Marchers across the US united in plan for pro-gun politicians: ‘Vote them out’

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Thousands of people rallied in Washington DC and other US cities on Saturday, expressing clear outlines for action on gun reform

For four minutes and 25 seconds, 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez held a crowd of hundreds of thousands in the nations capital in near total silence. With tears rolling down her cheeks, intermittently closing her eyes, the teenagers stillness told its own story.

In the moments before, she had called out the name of each of her fellow students and teachers gunned down five weeks ago. By the time she broke her silence Gonzalez had been on stage for six minutes and 20 seconds, the same time it took a gunman to claim 17 lives at her school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, in Parkland, Florida.

No one could comprehend the devastating aftermath or how far this would reach or where this would go, she said. For those who still cant comprehend because they refuse to, Ill tell you where it went: right into the ground, six feet deep.

That a teenager unknown to the country until a little over a month ago could command such quiet respect and deep introspection among a rally of this size illustrates just how powerful the student-led movement to rise from the Parkland massacre has become.

Hundreds
Hundreds of thousands of people attend the March for Our Lives rally in Washington DC Saturday. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein for the Guardian

Marchers from all over the United States had filled Pennsylvania Avenue from front to back, spilling over into walkways and holding signs aloft that decried endemic American gun violence, hapless politicians and the extremist gun rights movement that holds them captive.

One-by-one students from Parkland took to the stage to offer a series of combative, direct and emotionally raw speeches to the throngs on the street in front of them.

When politicians send thoughts and prayers we say no more! said 17 year-old David Hogg. I say to politicians: get your resumes ready!

Welcome to the revolution, said Cameron Kasky, also 17. Either represent the people or get out.

We are done hiding, said 18 year-old Ryan Deitsch. We are done being full of fear. This is the beginning of the end. From here, we fight.

The crowd responded with intermittent chants of Vote them out! and at one point sang happy birthday to Nicholas Dworet, one of the students murdered on 14 February who would have turned 18 on Saturday.

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March for Our Lives: five of the most powerful speeches video

Thousands more rallied in cities and municipalities around the United States, including New York, Phoenix, Atlanta, Oakland and Parkland itself, with over 800 March for Our Lives events planned at locations spanning every continent in the world.

But organizers in Washington were keen to make this centrepiece rally an inclusive event, with many of the most impassioned speeches made by young gun violence victims from other areas of the US.

Seventeen-year-old Edna Chavez, from Manual Arts High in south Los Angeles, walked onto to stage with her right hand clenched in a first held above her head. With poise and indignation, she told the story of how her older brother was shot dead when she was a young child.

I have lived in south Los Angeles my entire life and have lost many loved ones to gun violence. This is normal. Its normal to the point that I learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read, she said, asking the crowd to chant her brothers name: Ricardo.

It was a day like any other day. The sunset was going down on south central. You hear pops thinking they were fireworks. They werent pops. You see the melanin on your brothers skin turn grey.

Alexandria,
Alexandria, Virginia student Naomi Wadler, speaks during the March For Our Lives rally in Washington DC. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Naomi Wadler, from Alexandria, Virginia, spoke with a fluency and eloquence that seemed beyond her 11 years of age. Wadler told the marchers she was present to acknowledge the African-American girls whose stories dont make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories dont lead on the evening news. The African-American women who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.

Teenagers from Chicago, New York as well as victims of school shooting massacres in Sandy Hook also addressed the rally.

Im here to speak for those Chicago youth who feel their voices have been silenced for far too long, said Trevon Bosley, 19. And Im here to speak on behalf of everyone who believes a child getting shot and killed in Chicago or any other city is still a not-acceptable norm.

It was not just Emma Gonzalez who observed silence on the day that hundreds of thousands descended on Washington. Donald Trump, spending the weekend at his members club in South Florida, offered no comment or tweet on the marchers.

Demonstrators
Demonstrators participate in the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Sarah Morris/Getty Images

Instead, the White House issued a short statement before the rally began applauding the courageous young Americans exercising their first amendment rights, the right to free speech.

Trump, who had once seemed amenable to some of the demands for gun control echoing from the Parkland tragedy, has since reneged under pressure from the NRA. The president has instead pushed arming teachers with firearms to fend off attackers.

That proposal was repeatedly booed by those assembled in Washington.

Arming teachers will not work, 17 year-old Chavez. More security in our schools does not work. Zero tolerance police do not work. They make us feel like criminals. We should feel supported & empowered in our schools.

As the rally closed, marchers melted onto the streets of downtown DC, still chanting what had become one of the major themes of the rally, one that seems likely to rattle nerves a short distance away on Capitol Hill: Vote them out.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/24/marchers-across-the-us-united-in-plan-for-pro-gun-politicians-vote-them-out

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