By Setota Hailemariam
Protests are just about as American as apple pie — after all, freedom of assembly is a constitutional right.
Washington has long been the site of political protests, for obvious reasons. On any given day, picketers can be found outside the White House, protesting everything from foreign policy issues to tax reform.
But every so often, a protest sweeps D.C. that demands the whole city’s – and nation’s – attention. In the ‘60s, it was the March on Washington. In 2017, it was the Women’s March.
On March 24, it was the March For Our Lives. With over 200,000 attendees filling the street of Pennsylvania Avenue, the impassioned protesters transformed the demonstration from an ordinary march to a literal cry for help.
A good portion of the nation has most likely gotten an overview of the march’s highlights, from round-the-clock aerial footage of the crowd displayed on CNN to the speeches of 11-year-old presenters Naomi Wadler and Christopher Underwood that have since gone viral on Twitter.
However, the feeling from within the thick of the crowd was one that could not be captured by a news helicopter or big screen.
Signs with blood splatters and heart-wrenching words on them, like “am i next,” were saddening on their own, but the sight of them in the hands of a child was a sobering reality check. The lawmakers in Washington, the protesters argued, have failed to do their part in protecting the youth from gun violence, so it’s now up to the youth to do their job and incite change.
The Parkland students who spoke, like Delaney Tarr and David Hogg, emphasized the inadequacy of policymakers’ actions in the wake of the numerous mass shootings in the country over the years, and called on the crowd to do one thing: vote them out.
That was the most resounding cheer of the day, as those three words were yelled angrily, yet triumphantly, every time a speaker paused or after someone left the stage.
Not only were the polls referenced in speeches, but stickers bearing the words “227 days until midterm elections” were passed out to protestors — an effective way of engaging, and reminding, the younger crowd.
The budding activists in the audience were there for the politics, but got to witness some of pop music’s finest performers as well. One interesting moment, though, was when a group of girls screamed ecstatically as Emma Gonzalez took the stage, louder than they had cheered for Demi, Ariana or Miley.
The crowd kept their activism intersectional, as well. As Naomi Wadler spoke out to represent the slain “African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper,” Zion Kelly reminded listeners of the students in Washington who live in “constant paranoia” of gun violence on their way to and from school and Vic Mensa dedicated his performance to black victims of police brutality, protesters reciprocated their sentiments by screaming “black lives matter” and waving posters with the words “don’t shoot” emblazoned on them.
From Spongebob meme signs with snappy captions to signs advocating arming teachers with supplies and smaller class sizes (instead of guns), any given demonstrator carried displays of their views on the issue of guns and gun regulations.
Kristin, a teacher from Naperville, Illinois, put down her sign for a second to speak about her support for these regulations.
“As a mom and as a teacher myself, I feel like these are things that we need to start doing to protect our kids, because they do deserve better.”
An 11th grade student, Laura Duffet of Falls Church, Virginia, said she’s marching in support of background checks for guns.
“It’s not okay that these people are getting guns and shooting and killing kids … I shouldn’t be afraid to go to school, like plan my escape route when I go to school.”
Featured Photo Credit: A protester shows support for both the “hands up, don’t shoot” movement and gun regulation at the march. (Setota Hailemariam/Bloc Reporter)
Setota Hailemariam is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.