Philadelphia marches for its life
March 24, 2018
Thousands march for their lives in Philadelphia
One month and 10 days have passed since the lives of 17 students were cut short in Parkland, Fla. at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the wake of the shooting, student activists, sometimes with help from national organizations, have planned multiple demonstrations from school walkouts to rallies. Today, thousands took to the streets of Philadelphia to participate in the March for Our Lives, conceptualized by Parkland students and organized locally by three students: Ethan Block, 16, Andrew Binder, 18, and Jana Korn, 21.
The march began at 10:00 a.m. with marchers lining Market Street in front of Independence Hall. The march proceeded down Market Street, turned right onto Front Street, and then turned onto Columbus Boulevard. Marchers cycled through a series of four chants: “No gun violence/end the silence;” “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go,” “Show me what democracy looks like/this is what democracy looks like,” “Change your way, NRA,” “What do we want? Gun Control/When do we want it? Now” and “Vote them out,” in reference to politicians funded by the NRA.
After 45 minutes of marching, protesters gathered at Lombard Circle for a rally that featured many powerful speakers, including an alumna of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
At the march, many carried signs lambasting politicians for inaction on gun violence. Some marchers also drew parallels between a typical school environment and the unsafe environment created by the threat of active shooters, like “School zones are not war zones,” “Protect kids not guns,” “Books not bullets,” and “I should be worried about grades, not a shooter.” One family even marched in memory of a slain cousin, who died in a mass shooting at the age of 33; their sign read “We couldn’t take his pain away. We can’t have him back. But we can fight for gun control.”
Other signs attacked the NRA, like one sign, which read “I will not sacrifice my children at the altar of the NRA.” Other signs highlighted marchers’ statuses as students, like one, which read “when I said I’d rather die than go to Biology, that was a hyperbole, (expletive).” Other marchers’ signs were more intersectional, supporting causes like Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, and LGBTQIA+ rights.
Speakers voice hope, concerns, and calls to action at post-march rally
After an empowering stretch of signpost-waving and intermittent cheering, participants in Philadelphia’s branch of March 24th’s March For Our Lives joined together for a rally on Columbus Boulevard.
Speeches and presentations began around 11:30 a.m., but the first marchers reached the end of the route and gathered in front of a waiting stage shortly before 11. Onlookers of all ages packed the asphalt or reclined on a grassy slope as Jana Korn, one of the march’s student organizers, took the stage at 11:30. Korn spoke about the wider need for gun control and reform measures, including more impartial media coverage of school shootings, improvement of the broken stigma linking mental illness to mass shootings and measures to address the ease with which a gun can currently be obtained in America – all setting up the wide variety of more specific viewpoints that would be represented by following speakers. She also gave a shout-out to the concurrent March For Our Lives taking place in Washington D.C., organized by the survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and to the 800-plus other marches occurring worldwide that same morning.
“Congress, we don’t want your prayers. We want gun reform,” Korn said, to enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. Enough is enough…this is an assault on our futures and should not be our normal.”
After a stirring rendition of “City of New Orleans” by local singer Charlie Cory, an iconic folk song originally by Steve Goodman, Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa) took the stage. Casey is Pennsylvania’s senior senator and a member of the Senate Finance, Health, Aging, and Agriculture committees. Casey spoke about his gratitude for the marchers and for the young organizers of the March For Our Lives movement and called for the American public to work together to tackle the larger issues of gun control one bill at a time. He specifically proposed bills improving background checks, limiting the capacity of gun magazines and banning military-style assault weapons. He was the first of many Pennsylvania politicians, all with similar messages, to speak.
“I know we’ve got a long road ahead of us and there are some people who are saying, ‘let’s not pass any laws. Let’s just surrender to this problem.’ That’s not the America I know,” said Casey. “That’s not the America we are.”
Later, Ethan Block, a New Jersey sophomore and one of the march’s other student organizers, implored the crowd to seek specific action and recognition from those in the government who may have remained unsympathetic to the rising gun-control movement so far. Along with decrying the Trump administration’s idea of arming teachers, among other proposed policies, Block deplored the National Rifle Association’s policies of supporting gun manufacturers and making financial donations to its political supporters.
“I am sick and tired of unnecessary violence, and I am appalled by the lack of action from representatives who are supposed to speak for us,” said Block. “It is shameful that so many politicians place money from the NRA over the lives of the people…anyone who profits off of the deaths of children should be absolutely disgraced.”
Another particularly fiery student voice came from a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania named Grace. She expressed fears that people had become too desensitized to the shocking violence of school shooting and insisted that no person, young or old, should ever have to go through such trauma again, speaking out against the use of assault rifles and bump stocks as civilian weapons, especially given that 90% of Americans actually support stricter gun regulation.
“This is all we know,” she said. “We were born in the epicenter of this school shooting generation. We were forced to grow up way too quickly…I am fed up with, and offended by the embarrassing lack of meaningful action to address this issue.” She also brought up the point that most measures proposed by conservatives to address gun control were meant to weaken an attack rather than prevent one in the first place.
