While the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. attracted over 200,000 anti-gun-violence protestors, local protestors gathered at the Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg, joining 800,000 protestors at 817 registered locations of sister marches worldwide.
At the D.C. event, all of the speakers were students — from Parkland, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Newtown, Connecticut and across the United States — whose lives had been affected by gun violence.
One of these speakers was Yolanda King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter, who referenced the civil rights struggle in her remarks.
“I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun-free world, period,” King said.
Other speakers also shared their personal experiences of loss and pain from gun-related violence. The organizers demanded legislative gun reform measures, including an assault-style rifle ban, universal background checks and a high-capacity magazine ban.
The march also drew famous musical guests, including Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The march, though organized by teenagers, was attended by people of all ages. On Pennsylvania Avenue, where crowds of people stood shoulder to shoulder, signs denounced politicians for accepting donations from the National Rifle Association. Many signs displayed price tags of $1.05, which — according to the Parkland survivors — is the amount of NRA money Sen. Marco Rubio has taken per Florida public school students.
Peter Kinton ’18 drove up to D.C. for the March, along with some friends and recent graduates of the College, to be able to take part in what he described as a historic event.
“You could throw a stone, and there’s someone who has been affected by gun violence,” Peter Kinton ’18 said. “It’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
“You could throw a stone, and there’s someone who has been affected by gun violence,” Kinton said. “It’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
He said he remembers being surprised by how many people he saw on the Metro coming from Reston, Virginia — the farthest stop on the silver line — and how he could feel the comradery between everyone present.
Kinton said that he felt it was important to people whose lives have been affected by gun violence.
“It’s silly that we have to talk about this in 2018, after all this has happened,” Kinton said. “But we have to, and it’s important to.”
One student from the College who attended the march in D.C., along with her family, was Olivia Coan ’21. She said that she admires the initiative, especially its emphasis on giving a platform to the voices of young people.
“I really appreciated that while they had a lot of big-name people there to perform, they kept the talks to the teens,” Coan said. “I think that was really important because the teens were the reason the march happened in the first place, and it sends the message that yes, we are young, but we are not to be underestimated or discounted just because of that.”
Elizabeth Kelefant ’21 said that she was glad to be able to be a part of the March in D.C. and that the speakers inspired a sense of urgency for legislative change.
“The speakers and artists were amazing at lifting people up and fully addressing and demanding change for gun control,” Kelefant said.
Many students from the College who attended the March for Our Lives in D.C. expressed feelings of hope, a feeling that was shared by most of the attendees of the March. Many volunteers around the March were registering people to vote, and the speakers encouraged the attendees to call their legislators.
However, the sister march in Williamsburg also drew a sizeable crowd, with over 1,000 gun-control advocates participating in the event.
In Williamsburg, the demonstration began with a diverse group of speakers at the Capitol building, followed by a march down Duke of Gloucester street. Students organized the Williamsburg march with help from Moms Demand Action of the Peninsula, Common Ground Williamsburg, Middle Peninsula Progressives, Peninsula Indivisible, Williamsburg Indivisible Group and the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists’ social justice group.
Samyuktha Mahadevan ’19 spoke as a representative of the new student group, William and Mary Students Demand Action. While she said the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, served as a catalyst for the March for Our Lives movement, Mahadevan drew attention to the daily gun violence occurring in the United States.
“What we frequently overlook when we are faced with these mass shootings is the number of lives lost to gun violence every day,” samyuktha Mahadevan ’19 said. “Domestic violence, street crime, suicide — we cannot forget that these factors contribute to an average of 96 deaths per day from gun violence.”
“What we frequently overlook when we are faced with these mass shootings is the number of lives lost to gun violence every day,” Mahadevan said. “Domestic violence, street crime, suicide — we cannot forget that these factors contribute to an average of 96 deaths per day from gun violence.”
Isabela Riofrio, an eighth grader at Hornsby Middle School, also spoke at the demonstration.
“This is not about taking away your right to own guns — this is about common-sense gun laws,” Riofrio said. “This is about owning guns in a way that makes us all safer.”
93rd District Virginia House of Representatives Delegate Mike Mullin also spoke at the event in Williamsburg, emphasizing the importance of translating the demonstration into votes that will support policy change this November.
“There is an opportunity to do something — not just thoughts and prayers,” Mullin said. “… If we are going to see changes in our legislature, if we are going to see change in our government, we need to see us all here in November.”
This sentiment was echoed by the protesters themselves as they chanted phrases like “enough is enough” and “vote them out.” March organizers encouraged attendees to register to vote in the Williamsburg area.
Other speakers included Skyla Bailey, the vice president of the York Youth Commission, Reverend Laura Horton-Ludwig of the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists and Bobby “Blackhat” Walters, who played a recording of the song “Run Baby Run,” which he wrote in response to the Parkland shooting.
Williamsburg resident Sally Fisk attended the demonstration to support young voices.
“We’re older women, and we really care about what the youth have come up with, so we can’t let them down,” Fisk said. “We care about the youth of this country, we care about the integrity of lawmakers, we care about priorities of what’s really important for this nation — and guns have got to go.”
Williamsburg resident Tamara Zurakowski attended the march and said that she believes the protest will translate into real governmental change.
“I am optimistic,” Zurakowski said. “[This is] the first time that I’ve really heard a lot of discussion after a gun violence event. This didn’t happen after Columbine or Sandy Hook.”
While much of the demonstration focused on mass shootings, Valerie Bambha ’19 agreed with Mahadevan, saying that the movement should address gun violence as a whole.
“[This] has been brought into the public attention because of the recent Parkland shooting,” Bambha said. “Parkland students were in a position to advocate for the issue, which is good, but we also need to remember everything that’s happened in the black community.”