United States

‘Fight for Your Lives': Gun Violence Survivors Decry Guns at March for Our Lives

After reading off the names of the Parkland, Florida, victims and the things they'll never be able to do again, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez, the final speaker at Saturday's March for Our Lives, stood fiercely, tearfully silent to mark the six minutes and 20 seconds of the attack on her school Feb. 14. 

"Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job," she concluded, imploring those of voting age to vote.

Gonzalez was one of several students from Stoneman Douglas, as well as other youth affected by gun violence from across the nation, who took the stage near the U.S. Capitol and delivered moving speeches, stirring emotions with their personal stories and encouraging involvement by urging people to vote out politicians who don't support strict gun laws.

An estimated 500,000 young people and their supporters descended on Washington, D.C., for the rally. A crowd stretching for blocks lined Pennsylvania Avenue as the rally began at noon. Many carried signs advocating gun control, saying "Not One More," "We Are the Change," "No More Silence," "Keep NRA Money Out of Politics" and "Enough."

The March for Our Lives rally kicked off at noon with a performance by singer Andra Day and the Cardinal Shehan School Choir, who went viral for their performance of "Rise Up." The crowd erupted as rapper Common joined Day on stage for her next song.

Signs Spotted at 'March for Our Lives' in DC

"We will continue to fight for our dead friends," Delaney Tarr, a survivor of the Florida tragedy, declared from the stage. The crowd roared with approval as she laid down the students' central demand: a ban on "weapons of war" for all but warriors.

"If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking," Parkland survivor David Hogg said to roars from the protesters packing Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol many blocks back toward the White House. "We're going to take this to every election, to every state and every city. We're going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run, not as politicians but as Americans.

"Because this," he said, pointing behind him to the Capitol dome, "this is not cutting it."

A surprise guest thrilled the crowd: Stoneman Douglas survivor Jaclyn Corin brought on stage Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s granddaughter, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King.

"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. I have a dream that enough is enough," she declared, "and that this should be a gun-free world, period."

She then led the crowd in a chant, shouting, "Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation!"

A surprise appearance by Yolanda Renee King thrilled the March for Our Lives.

D.C. student Zion Kelley, who says he was the target of an attempted armed robbery not long before his 16-year-old brother Zaire was shot and killed by the same gunman in Northeast, spoke about his family's work to pass the Zaire Kelly Public Safety Zone Amendments Act of 2018. The act would "create safe passage zones to and from school by expanding the definition of a student."

"'Student' would be defined as any person enrolled in a public and private day care, elementary, vocational, secondary school, college, junior college, university," he said. "Expand gun free zone to include recreation centers. This amendment means that every student in Washington, D.C., would carry the protection of my brother's name, ensuring safety as they travel to and from school in our city. My name is Zion Kelly, and just like all of you, I have had enough."

Zion Kelly speaks at the March for Our Lives, in memory of his brother Zaire who was killed during a robbery attempt in Northeast D.C.

Naomi Wadler of Alexandria, Virginia, spoke of the walkout she helped lead at her elementary school March 14.

"People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I am a tool for a nameless adult. It's not true," she protested. "My friends and I might still be 11, we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know life isn't equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol and we know that have seven short years until we too have the right to vote."

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The student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Matt Post, took the stage with other members of MoCo for Gun Control.

"It's not difficult to diagnose the moral health problem of this country," he said. "Our nation's politics are sick with soullessness, but make no mistake, we are the cure."

Matt Post, the student member of the Montgomery County Board, represents MoCo for Gun Control at the March for Our Lives.

In between speakers, the crowd frequently chanted, "Vote them out!"  

A number of artists who have thrown their support behind the movement performed, including Demi Lovato, Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt, Vic Mensa, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande. Jennifer Hudson sang with the D.C. Choir as the final musical performance, which ended with the student leaders of the rally taking the stage and joining the crowd in a chant of "We want change!" 

Earlier in the day, Mayor Muriel Bowser joined D.C. officials and students at 9:15 a.m. in Folger Park for the Rally for D.C. Lives before the main rally.

Bowser said D.C.'s gun laws won't help unless the city's neighbors in Virginia and Maryland pass common sense gun laws.

"We have focused too much on protecting the rights of the few," she said. "We can have the second amendment and common-sense gun laws."

"Enough is enough," she concluded.

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The former girlfriend of Zaire Kelly, who was shot and killed in an attempted robbery in Northeast, told the crowd she was marching for friends who were killed.

"I am marching for my boyfriend who was murdered before he could apply to [Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University]," she said.

The crowd then chanted "Hands off D.C." — in response to congressional interference in D.C. gun laws — and "No justice, no peace!"

"We're here to save our strong gun laws," D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said.

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Elsewhere, city volunteers directed hundreds of marchers as they flooded out of Metro Center and other Metro stations hours before the rally began. Other groups including Quaker Center volunteers and Jose Andres' Food for Our Lives handed out snacks and sandwiches to marchers.

Students and alumni from Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County, Maryland, also attended the massive demonstration, just four days after their school experienced the horror of gun violence firsthand. A classmate opened fire moments before class was set to start Tuesday. The gunman died, and two students were shot: a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. The girl, Jaelynn Willey, died Thursday night.

Ayanne Johnson of Great Mills held a sign declaring, "I March for Jaelynn."

"My daughter's friend was Jaelynn, so we're marching for them," said Kathryn Weatherly of St. Mary's County.

"I've been working to get sensible gun control since the Million Moms March in 2002," protester Sue Phipps said.

"You don't really feel safe at school anymore," said Summer Phipps, 17.

She said she would like to see change of any sort.

Some attendees said they were family members of teachers, or teachers themselves.

"This is not a decent environment to teach in," said William Fleming, who teaches at Gaithersburg High School.

Pat McGee's daughter is a teacher in Baltimore County.

"My daughter is the teacher," McGee said. "The first day of her job she got locked down. There was a shooting in the building. We need momentum."

Teachers Carol Hawkins and Ellen Haury came from Indianapolis to participate in the rally.

"I'm a teacher and they were saying teachers should carry guns and we just froze," Haury said. "All of the things that could go wrong with that. The solutions they're coming up with are not enough."

"We're here because teachers shouldn't carry guns," Hawkins added. "I don't want to shoot a gun. If I wanted to be trained to use a gun, I would've gone into law enforcement."

Some of the student leaders of the March for Our Lives close the rally with some final words in protest of guns.

More than 800 events were planned worldwide for March for Our Lives, according to the event's website.

The Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reignited the simmering national campaign to curtail gun violence. Tens of thousands of students across the U.S. walked out of their classrooms on March 14 to demand action by politicians, a prelude to Saturday's March for Our Lives.

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"We're the only ones that can speak up," said Jaclyn Corin, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. "We have to be the adults in this situation because clearly people have failed us in the government."

"What needs to be brought about is awareness to school shootings and obviously gun violence," said Newell Rand, a recent graduate of Great Mills High School.

The national gun-control movement seems certain to remain energized for the foreseeable future by the infusion of student-led activism, even if Congress and many state legislatures balk at meeting the activists' demands.

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Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after the December 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, says her nationwide organization has added 135,000 new volunteers since the Parkland shooting, who have been helping press elected officials to curb gun violence.

"We've never seen this kind of outpouring of interest, and people getting off the sidelines," Watts said. "We're seeing our events so full, we have to move them to new venues."

Students are also planning a nationwide school walk-out on April 20, which marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

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