Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the country for March for Our Lives, student-initiated demonstrations to demand government action to reduce gun violence in the wake of the latest major mass school shootings in Parkland, Fla.
In Washington, the student-driven event in Washington drew a mix of entertainers, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Platt, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Common. George Clooney, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg attended, along with other celebrities like Cher. A number of industry figures donated to the event, including Clooney, Katzenberg, Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.
A standout moment came when Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who has been one of the leaders of the activist effort that has followed the mass shooting, paused during her speech until six minutes, 20 seconds had elapsed since she started it. That was the length of time it took the shooter to kill 17 victims at the high school. As she said nothing, the crowd stayed silent, save for a brief chant of, “Never again.”
No politicians spoke at the event, and the musicians who appeared largely kept their statements to messages contained within their music.
Instead, the roster of speakers were almost entirely students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School high school and other teenagers who have been impacted by gun violence. They included youth from inner-city schools and neighborhoods where shootings are rampant but get little national media attention.
One of the students told the crowd that this was “not Coachella,” referring to the popular music festival, and that it was instead a serious event honoring the victims of gun violence and demanding political action.
“I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period,” said Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed by an assassin 50 years ago on April 4.
The event also was heavily focused on getting young people more politically active and registered to vote as they turn 18, as a way of holding politicians accountable for not taking action on guns. There were many references to the strength of the National Rifle Association lobby, and to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for taking money from the group.
“If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking,” said David Hogg, another Parkland student who helped organize the march.
He added, “We’re going to make this the voting issue. We’re going to take this to every election, to every state, and every city.”
A video during the event showed NRA officials, like Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch, as well as Charlton Heston, then the president of the organizations, saying, “From my cold dead hands.” In the crowd the images drew boos and the bird.
The White House missed a statement saying, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.” President Trump was in Mar-a-Lago for the weekend.
Zion Kelly appeared on stage and described the events that led to the gun shooting death of his twin brother, Zaire, while walking home in northeast Washington. He asked the crowd to raise hands if they have been impacted by gun violence. Many went up.
“Just like you, I have had enough,” he said.
The march ended with Jennifer Hudson singing “The Times They Are a Changin,” Bob Dylan’s standard that was an anthem of the protest era of the 1960s.
The march was more of a rally than an actual walk from the White House to the Capitol, in large part due to the size of the space. By the time it started at noon, almost the entire length was filled with participants.
Security was heavy, as authorities closed off streets and erected an elaborate system of barricades along Pennsylvania Avenue. But there was no screening through metal detectors.
Ellie d’Alessandro, 19, of Fairfax, Va., held a sign that read “I don’t know enough about guns to demand regulation?” Below was drawn a diagram of the female reproductive system. “I’ll wait,” it read. She said that she wanted to combine a message from the Women’s March, which she attended last year, with the march to end gun violence.
“There is no excuse for this. It is just ridiculous,” she said of the Parkland shootings. “People shouldn’t be afraid to walk out of their houses and go to school, school is supposed to be a safe place.”
She said that she hopes that something comes out of the march. “I want people to stop arguing and get something done,” she said. “There are so many different opinions, so many different things people are saying. You just need to come together and compromise.”
Nearby, John Brown of New Jersey held a sign that read “#Grandparents: Common sense versus NRA/GOP.”
Brown, 71, who is retired, said that he and his wife Ann, a school teacher, supported calls for greater restriction of weapons after the Newtown, Conn., shooting massacre in 2012. They went to one of the funerals for one of the girls killed in Newtown, who was a cousin of one of Ann’s students.
“Our philosophy and belief in life is that this is not the way our country should be running,” Ann said. “We should not have these weapons of war available to all of us.”
After Newtown, she added, “things didn’t change. Things never changed.” But, she said, “you can’t lose hope. You have to keep trying.”
“I am so, so grateful and delighted that politicians were not allowed,” said Margie White, of the Washington DC area. “They are they cause of so much of this. To have their here would just besmirch the whole thing in my opinion, taking away from the kids and what they are trying to do.”
Clarence Hoop, 69, of Virginia, said that “we finally have a group that is willing to speak up which we have ignored for years, and even though we had a ban on military type of weapons for 10 years, Congress let it dissolve, so we are here we are repeating history again, once again killing off our kids. This is something that has got to stop.”
Hoop worked at the Pentagon for 42 years and recalled watching the student demonstrations of the Vietnam war in the 1960s, but he thinks these students are more effective.
“They have the funding and they are going to keep this up and I think they will succeed,” he said.
He said that “these kids have to resources that they will keep coming back and coming back to remind us, and that is what we need. Those reminders.”
In New York City, Paul McCartney joined protesters near the Dakota Building where fellow Beatle John Lennon was killed by a gunman in 1980.
Marchers chanted “NRA sashay away,” at the New York rally, holding posters decrying the involvement of the National Rifle Association in government.
Maria Shriver attended the demonstration and March For Our Lives event in downtown Los Angeles, where Amy Schumer was also present. Shriver and Schumer chatted and posed for pictures with survivors of the Parkland High mass shooting.
In an interview with Variety, Shriver said the gun control debate has a renewed energy and a very different feel than times past.
“It feels much more ‘of the people,’” she said. “It feels much more inclusive, it feels much more multigenerational. These are all young people who are going to vote. I think that’s going to have an impact on people who are up for re-election this coming year in the midterms.”
Shriver said the movement has focused on where it can most be effective — registering teens when they turn 18.
“Young people in these marches have very specific asks. It’s not so general,” she said.
The spate of school shootings that have claimed an increasing number of lives since Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary, and many others have created new activists.
“There’s a lot more people involved that never cared about this issue before,” she said. “I lost members of my family to gun violence. This has been an issue that I’ve grown up with, but it’s across generations now and it has a different heat to it, a different energy to it.”
Willow Shields, 17, attended Saturday’s rally at Grand Park, part of the thousands of teens who demonstrated in downtown Los Angeles. She clutched a sign that read “Books not bullets,” and said that she is eager to turn 18 so she can exercise her right to vote.
“People are finally realizing the strength that young people have,” Shields said. “This is really driven by teenagers.”
She said she admires the Parkland High student activists and others who have become outspoken after experience a shooting. “These kids that are putting themselves out there and having to relive this stuff every day and deal with it, they’re doing it for the better of the future for all of us.”
At the Washington march, Kiki Baker, 17, of Vienna, Va., was with two other teenage friends, Haylie Roberts, 17, of Pensacola, Fla. and Kayla Ogden, 17, of Naples, Fla. A junior in high school, Baker held a sign that read, “We are students, not targets.”
“Especially after Parkland, it has got to stop,” Baker said. “This is the time to do it. If not now, then when?”
She added, “This is something that will spark a lot of change, and inspire a lot of people. So I think it is an amazing day, and I think it will go down in history.”
Andy Spahn, whose political strategy firm represents Spielberg and Katzenberg, tweeted out a photo of their meeting with the students.
Cher also tweeted about the march, including a photo of her in the crowd.
The NRA posted a video on its Facebook page Saturday that included the note, “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”