March for Our Lives rallies begin in Parkland and across US

March for Our Lives protesters are rallying across the U.S. on Saturday, voicing their frustrations over the inaction toward ending gun violence and decrying the lasting turmoil that so many mass killings have inflicted on communities.

Debbi Hixon, whose husband, Chris, died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in 2018, told the crowd in Parkland on Saturday about the lasting effects of her husband’s death four years later.

“I live with the effects of gun violence every day,” Hixon said. “Every time I brush my teeth, every time I drive to work, every time I hug my children, every time I lay my head down to sleep.” She recalled the little gold hoops he bought her that morning for Valentine’s Day, too expensive for their means.

Chris Hixon was an athletic director at the school who ran in to try to disarm the gunman and was shot by him. Previously, he had served in the Navy during the Gulf War. “He survived a war,” Hixon said. “But he did not survive a day at school.”

Thousands on Saturday were set to converge in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other communities as part of March for Our Lives, a youth-led movement toward ending gun violence. Protesters want lawmakers to enact sweeping reforms as part of a renewed focus on nationwide gun control after a surge in mass shootings — from Uvalde, Texas, to Buffalo, New York.

At Parkland’s Pine Trails Park, Elise Orter and Patricia Lynch, of Coconut Creek, showed up early to express their disgust with all forms of gun violence. Orter recalled seeing a sign for a gun show the day after the Uvalde massacre. “I actually have a physical reaction to it,” she said.

The crowd held up signs that read, “Young angry for change,” “Protect kids, not guns,” “Enough! Not one more!” “Stop the carnage, elect gun safety advocates.”

Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz — a 1999 Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate who is running for Congress — spoke about the number of kids in attendance, both of high school age and younger. The park where Saturday’s rally took place is less than two miles from Stoneman Douglas High.

“There’s a building that’s right over there that’s still standing, that four years ago 17 people didn’t make it out of,” he said. “That’s why kids are here, that’s why parents are here. That reminder is still here. We have parents that are attending today whose kids didn’t come home. They still have empty rooms in their house. They’ve moved forward, but they don’t move on. That’s why those kids are here.”

Moskowitz said people are angry at politicians’ inactivity. “The idea that kids are getting slaughtered in school and Washington’s answer is, ‘Let’s do nothing,’ parents can’t accept that,” Moskowitz said.

Peggy Slott and Donna Walker are special-education teachers in Miami-Dade County who traveled to Parkland to attend Saturday’s rally.

Walker recalls a scare in which someone shot into her school from a passing car, the bullet went through a window, prompting a Code Red alert that forced them to hide in a closet. Slott, of Miami, and Walker, of Homestead, thought it was essential for them to attend the Parkland event.

They know who they hope hears their message: “Those who don’t feel we should be doing anything,” Slott said.

“Our legislators need to hear us,” Walker said, adding teens shouldn’t be able to purchase an AR-15 assault weapon.

Zoe Weissman, a 16-year-old junior-to-be, is one of the organizers of Saturday’s Parkland event. “I didn’t want to feel like sitting idly by,” she said. She said she wants to encourage politicians to focus on universal background checks. She has a message for the general public, too: “We’re still here,” she said. “We’re not going to stop fighting until we get comprehensive gun violence prevention from Congress.”

Wesissman was encouraged, looking around at the crowd. “It means a lot to see how many people care for our mission,” she said. “At the same time it also gives me hope we’re going to be able to make a change. I think this time is different.”

The Parkland rally featured a stage and a podium for the speakers, a grassy field that was somewhat muddy because of the rains during the past week. The stage had a video screen so those in the back could see who was at the podium. The stage also featured large speakers so everyone could hear.

Addressing the crowd, Wesissman began by reading the names of the 17 victims from the Parkland shooting. Weissman was 12 when the shooting happened. She heard the gunshots from the neighboring building, recalling the scream of a student running to escape, the Snapchat videos of students dying. Four years later, she said she still struggles with PTSD.

“Imagine if I was your child,” she said in a plea to politicians, adding, “Do you see why we’re angry? Do you see why we’re pissed?”

