I Went to the D.C. March for Our Lives

It's 6:30 am. Our bus comes to a halt. As the sun begins to rise, I know our bus ride from Boston was over. We had finally made it. The weeks of waiting were over. We were finally in D.C. We were here to stand together and have our voices heard; to demand change.

I was very excited for this march to say the least. I felt so passionately about the cause that we were fighting for. Every school shooting had come and gone and merely viewed as a tragedy with very little reform. The Parkland shooting was different. The students were taking ownership of their own rights and taking a stand. This was also one of the first times that the media was able to take real footage of the students who experienced the shooting. The videos displayed from iPhones and Snapchats somehow made the entire incident seem more real. When I heard about the march, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. So I reached out to all of my friends asking if they would be able to go and would like to join me. Two of my friends from high school got on board and we immediately started planning our accommodations for the trip.

Photo by Courtney Adema

In all honesty, I wasn’t entirely sure what the march would entail. Though knowing its magnitude, in the back of my mind I was afraid something would go wrong, or that things would not be able to function as planned or that we would be faced with brutal anti-protesters. Regardless, I knew nothing would be able to silence our statement.

My two friends and I got off the bus with the other protesters with our backpacks and signs in hand. Into the brisk Washington D.C. air all of the passengers spread in different directions in search of some breakfast before the day truly began. As it was still very early, when we walked into the city the streets were incredibly empty, like a quiet calm before a storm.

It was predicted that there was such a large number of people attending that there would physically not be enough room for literal marching. The entire event would be focused on speeches and presentations on a stage near the Capitol Building beginning at noon.

We reached the area four hours prior to the start time yet the space directly in front of the stage was already entirely filled with people and was out of our sight-line. Fortunately, jumbotrons were placed further back on the sides where we would be able to see what was happening on the stage.

The crowd quickly filled behind us, and it wasn’t long before we couldn’t see where the line of people stopped. I loved seeing ­all of the signs with a wide variety of statements. Some were witty or poking fun such as “I thought you were pro-life” and “If you need an AR-15 to hunt a deer then you really suck at hunting”. Some were just blunt and to the point with “Protect Kids Not Guns” or “We Call BS! Dangerous and unusual weapons can be prohibited”. While we stood we cycled through a series of chants consisting of “VOTE THEM OUT” and “HEY HEY, HO HO THE NRA HAS GOT TO GO”.

Then it finally began. Our ears were suddenly bombarded with the sound of children’s voices as a river of red choir jackets filled the stage. Andra Day started the demonstration with her song “Rise Up” accompanied by The Cardinal Shehan School Choir. This song clearly set the tone for the entire day, recognizing the circumstances that brought these people together with the lyrics  “You're broken down and tired/ Of living life on a merry go round/ And you can't find the fighter/ But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out/ And move mountains/ And I'll rise up”. The demonstration then proceeded with speeches from students from Stoneman Douglas High School and prerecorded videos. The messages put an emphasis to no longer accept thoughts and prayers, and instead the need to take action. Each speaker shared their own story, each let the crowd know that they were not a statistic; they are a person, and that what is happening is real.

Photo by Courtney Adema

There were also students from Chicago and Los Angeles sharing their experiences, voicing the fact that gun violence is not an issue only in relation to school shootings, it is found on the street and in neighborhoods, that children can be shot merely on a walk home from school.

One of the speakers was only eleven years old. Naomi Wadler defied the claims that she is just “some tool of some nameless adult” to call attention to the still present racial issues within our nation that are so closely tied with gun violence and lack of representation. The march as a whole recognized the privilege that Parkland gained that could likely be attributed to its affluence. But the Parkland survivors took advantage of the coverage and started a movement that would fight for all races, that would protect everyone affected by gun violence.

Emma González had been one of the main faces of protest and has been speaking out against gun violence since the Parkland shooting. The crowd knew her voice. But at the March in D.C. that was something she withheld. Her speech was towards the end of the presentation. After introducing herself and her message she stopped speaking. She fell completely quiet. At first, I thought she was taking a long pause for effect. But then the silence continued. Many things were running through my mind: was she too overcome with emotion that she can’t continue? Will she be able to say anything else and finish? What will happen next if she can’t? It was clear that many others wanted to fill the silence and several patches of people started chants of “VOTE THEM OUT”. Finally, with tears streaming down her face Emma spoke again stating “Since the time that I came out here, it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds” which was the exact amount of time that it took for the gunman to kill 17 people at her school. The mild discomfort that we felt in that prolonged moment could never compare to the fear and terror that each and every Stoneman Douglas student felt that day.  Despite the fact that during that time no words were spoken, her message was loud and clear. Emma ended her speech simply with “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job”.

The entirety of the demonstration was interspersed with performances from singers such as Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato, but they were all topped by the performance by the drama club from Stoneman Douglas School. Only a week after the shooting, they had written a song to express their sentiments and presented it to their city council. Within the song “Shine” they declare that they will not be defeated by the actions of destruction inflicted on them. They were last to perform to leave a final message. The lyrics state “You burned all of the bridges and you slowly let us drown/ But you’re not going to knock us down/ We’ll get back up again/ You may have hurt us but I promise we will be stronger”. Though those melodies, the entire crowd was united with the same feelings of empowerment and motivation to do anything we can to prevent these tragedies.  

Everyone that contributed to the presentation were children.  All eloquent and assertive. While they are not of age to vote, they clearly showed the nation that they know what they are talking about, and that when they do come of age they are going to take the lead and shake things up. In the meantime, they voice their opinions and experiences to encourage those who can to vote for gun control and vote out anyone in office who is against them.

When leaving the arena, it was clear to see that so many people support them. From where we were standing we could only see a small portion of the crowd, only when we started to exit the area and slowly started to spread across the lawn and through the streets was I able to truly realize how many people were in attendance. I was astounded that all of these people came together for the same issue, to fight for the same cause. I’ve never seen that many people in my life.

And it’s possible that that was the case for everyone else that was there that day. It is estimated that 800,000 people attended the march in D.C. making it the largest one-day protest in all of history. On top of that, there were over 800 sibling marches across the United States and throughout the world. To have been a part of something of such magnitude is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything and certainly something I will never forget. And I hope the same goes for history. I hope that this is the catalyst that finally brings an end to gun violence, that there will never be another tragedy that is only acknowledged through “thoughts and prayers” again.  That this event can be pinpointed years from that started it all, and that decades from now children will read in history textbooks and will know what to thank for their feeling of safety.