A few months ago when I was planning a trip down to Washington, D.C. to visit a friend I thought it would just be a normal weekend. We’d see some monuments, go to a museum or two, maybe even make it down in time to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d end up at one of the largest protests in US history. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked the streets of Washington, D.C. this past Saturday for the March for Our Lives protest on Capitol Hill. The march came just over a month after a shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which claimed the lives of seventeen people, both students, and faculty. Victims of this tragedy were fed up with only receiving “thoughts and prayers” from officials and lawmakers. They want to see real efforts being made towards reforming gun laws and decreasing the amount of gun violence in America. In order to make their voices heard they planted themselves right in front of the Capitol building where Congress meets, in order to make sure that lawmakers heard their message loud and clear.
Cheaply made signs in hand, my friends and I hopped on the Metro a little before noon, along with hordes of other fellow protesters. It may as well have been rush hour on a Friday, we were packed in there like a can of sardines. The plan was to go to the Lincoln Memorial where we assumed the speeches would be held; and then we would all march towards Capitol Hill. Clearly, we did not do our research, for when we arrived at the reflection pond right in front of the Lincoln Memorial there was nothing but standard DC tourists taking pictures with Lincoln and clearly not talking to him about gun laws. Our assumption was that we missed the actual marching and that everyone was already over at Capitol Hill. As we made our way over there we started to experience the craziness that the media was predicting. Protestors began to flood the streets, signs with clever sayings on them filled the air, and the streets became more packed the closer we got to the Capitol. Officials began funneling us onto the street directly facing the building. Once we turned that corner we were greeted with the image I was expecting.
Everywhere we looked there were people – it was a never-ending stream in all directions. All of a sudden, a countdown from thirty began over loudspeakers that were placed in increments along the street. At that moment we knew that we were in the right place. We assumed that we had made it just in time to start marching, but boy were we wrong. It turns out the “March for Our Lives” in DC didn’t actually have any marching. Instead, we stood for nearly four hours slowly inching our way forward listening to some of the most powerful and moving speeches of the past decade. Next, to the speakers, there were giant screens that were depicting what was going on up ahead, for where we were standing we could barely see the tip of the Capitol Building let alone whatever was going on on the stage in front of it.
For four hours, everyone stood and listened. We listened to survivors of Parkland and other schools tell their stories. We listened to siblings of those who lost their lives to all types of gun violence express their grief with a hopeful tone in the prospect of change. We listened to Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jennifer Hudson, and more belt out emotional songs and continually reminding everyone that enough is enough. We listened to Martin Luther King Jr’s granddaughter paraphrase his famous “I Have a Dream” speech saying that she dreams of one day feeling safe from guns in her school and leading a chant emphasizing that the current youths of America are going to be a great generation. We listened to carefully made videos that broke up the line of speakers addressing statistics and providing solutions to the problem that don’t include abolishing the second amendment. We listened to students as young as eleven speak with wisdom beyond their years about how they have been affected by this issue.
Perhaps the most impactful speech came at the very end. After standing in the street cheering, crying, and socializing with fellow protesters for hours the time came for the final speaker. Her name is Emma Gonzalez, from Parkland, Florida, and she has become the literal poster child for this movement. The moment that everyone was waiting for did not disappoint. Emma got up to the podium and recounted the six minutes and twenty seconds that it took for the shooter at her school to change her life forever. She stayed up there for exactly that amount of time and not a second longer. In that time she spoke the name of every life that was lost on that day and spoke of the things they will never do again because of this violent act. After she was finished she stood in silence for the time that was remaining. Only when a timer went off did she briefly speak again explaining her actions. It took a few minutes for the crowd to realize what was going on as she stood there, mouth closed. Some people clapped thinking she was done, others cheered and tried to start a chant of her name which eventually died down. She didn’t call for a moment of silence, but once everyone figured out what was happening you could hear a pin drop. It was a silence that was heard around the world. My friends and I stood arm in arm, myself shedding a tear and thinking about how it could have just as easily been any one of us standing up there, or worse. Being present in this moment is something I will never forget. While there was no physical sound, all across the nation you could hear people coming together to say that never again shall this happen in our country- not one more life shall be lost.
When she was done, there was another musical performance, but in reality, nothing could follow that moment. That fact that one girl could make a crowd of thousands of people fall silent without saying anything is truly astounding. It goes to show the amount of power and passion that is behind this movement. These kids will not rest until something is done and nor should they. The courage and tenacity it took for Emma and all those that preceded her to speak their minds is exactly what this movement needs. It needs people who aren’t afraid to stand up to those in charge. It needs people who have seen the worst that gun violence can do, and most of all it needs people who will continue to fight so that future generations don’t need to suffer.
Aside from the musicians, not a single adult spoke their minds on stage that day. The space was given solely to children and adolescents who have had to grow up too fast because of gun violence. It was their time to speak, and they made sure to make themselves heard. Their message came across clearer because of this, and it is amazing how well spoken they were for their age. Not many people could get up there and do what they did in front of thousands of people. They cried and screamed and only one girl threw up and she seemed proud of it – they held their ground in front of millions of judging eyes and that was arguably the most impressive part of the day.
The next day, my friends and I were sitting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, recounting the events of the day before, when we found a quote said by Jefferson himself that perfectly summed up the weekend in our eyes. It read: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” History is happening right now and the March for Our Lives is a huge part of that. However, the silence heard around the world is just the beginning. While the march was moving and powerful by itself, more needs to be done to make these dreams a reality, so that everyone should have a right to feel safe in their homes, schools, places of worship, and beyond.
Adjusting your mindset is step one, and step two is registering to vote. Immediately after the march my friends and I went online and registered and I am eagerly awaiting my application status email at this very moment. It only takes a few minutes and it is the only real way to see change happen. Midterms elections are just around the corner in November. Your voice matters, your opinions matter, and your vote matters. Educate yourself, spread the word, and register to vote, for only by coming together as a generation can we see the end of extreme gun violence in America.
Reflecting back on this event several weeks later, I know that for change to occur, it will be a long process; but that hasn’t stopped the kids who spoke at the march. They continue to make the rounds on different talk shows telling their stories to anyone who will listen. This activism has taught me about the power of our voices. Not just mine and my friends, but of our generation as a whole. Underestimating America’s youth was a grave mistake on the part of our lawmakers. These kids are truly not going to stop until something is done, nor should they. The issue of gun violence in this country will always be relevant. It is important for these kids, and more of us, to keep fighting and to not let this movement get drowned out by other news. I will never forget the day I marched for justice on a perfect spring Saturday afternoon. My only hope is that I won’t have to do the same thing next year on the one year anniversary. Instead I’d like to be celebrating change with my peers, among the blooming D.C. cherry blossoms.