by Catherine Brewer ‘20
On Saturday, March 24, students took charge of the fight for tighter gun control by leading the March For Our Lives, both in Washington, D.C., which drew a crowd of over two million, and at sister marches worldwide, including one at the Rhode Island Statehouse in Providence. Beginning at 12 p.m. in Washington and 1 p.m. in Providence, the marches featured youth speakers from a variety of different backgrounds who advocated for an end to gun violence and mourned the loss of victims. The march came just five weeks after the mass shooting that took the lives of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.
Several Providence youth organizations worked together to bring local youth to the march, including the Providence Student Union, Providence Youth Student Movement and the Providence Chapter of the NAACP Youth and College Division. As a member of the executive board of Providence College’s NAACP, Stachel Roberts ’18 had the opportunity to spend the day in Washington.
“Although I am confident in the efforts, I fear that the cycle we have been in as a country when these shootings happen has the possibility occur if interest is lost. This movement like others is just seen like a cool thing to be apart of for some, but this is truly a movement for our lives and with the youth that are involved and continue to be empowered by this movement change can happen.”
In the wake of the shooting, MSD students responded quickly to organize a campaign and events to advocate for tighter gun control. The March For Our Lives was announced on Feb. 18. On Feb. 21, student representatives questioned Florida Senator Marco Rubio and National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch about their positions on gun control and the relationship between politicians and the NRA at a CNN town hall.
On March 14, MSD students partnered with Women’s March Youth to organize the #Enough National School Walkout, during which students around the country walked out of their institutions for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. in memory of the MSD shooting and to call for politicians to pass stricter gun laws. According to the #Enough website, the specific demands called for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, the expansion of background checks to all gun sales, a new gun violence restraining order law, and to put an end to the militarization of law enforcement. These demands were reinforced by the March.
To gather funds to finance the march in Washington, MSD student Cameron Kasky created a GoFundMe page that amassed over $3.5 million in one month. The fundraiser attracted celebrity donors such as Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. New England Patriots CEO Robert Kraft also sponsored MSD students by allowing them to fly with their families on one of his planes to the march.
At marches worldwide, powerful speakers, many of them not yet teenagers, took the podium to lift up the masses and call for inclusion in the fight against gun violence. “I was truly excited to go to this march because I was excited to see the youth that would be present,” said Roberts. “This is a movement of young people and they have done an amazing job in recognizing that they are following up the work of BLM and other POC movements that are comprised of young people. The diversity of speakers from Chicago to the suburbs of Florida were represented.”
Along with MSD student Emma Gonzalez, Roberts applauded 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Her presence alone and her chant was such a full circle experience,” explained Roberts. “And to see a young black girl so empowered and motivated to make a difference really struck me.”
In Providence, the march featured speeches from Rhode Island politicians, including Governor Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, as well as students, such as Halima Ibrahim, a sophomore at the Islamic School of Rhode Island. Her poem “Wake Up” created an uproar of cheers from the crowd. “You are leaving the country in our hands. Soon it’s going to be us calling the shots. And there will be no more shots,” concluded Ibrahim.
Gabriella Lunati ’21 felt uplifted by the enthusiasm and rally signs at the Providence march. She explained how she met two elementary school art teachers bearing signs that read, “Paint brushes not bullets” and “Draw pictures not guns, no fear in my classroom.” “I was especially touched by these two women as their input was so powerful and simplistic,” said Lunati. “Teachers and students are the most involved in these recurring issues of school shootings and it is necessary that their needs and demands are considered first and foremost.”
Reflecting on their experiences at the marches, Roberts and Lunati both advocated for the continued involvement of supporters in the movement, especially students. “The youth stressed the need to vote and to pressure Congress, who would be on recess after the march, to finally make a change,” expressed Roberts.
The next major demonstration organized by the March for Our Lives committee is the National School Walkout, which will be held across the country at 10 a.m. on April 20. Lunati encourages all to attend and show solidarity. “Our representation is crucial in forming or starting to spark any sort of change,” stated Lunati. “Together, our voices are made stronger and in our own spirits we become positive and exposed to the many other stories that should not go unheard.”