By Chaitram Aklu
Just days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead and more wounded, a group of students from the Parkland Florida school began organizing against gun violence. It evolved from a massive walk out of schools on March 14, into a nationwide March for Our Lives protest on Saturday March 24, 2018.
There were protest marches in almost every congressional district in the United States. Young speakers shared their experiences and called for gun control. Missing completely from the speakers’ podiums were politicians, although some of them were observed in the marches.
What is the urgency? Emma Gonzalez one of the five Parkland organizers put it this way (not at the protest). “So we are speaking up for those who don’t have anyone listening to them, for those who can’t talk about it just yet, and for those who will never speak again. We are grieving, we are furious, and we are using our words fiercely and desperately because that’s the only thing standing between us and this happening again.”
Two student survivors of Stoneman spoke at the protest. One of them, Megan Bonner was brought to tears when she recalled that she had seen that the shooter, Nicholas Cruz was not “OK”. He had harassed her friend. Megan reported it to school authorities but no action was taken. Megan’s friend was one of the people killed by Cruz. “The adults failed us,” she said, “and now 17 people are dead.” One report stated that there were 97 deaths per day from gun violence in the US in 2016.
Another school shooting survivor, Mary Ann Jacobs, teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, also made a statement calling for gun control. That shooting claimed the lives of 26 children and adults.
An estimated 200 000 people attended the New York City protest, where speakers addressed the crowd from a platform at Columbus Circle, just outside of the Trump International Hotel. Across the country, the March is said to be the largest protest (estimated 1.2 million participants) since the Vietnam War protests.
The student organizers, adults and concerned organizations including the labor unions, have pledged that this movement will grow and bring positive results. Politicians who oppose gun reform laws claiming it is a Second Amendment right are urged to pay careful attention to the massive voter registration drive. As one marcher, proudly holding her placard told me, “I will not sacrifice my child on the altar of the Second Amendment. I demand gun reform now.” Another placard in the shape of an automatic rifle informed the crowd: “591 260 Lives Lost Since 1999 From Gun Violence… But tell me how this is not a Gun issue. (Numbers Calculated by the CDC).”
The idea for the march was initiated by Stoneman Douglas students just days after the Parkland tragedy. They have put out the following 9-point Manifesto to fix America’s gun laws and make the United States a safer country for all:
– Increase funding for school security
– Dedicate more funds to mental health research and professionals
– Raise the firearm purchase age to 21
– Allow the CDC to make recommendations for gun reform
– Close gun show and secondhand sales loopholes
– Change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement
– Establish a database of gun sales and universal background checks
– Ban accessories that simulate automatic weapons
– Ban semi-automatic weapons that fire high-velocity rounds
There is a strong likelihood that this movement will grow and achieve the stated objectives. Many of the young people are already eligible to vote and by November, when mid-term elections are held, more will become eligible. At all the protests locations there were large numbers of voter registration volunteers, and from observations in New York City, young people were flocking them to register.