17. Students. Teachers. Children. Parents. Siblings. Loved ones. Killed.
February 14, Valentine's Day. A day to tell the people you love just how much they mean to you. But, on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida, it would become the worst day of their lives.
The people who lost their lives on that day triggered a series of events that would connect generations young and old. Together, we turned a tragedy into a powerful message: we were not going to back down. And thus, March 4 Our Lives was born. Organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting--including Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg-- and activists across the United States, over 800 sister events took place on March 24, 2018. This is the story of how I ended up at the event local to me, in Los Angeles.
Right when I found out about March 4 Our Lives, I immediately started researching events near me and frantically began searching for friends who would want to attend with me. I ended up reaching out to two of my closest friends, Isabella and Jakob and they both agreed to go along with me. But, I knew that the problem I would soon face was how I would convince my parents to let me go. Would they think it would be too unsafe? Too far to drive to? Were we too busy to squeeze it into our schedules? But, much to my surprise, my parents agreed to not only let me go, they themselves wanted to march alongside us and the thousands of others in attendance.
So, the next thing we had to do was make signs and find some orange clothing to wear. Isabella came over to my house the night before the march and after dinner, we headed to my room to come up with some poster designs. I ended up writing about 45 names on my poster of victims from various shootings, including Columbine and, of course, Stoneman Douglas, and the words "Am I Next?" Isabella's sign was adorned with the quote, "As a human, I someday hope to have the same rights as a gun." Jakob showed up the next morning with a sign donning the rhyme "NRA, please go away," and we were ready to march.
And, We March
When we arrived in Downtown LA at Pershing Square, we quickly found our way to the start of the march, where guest speakers ranged from survivors of Columbine to survivors of the shooting at Santa Monica College. There were also some performers who sang songs and recited slam poetry. But, in the humongous crowd that held well over a thousand people, Isabella and I both had trouble feeling like we were safe. Sure, we were at a protest for gun safety, but who knew what could happen. When Bella voiced these concerns, a woman standing nearby turned to us and told us that we would be okay, as long as we were aware of our surroundings--which I think made us both feel a lot better about the situation.
After about an hour of listening to survivors and activists, and many people asking to take photos of our signs, the crowd began the march towards City Hall. We held our signs high and marched onward, surrounded by a crowd of Baby Boomers, Millenials, and Gen Z, alike. When we made it to City Hall, we heard from a ton of celebrities, including Yara Shahidi and Willow Smith, a performance from Charlie Puth, and more survivors, including 2 girls from Stoneman Douglas.
Unfortunately, we had to leave the event early because of prior commitments, but, luckily, we had been able to attend most of it. For me, the best part was seeing that something so important had brought so many people of different races, ages, and political standings together on such a large platform. We had met and heard from so many people who had experienced such tragedy, and were all there to support them. We talked to a woman who took a photo of my sign before telling us that she had been a teacher in Littleton, Colorado at the time of the Columbine shooting and shared her experiences with us.
In all, March 4 Our Lives taught me the importance of speaking up for what you believe in, fighting for what's right, and that we all have the ability to change the world--one step at a time. But, of course, the fight is not done, there are still school shootings happening everyday in the US and around the world, so, I urge you, as citizens, to use your voice. If you're old enough to vote, go out and do so, if you're not, don't worry, there are other ways to help, including staying informed and using your voice. No matter what age, young or old, we can all change the world.