(NPR) – Hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, parents and victims rallied in Washington, D.C., and across the country on Saturday to demand tougher gun control measures, part of a wave of political activism among students and others impacted by school shootings.
The “March for Our Lives” protest in the nation’s capital was organized by students after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.
The students are frustrated by what they say is the inaction of adults, especially politicians, who offer thoughts and prayers in the wake of school shootings but fail to pass legislation that protect kids from gun violence. They hope these marches will provide momentum for change ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
“I think it’s something that if any politician pushed in general, they would really have an easy time getting re-elected because they would be, they would show that they’re practicing what the preach and are trying to be leaders in their own right, but right now I think in Washington, we’re not seeing that,” David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, told Weekend Edition Saturday.
The march officially began at noon, but protesters started gathering along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol building early Saturday morning, as the event’s organizers expected the turnout to exceed 500,000 participants. The event in Washington is one of more than 800 happening coast to coast to push for stricter gun laws.
In the U.S. capital, chants of “vote them out” rang out in between dozens of student speakers from elementary to high school age, including several survivors of the Parkland shooting and Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter. There were also performances by Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande.
Student speakers used the national stage to call for an assault weapons ban, limits on high capacity magazines and universal background checks. They also mobilized young people to register to vote.
“Politicians either represent the people or cannot,” said Cameron Kasky, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who survived the shooting. “Stand for us, or beware, the voters are coming.”
To close out the rally, Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland survivors who has become one of the main faces of this movement, delivered an impassioned speech in which she named each of the 17 victims. Then, as tears streamed down her face, Gonzalez defiantly held the stage in silence for more than six minutes, the amount of time the gunman carried out his deadly assault on her high school. Protesters chanted “never again.” Then, a timer beeped.
“Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds,” Gonzalez said. “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.”
Source: National Public Radio