University of Richmond students joined hundreds of thousands of others on Saturday in Washington, D.C., for a gun violence protest driven by young adults and children. The protest was sparked in part by the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The March for Our Lives was a nationwide event organized by survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 that left 17 dead. Over 800 similar events were planned across the country. The organizers expected 500,000 participants at the Washington march.
First-year Elizabeth Harrison was one of those thousands who attended the march.
“I think it’s absurd we’ve had shootings happen before and nothing’s changed,” Harrison said. “It’s up to the victims now. I think people are finally starting to listen to teens and students. This is not going to be changed by politicians. This is our last option.”
Sophomore Nadia Neman also attended the march.
“It’s important to go and hold representatives accountable about issues, especially this one,” Neman said.
An informal march of participants began the day. They converged on Pennsylvania Avenue and walked toward a stage set up on 3rd Street NW, which framed the Capitol -- a key positioning, as many speakers referenced the lawmakers’ building during the rally. Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Hudson and Lin-Manuel Miranda performed songs throughout the rally.
The event itself was part concert, part emotional storytelling and part political rally -- all broadcast live to the nation. The juxtaposition of footage of singing teens, crying survivors and exceptionally well-produced informational videos was at times jarring.
When there were short breaks in the lineup, the crowd would often fill them with chants to “vote them out,” a reference to lawmakers who accept money from the National Rifle Association.
If there was a theme to the day, it was that the upcoming midterm elections are vital to effecting the changes the students called for: mandatory background checks, waiting periods, a ban on military-style assault rifles and raising the age of purchase to 21. This theme persisted despite the fact that many of the young participants will not be able to vote in the midterms.
The speakers at the rally were all students and children and included 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
David Hogg and Emma González, two of the students from Stoneman Douglas that have gone viral in the aftermath of the shooting, gave some of the most powerful speeches of the day.
In what sounded remarkably like a campaign stump speech, Hogg called for “no more” gun violence and for younger voters in the 19 to 25 age group to participate in the midterm elections.
González was the last speaker of the day and emerged from backstage to cheers from the crowd. She spoke for a few minutes before falling silent and staring into the camera unflinchingly. The audience waited uncomfortably before filling the silence with chants of “never again.” When a kitchen timer finally went off, González announced that she had been on stage for 6 minutes, 20 seconds, the exact amount of time the Parkland shooting lasted.
The entire march exhibited signs that younger citizens were both its organizers and largest group of participants.
Lauren Martys, 19, is from Maryland but attends Pennsylvania State University and was one of many millenials who attended the march.
“I think our generation is definitely showing up when we have to,” Martys said.
The audience was also occasionally reminded of the speakers’ youth, including when some stumbled over their words, called out hellos to family members or became overwhelmed by nerves.
The ages of participants ranged, but the majority were young. Participants came from all over, including a 13-year-old girl from Florida who lives 20 miles from Parkland. One 13-year-old girl from Maryland was even participating despite being on crutches.
Bridget McCartney, 31, was holding up a sign that had a photo of a Jessica Ghawi pasted to it. Ghawi was one of the victims of the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 and McCartney’s best friend. McCartney traveled from Texas to represent her at the march.
“It just keeps getting worse,” McCartney said. “After she died, we thought change was going to come. But mass shootings seem to get more and more frequent and more and more people keep dying.”
Many of the participants were also local. Mimi Zuehlke, 26, is a preschool teacher in Washington. She came to support friends who lost friends at the Parkland shooting, but also to voice her own passions about gun control.
“I feel threatened in my classroom,” Zuehlke said. “I feel like we’re sitting ducks.”
As crowds dispersed from the rally, many stopped to laugh and take photos of an example of meme culture and another reminder of the youthfulness of participants: a note that read “NRA” on a pile of horse dung in the middle of the street.
Contact news writers Ashlee Korlach and Julia Raimondi at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.