform.”
The protest was not a plea to lawmakers to instill gun reform, but a warning.
David Hogg, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student and gun violence survivor, said during Saturday’s rally, “To those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say get your resumes ready.”
While the day was ordered with the sounds of chants, applause, and the crowd singing in unison to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb,” and Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” the most powerful sound was silence, when Marjory Stonman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez paused in the middle of her speech to represent the six minutes and 20 seconds during which 17 of her classmates and teachers were gunned down.
It was an agonizing and poignant moment, as tears ran down Gonzalez’s face, while she looked out into the crowd, unwavering. The camera panned over faces in the audience, many gently sobbing as they honored the unannounced moment of silence.
Her timer then went off, the sound picked up by the microphone, then she spoke again briefly.
“Fight for your lives, before it’s someone else’s job,” she said before she walked off stage, to booming applause.
Editor’s note: Katie Dugan writes about her experience traveling to Washington, D.C., with her mom for the March 24 March For Our Lives event, one of many peaceful demonstrations that happened around the world. The protests rose out of the Feb. 14, 2018 deadly shooting at a Parkland, FLA, high school. Her first installment is here, on why she decided to attend the march.