On Saturday, March 24, a crowd of about two hundred thousand concerned citizens peacefully took over Pennsylvania Avenue, waving signs that read “I Support Banning Assault Rifles,” “No More Dead Kids,” and “We Go to School to Better Our Futures, Not to End Them.” I saw mothers pushing strollers wrapped in bright yellow tape reading “Stop Gun Violence,” their toddlers safely buckled in. An elderly woman carried a poster that read, “Do Not Shoot Our Grandchildren.” Every sign hit home, and together they underscored this movement’s focus on innocent children as victims of gun violence. The scene in front of the Capitol was deeply moving; it harked back to last January’s massive Women's March.
The March for Our Lives was led primarily by student survivors of the Parkland shooting, and the youth of its leaders was apparent in their unprofessional speeches. Sam Fuentes vomited in the middle of her speech, Delaney Tarr’s typed notes were temporarily snatched away by the wind, and many of the speakers faltered as they spoke. What were objectively mistakes actually imbued the event with a childish charm and forced everyone looking on to remember the purpose at the core of this movement: keeping our kids safe. When eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler took the stage and said that she spoke for all of the “African-American girls whose stories don't make the front page of every national newspaper,” the adage “from the mouths of babes” seemed deeply relevant.
Naomi was not the only speaker to highlight racial issues. Parkland survivors acknowledged the persistence of gun violence in communities of color by actively including African-American and Hispanic teenage speakers from around the country. Many speeches attempted to forge a bond between the March for Our Lives movement and efforts to reduce the disproportionate levels of gun violence that impact black and brown communities all over the United States.
Jaclyn Corin, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, admitted the role of privilege in the success of this march, “We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence,” she said. “But we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.” I recall the heavy moment of silence that overtook the crowd after this high schooler pointed out the social biases that make it so that the shooting of white and relatively wealthy children receives more concern and attention than the everyday shootings of black or brown and relatively impoverished children.
Not only did Corin and other Parkland survivors address the role of race in gun violence, but they also made sure to pass the mic to other young speakers from more marginalized communities. This broadened the scope of their call for increased gun control and brought more attention to the issue of how race and wealth factor into armed violent encounters. The results included poignant speeches by Zion Kelly from Washington, D.C. and Edna Chavez from South Los Angeles, both of whom shared the stories of the siblings they both lost to gun violence.
However, this is not to say that the attempts to broaden the scope of the movement to increase gun control by addressing socioeconomic issues were perfect. Alex Wind, another Parkland survivor, veered into political incorrectness when he said that gun control and the March for Our Lives are about life and death rather than race and sex. Although his statement may seem to contradict the efforts of the March for Our Lives to acknowledge the roles that economic privilege and race have played in its success, I think that his apparent tone-deafness was more of a result of his youth and naiveté than any sort of malicious intent. Wind was trying to emphasize that gun control is everyone’s issue, because if even school children can be gunned down, then no one is truly safe. Rather than undermining the importance of race and class in the context of gun violence, Wind was instead emphasizing the immediacy of the issue at hand by using the simplified language of a traumatized, innocent youth.
His lack of awareness regarding how his words would be received by communities of color, which have been coping with the losses brought about by gun violence for decades, came from ignorance rather than hatred. The march’s inclusion of many speakers of color went some way toward making up for this ignorance. In any case, Wind’s universalizing rhetoric did serve to reflect the greater message of the march: this movement is for everyone, because anyone can be killed by gun violence. After all, if privileged communities like Parkland can fall prey to the gun violence affecting ignored communities of color on a larger scale every day, then even a government predicated upon historically racialized policies will find it harder to ignore the issue of gun violence altogether. White America is coming to learn the danger of easy gun access.The march was a shattering success that drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out onto the streets in the name of common-sense gun reform. The passion and energy of the teenage speakers kept a standing mass of people at attention for over two hours, and conveyed the urgency of the need for policy and change with taglines like “Never Again.” We can only hope that the March for Our Lives is able to become a lasting and forceful movement that will endure even when this latest of many mass shootings has faded from memory.
The photo featured in this article was taken by the author.
Kate Healy is a third year majoring in Political Science major, and possibly double minoring in Spanish and History. Last summer, she interned with State Senator Heather Steans in Chicago. On campus, she is a member of the Women in Public Service Program, New Americans, and Kappa Alpha Theta.