By Rachel Heller
In February, former U.S. Representative Jack Kingston asked on CNN, “Do we really think 17-year-olds, on their own, are going to plan a nationwide rally?”
One month later, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors led hundreds of thousands in D.C.’s March for Our Lives anti-gun violence rally, inciting over 800 sibling marches across the globe.
Organizers estimate that approximately 800,000 participants filled D.C.’s streets for the rally, with a number of participants watching from the balconies and rooftops of buildings. The crowd gathered around a stage set up just blocks away from the United States Capitol, where student speakers gave speeches protesting against gun violence and advocating for gun reform.
The first of the speakers, Cameron Caskey, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, set the tone for the youth voices-centered rally.
“My generation, having spent our entire lives seeing mass shooting after mass shooting, has learned that our voices are powerful and our votes matter,” he said. “We hereby promise to fix the broken system we’ve been forced into, and create a better world for the generations to come.”
The student speakers represented communities from across the nation, with Trevon Bosley, 19, speaking on behalf of the youth in his city, Chicago.
In April 2006, Bosley’s brother, Terrell, was shot and killed while leaving church. Bosley informed the crowd that since 2006, more than 5,850 people have been shot and killed in Chicago.
Other speakers, including Delaney Tarr, 17, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, addressed the National Rifle Association in their speeches.
“We cannot move on,” Tarr said. “If we move on, the NRA, and those against us, will win. . . . They want to be back on top, unquestioned in their corruption. But we cannot and will not let that happen.”
Tarr added that student advocates will take action against politicians if they don’t address gun violence. “If there is no assault weapons ban passed, then we will vote them out,” she said.
The crowd echoed Tarr’s sentiment multiple times throughout the rally, chanting, “Vote them out!” in between speeches.
Along with the student speakers, various musical acts, including the Stoneman Douglas Drama Club, took to the stage. The musicians ranged from Miley Cyrus, singing “The Climb,” to Ariana Grande, singing “Be Alright.”
Amidst the well-known figures in attendance, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Ryan Deitsch, 18, reminded the crowd of the urgency surrounding the rally. “There might be musicians on this stage, but this is not Coachella. We might have movie stars in the crowd . . . but this is not the Oscars. . . . This is real life,” he said.
Not all of the student speakers were high school students. One of the youngest speakers, Naomi Wadler, 11, from Alexandria, Virginia, gave a speech centered around gun violence against black women and girls.
She addressed the shooting deaths of black women “whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news.”
In her speech, Wadler recited a quote from African American author Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” She concluded her speech by urging the crowd to tell the stories of the women of color shot down by guns.
While the crowd accompanied each student speaker with acclamation, the appearance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, 9, prompted those in attendance to roar with applause.
“My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” she said, referencing King’s renowned speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “I have a dream that enough is enough. That this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
King then led the crowd in a chant: “Spread the word. Have you heard? All across the nation. We are going to be a great generation.”
Emma Gonzalez, 18, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who has been at the forefront of the anti-gun violence movement following her school’s shooting, gave the final speech of the rally.
After listing the names of the people killed in her school’s mass shooting, Gonzalez stopped speaking.
As several minutes of silence ticked by, Gonzalez remained silent, tears streaming down her face. Then, an alarm beeped.
“Since the time that I came out here, it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds,” she 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.”
Before finishing her speech, Gonzalez said, “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
When Morgan Downs, a sophomore at Arundel High School and an attendee at the rally, heard the news of the Parkland shooting, she cried.
“I imagine that if anything like that were to happen to Arundel, I would never be able to handle it. 17 undeserving people lost their lives in less than seven minutes,” she said.
Downs added that weapons of war have no place in America. “What a semi automatic weapon can do is scary, and it can happen anywhere at anytime,” she said.
While Owen Weiland, 14, from Virginia, is homeschooled, he says that many of his friends in school have been heavily affected by the recent shootings in the nation.
“They’re terrified,” he said. “A lot of their parents don’t even let them go to school anymore—they’re so worried about this.”
“It’s really sick, that this is happening at all. It’s not just in schools, it’s everywhere,” he said.
Another rally attendee, Isabella LaMagdeleine, 18, from George Mason University, writes
for Fourth Estate, her university’s official student-run news outlet. She is currently working on a story regarding what her school would do if there was a school shooting.
“It’s really sad that this has to be reported on, but I believe very heavily in the power of the press. I believe we can really affect things,” she said. “I like being able to see what I’m doing actually helps.”
Ashleigh Dziarnowski, an Arundel High School senior, says that the idea of being in danger just by going to school, concerts, or nightclubs is terrifying.
“Even just last week, there was a shooting in Maryland,” she said, in reference to the Great Mills High School shooting in Southern Maryland.
Dziarnowski feels that as a student, she had an obligation to attend the rally. “It’s my job to stand up for my fellow students who no longer can.”