Photos by AHA Staff
“Welcome to the revolution!” announced Cameron Kasky, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting and the opening speaker at the March 24th March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC. “It is a powerful and peaceful one because it is of, by, and for the young people of this country!”
This is exactly how the march-turned-rally felt on Saturday. The crowd, which covered the streets and sidewalks from 13th Street NW to 3rd Street NW (about a mile), was filled with families, youth groups, and students of all backgrounds. Estimates on crowd size range from 202,796 to 800,000 in DC—just one of about 800 marches around the world—making it one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War. The speakers were all young people who shared their stories of experience with gun violence—in school and on the street—and their determination to end it—because adults weren’t doing enough.
Even the pre-recorded videos in between speakers starred mostly students, except for one about servicemen and women who support banning assault rifles. Each video gave facts about gun violence and solutions to end it, including the need for stronger background checks, ending the sale of bump stocks, better mental health resources, and banning assault rifles. They also shared the popular video of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Sarah Chadwick spoofing a recent NRA ad. Each video ended with: “Enough is enough. It is time for change. Never again.”
“The videos were scary,” said an elementary school-aged protestor who thought the best speaker was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King. The nine-year-old King was welcomed on stage by enormous applause and, with a big smile, proclaimed: “I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
Another inspirational young black speaker who impressed the crowd was Naomi Wadler (age eleven) of Alexandria, Virginia, who led a walkout at her elementary school on March 14. She proudly stated she was there to “represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls, full of potential.” Her speech is one of the many must-see moments of the day.
Clara McClintock (thirteen) is a middle school student in Maryland who attended the march with her classmate and family. She said that 500 students had walked out of her school on March 14 but that some of her friends were hesitant to attend the March for Our Lives rally for fear there would be a mass shooting there. Still, most of the kids were inspired by the speeches and hopeful that their generation would succeed in pushing gun control legislation.
American Humanist Association Communications Manager Amy Couch, who attended with her fourteen-year-old son Quinn Kealiher, was struck by how eloquent and poignant the teen and preteen speakers were:
I was so proud of the natural intersectionality of the protesters and the speakers. It didn’t have to be orchestrated. It was natural and organic and incredibly moving to me, coming from a childhood which was riddled with racial and sexist issues. It was so inspiring to me to see my son, who is on the autism spectrum, so engaged with the speeches and the movement. He talked about it the entire rest of the day—how powerful he felt to be part of this movement—how optimistic he felt that things were going to change because they were going to make it happen. How inspired he was by several of the speakers. It was an amazing day for him, one that will resonate with him for years to come.
When a volunteer came by to register voters and encourage people to sign up for updates about future elections (an option also available via text throughout the day), Quinn was disappointed that he would not be able to vote for four more years. Thousands of other teens across the country, however, did register and are looking forward to voting out any politicians who accept money from the NRA. Crowds across the nation spontaneously chanted “Vote them out!” in between speakers and videos.
In an afternoon full of cheers, chants, songs, powerful speeches, emotional silences, laughs, and tears, the resounding message of the day was that all who care about ending gun violence must register to vote, educate themselves on who to vote for, and of course show up to the polls. No matter your race, political party, gender, sexual orientation…we all deserve to feel safe in our homes, schools, movies theaters, churches, concerts, and neighborhoods. It is a youth-led movement, but it requires all Americans to follow.