The first March for Our Lives rally happened after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, drawing demonstrations across the U.S., including in Washington, D.C.

Organizers expect the second March for Our Lives rally to draw around 50,000 demonstrators to the Washington Monument. That’s far less than the original 2018 march, which filled downtown Washington with more than 200,000 people. Organizers this time are focusing on holding smaller marches at hundreds of locations.

“We want to make sure that this work is happening across the country,” said Daud Mumin, co-chairman of the march’s board of directors and a recent graduate of Westminster College in Salt Lake City. “This work is not just about D.C., it’s not just about senators.”

The Parkland tragedy led to the creation of the March For Our Lives movement, which successfully pressured the Republican-dominated Florida state government to enact sweeping gun control reforms.

The Parkland students then took aim at gun laws in other states and nationally, launching March for Our Lives and holding the big rally in Washington on March 24, 2018.

The group did not match the Florida results at the national level, but has persisted in advocating for gun restrictions since then, as well as participating in voter-registration drives.

Now, with another string of mass shootings bringing gun control back into the national conversation, organizers of this weekend’s events say the time is right to renew their push for a national overhaul.

“Right now we are angry,” said Mariah Cooley, a March For Our Lives board member and a senior at Washington’s Howard University. “This will be a demonstration to show that us as Americans, we’re not stopping anytime soon until Congress does their jobs. And if not, we’ll be voting them out.”

In Parkland on Saturday, almost invisible in the back of the crowd, Megan Schuldt knelt by a stroller with her two kids: Milan, 6, and Dimitri, 1.

Dimitri wore an MSD Strong shirt. In the stroller, Milan held a hot pink sign that read, “Support our teachers.”

Schuldt went to the march in 2018 with Milan, who was 2 at the time.

”Enough was enough back then,” Schuldt said. “Now, it’s too much.”

Schuldt plans to send her kids to Marjory Stoneman Douglas when they’re old enough. But she’s already worried about their safety.

”I’m nervous right now, being in a crowd of people,” she said. “I keep looking around.”

Amid the surge of mass shootings, the inaction of both police and politicians has become a theme among protests. Gail Schwartz’s 14-year old nephew, Alex, was killed in the Parkland shooting. On stage Saturday, she urged the crowd to take matters into its own hands, speaking of both the Parkland shooting and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

“No one came to rescue them,” Schwartz said to some applause. “History has shown time and time again, no one is coming to the rescue.”

The crowd grew more energized when Congress became the topic of conversation. Periodically, they chanted, “Vote them out.”

Romainia Dukes founded Mothers Fighting for Justice after her 17-year old son, De’Michael, was shot on the street and died in her arms. “I wanted to give up. I just wanted to take my life,” she said in an emotional speech about the effects of everyday gun violence. “But I realized I had more kids, I had grandkids, and I had all of you. I had to fight.”

Groups such as the League of Women Voters Broward County, League of Women Voters of Palm Beach, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America participated in Saturday’s gathering, and said they were having good success in reaching people.

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The Broward League of Women Voters said they want to ensure everyone double check that they’re eligible to vote. But they were also giving away gun locks. They said they’d given away 19,000 gun locks in partnership with the Veterans Administration, saying that if everyone were to lock up their guns, it could significantly reduce the number of gun deaths.

The Palm Beach League of Women Voters similarly saw several representatives present in Parkland. “We’re happy to see there’s a large number of Palm Beach County people attending here,” said Catherine Martinez, a member of the Palm Beach County League of Women Voters.

Martinez said they also want to remind everyone you can be 16 years old to register to vote. Moms Demand Action, a national group with eight million members, was created after the Sandy Hook shootings. The booth at Saturday’s event registered 100 prospective new members. The group said it has registered 1,600 new members in Broward County since the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, Texas.

They were giving away gun locks and emphasizing they don’t want to deny Americans their Second Amendment rights.

They also said men can join their group. But one of the best takeaways for the community groups was their work has already made an impact. “We’re happy to see there’s a large number of registered voters,” Martinez said.

This news article was supplemented with information from The Associated Press.

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