BY OLIVIA GIL
In hundreds of cities across the country, including the National Mall in Washington D.C. and Parkland, Florida, March for Our Lives (MFOL) rallies were held on Saturday, June 11 to protest gun violence. Taking to the streets with posters in hand and chants on their lips, protestors called for political reformation, as the number of annual firearm deaths reached record-breaking numbers.
The movement began in 2018, when survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) shooting vowed to create a safe nation, free of gun violence. Since then, MFOL rallies have become nation-wide events. Catching eyes and calling attention around the world, as protestors fight for national change.
Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the 1960s, the movement began with a tour of the country to better understand what gun violence looks like in different communities. This helped in their fight against the growing gun violence epidemic, as organizers gained allies and attention along the way.
The Lariat attended the rally at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, just under two miles from where the event which sparked the movement took place three years ago.
With a stage equipped with a sound system and a field large enough for the 1,500 protestors estimated to have attended the rally, the park was set to host the event.
Though it proved to comfortably accommodate the crowd, some questioned whether the park was an appropriate setting for the event. As many came to bring attention to the cause and doubted that this could be done within the confines of a city park, even with adequate news coverage.
“[The march] should be on the street or in front of a courthouse or something. It shouldn’t be in a park, secluded behind neighborhoods where no one can see,” Broward County student Erica Stone said. “Hopefully the news will spread awareness and [bring] change. This needs to be in people’s faces.”
The event began at nine in the morning, when the stage welcomed a number of speakers, including 16-year-old president of March for Our Lives Parkland Zoe Weissman, MSD shooting survivor Sari Kaufman and 20-year English and journalism teacher at MSD Sarah Learner. Many of which called upon elected officials to create the change they want to see in their communities. Targeting their inactivity in office, causing the crowd to chant “vote them out,” in determination.
“When there are shootings, politicians offer their thoughts and prayers. Well I’m going to tell you something, we don’t need your thoughts and we don’t need your prayers,” Lerner said. “We need policy, we need change and we need action.”
Though the stage stole much of the audience’s attention, representatives from progessive organizations went into the crowd and approached its members. Handing out flyers and spreading awareness of their causes. Many of which had their own stands, ready to supply those interested with information about their organization and steps to get involved with their cause.
One of which was Barbara Markley, co-chair of the gun safety committee and representative of the League of Women Voters of Broward (LWV). She handed out bumper stickers and questionnaires on gun violence in America to the protestors.
“It’s about education, that’s what we’re doing here,” Markley said. “I have talked to 7,000 people, only five of them knew the stuff on [the questionnaire].”
LWV had a stand set up to register those interested in voting. A common theme in the day’s rally, as many speakers and protesters advocated the removal of elected officials in office, due to their inaction.
“We’re registering people to vote, that’s our jam,” Markley said. “We’re getting people to vote by mail, because it’s a convenient way and more people vote if they vote by mail.”
This is a key factor in the MFOL movement, as constitutional change cannot be brought by citizens alone, but with the help of their lawmakers. During their tour, organizers registered 50,000 new voters across the country. On national voter registration day, they set an all time record by registering over 800,000 people; a big step for their cause.
Just a couple tents down, another protestor was hoping to create change through her organization. In 2016, Susan Kennedy started the non-profit organization Bullets 4 life; turning donated bullets into bracelets and giving the proceeds to families affected by gun violence.
“We ask the community to donate bullets to us. The bullet you give us is a bullet that will never take a life,” Kennedy said. “That’s one less life lost to gun violence because of what we are doing.”
Since she started, over 20,000 bullets have been taken off the streets and repurposed. Kennedy has hence grown her organization around the country, with branches in Chicago, New Jersey and South Carolina. Where they not only collect donations, but attend protests and visit schools to spread awareness of their cause; even after gun violence has faded from the news cycles.
“It’s so important to keep this movement going even after [protests are] over, because we can’t keep losing our children like this,” Kennedy said. “We’re losing our families, we’re losing our communities, we’re losing our kids one bullet at a time, every single day.”
With determination to create a change, the crowd began their chanting march through the park’s trail around 11 AM. Hoping that their actions will attract the attention of lawmakers and create the change they have been fighting for since the fatal day which started it all.
“Enough is enough,” Kaufman said. “Our lives are on the ballot, and our futures are on the ballot, and we will vote you out.”