“We will not put up with our legislators and political leaders forcing children to adapt to our country’s inability to keep them safe,” she said.
In addition to the perspectives of students and politicians, the dozens of rally speeches included the perspectives of Columbine High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parents and alumni. One such alumnus was Rebecca Salus, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 1996. She recalled the pain of the Parkland community on the day of the shooting and mourned the loss of innocence inflicted on all students affected by school shooting. She also spoke about her involvement with an alumni activist group and her commitment to making schools safe again.
“As the night went on, I feared that this would be the legacy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School…but I was proven wrong,” said Salus. “The mission was clear: we will band together to support our school and act to ensure that this never happens again.”
Later in the rally, Parkland parent Mark Tempone spoke about how the events at his son’s school changed his mind about guns. Tempone had owned his own AR-15 for a year and a half before the shooting, but after his son Domenic, 15, was spared on February 14th because shooter Nicolas Cruz had been busy reloading when Domenic ran into him in a stairwell, Tempone turned in his rifle and became a staunch gun-control advocate. He explained how gun shows can act as a loophole for legal purchase and decried assault rifles as killing machines, not tools for hobbies.
“Every time a shooting happened with an AR-15, I never thought it was going to happen to my family,” Tempone said. “But it did, and it hit me hard. It took this horrible massacre to change my views.”
Interspersed among the speeches were performances by additional musical guests, including Suzanne Christine, a local singer recently named “Best Female R&B/Pop Artist” at the 2017 and 2012 Philly Hip-Hop awards. Her stirring music called on the crowd to stand for love and referenced the Black Lives Matter movement, echoing the words of one student speaker who worried about how racially motivated violence might become an issue with the recent movement toward increased police presence in schools in the wake of recent shootings.
A common theme throughout the speeches was the idea that members of Generation Z had grown up “with school shootings as ‘normal,’ used to lockdowns and bomb threats,” as Korn put it. Some speakers saw this as a sign of distress, while others had hope that Gen Z-ers would be able to find their voice and improve gun control in America once and for all, given their connection to the issue.
“Because of your generation, because of your work, because of your determination, we’re going to win this fight,” said Casey.
“When injustice becomes law,” added Korn, “resistance becomes duty.”
As morning turned to afternoon and protesters began to slip away from the venue in small groups, many chose to leave their signs behind within an impromptu exhibit of sorts along the edge of a large sidewalk plaque marking the neighboring property as Philadelphia’s Vietnam War memorial.
Later, more discarded signs could be seen standing proud watch over doorposts and flowerpots from Delancey to South Street.
The kids are okay: why many students took to the streets of Philadelphia this morning
The movement to end gun violence has been spearheaded by student leaders. Eastside spoke to thirteen students and two parents to find out their reasons for marching today:
“For everyone who chose to not be here, for whatever reason, for people who are against [gun control] because of a statement that was written in 1791.” -Unnamed (all unmarked quotes are unnamed)
“I’m marching for students, for us…this whole gun problem is so prevalent in our society and it’s something really important and it’s on us, the kids, to stop it. We can do it if we come together like this…it’s just really empowering and I want to do as much as I possibly can to stop gun violence.”
“I’m marching in solidarity with all the people who’ve lost someone in shootings and for our future kids so they don’t have to go through what we have gone through seeing, literally, almost every other day on TV, a shooting.” -Mary Castricone
“So this won’t happen again and even if it will, it won’t happen as much, and everyone will know that.”
“To decrease the amount of…really violent guns.”
“I just came to support the young people because I think this time, I hope this time the movement makes a difference and they listen and [lawmakers] see these kids are future voters and they’ll look from their vacation homes–they’re on break right now–let them look how many people came.” (parent)
“I’m angry that the adults who are in office are not taking action because they’re motivated by the interests of the NRA, and so their views are skewed. They’re not passing legislation that’s actually [going to] help.”
“I’m marching because I think it’s time that Congress took action and stopped accepting money from the NRA instead of protecting the civilians they were elected to represent.”
“To get rid of gun violence.”
“I’m from Japan and I know what society without gun[s] is like; no stress..,you’re not constantly worried about your kids being shot or yourself being shot.” (parent)
“Because I believe that my right to safety and security and my friends’ right to safety and security at school is more important than somebody’s right to own a gun.”
“I’m marching because I find it completely absurd that one of the most advanced countries in the world can’t do something as simple as protecting its most valuable resource: its children.”
“I believe we need stricter gun laws for our schools just to make it safe and for us to feel safe in schools.”
“It’s not right that…children and people in general should be scared for their lives just because of people misinterpreting the Second Amendment.”
“I’m a senior in high school and I have two younger sisters and two brothers who still have to go through school and I would like to see them come home safely and in one piece.”
“I’m marching because I’m really fed up with the gun laws and the fact that a lot of politicians think the Second Amendment…is more important than people’s lives and that they’re not willing to bend on it or look at it and try to protect people and not guns.”
“I’m marching because…I want to feel safe in school and we shouldn’t have to…prepare for if an offender comes into the school and tries to hurt people…we shouldn’t have to do that, and I just want to feel safe.”