Student marches for her life against gun violence

On March 24, an estimated 20,000 Austinites gathered downtown for March For Our Lives, a national march protesting gun violence. I traveled by bus with my church group to be a part of the movement. The march was sparked by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who survived the mass shooting at their school Feb. 14. The protesters demanded more restrictive gun laws and safer schools.

The Austin march began at City Hall and ended at the capital where speakers such as actor Matthew McConaughey and mayor Steve Adler gave words of encouragement and inspiration to the marchers. Jack Haimowitz, a Parkland student survivor, also spoke about his tragic experience and called the marchers to action. The Austin march was organized by 2017 Westlake graduate and current UT freshman Selina Eshraghi.

People of all ages and backgrounds participated in the march. Young children sat on top of their parents’ shoulders, holding up signs that said “Never Again,” the name of the movement created by the Parkland students. An old man with only one leg used a crutch to march down to the capital. A group next to me sang the entire time about how “We can all come down and march.” At the end of the march, a woman handed out voter registration pamphlets, encouraging people to vote for Texan representatives who would fight for their needs. The march left me with a sense of empowerment. It showed me that even though the government seems to be working against our will, people of all ages are passionately fighting and advocating for the safety of others so that gun violence will never happen again.

While all of the marchers had the same general opinion — gun violence must stop — there were many varying opinions on how that should be done. Some signs read “Thoughts and prayers kill children,” while others read, “I can pray and march at the same time.” Other movements, such as the fight to keep abortions legal, were also mentioned in signs. One sign said “You can’t choose when to be pro-life” and another, held by a young woman, “Guns have more rights than my body.”

Although not everyone could agree on the smaller details of the movement, on March 24 we marched to the capital in unity to end gun violence. The small band of anti-protesters with NRA flags, openly carrying rifles, had no effect on the passionate mass of people marching purposefully down the streets for their lives.

Every once in a while, an enthusiastic marcher would start a cheer that would carry down Congress Avenue to the leaders. As soon as it petered out, another would rise forcefully. The message was clear: Gun violence is not something we can ignore any longer, and it is time to confront the repercussions loose gun laws have created. The lives of children are worth too much to be handed over as easily as a driver’s license.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students aren’t that different from students at Westlake. They take AP classes, engage in many extracurricular activities and, up until Feb. 14, felt safe going to school and never imagined they would become the targets of gun violence. Westlake has responded to the Parkland shooting appropriately: briefing staff members on what to do in a school gun attack and permitting students to walk out in support of the Never Again movement. It’s important to know that we are not isolated from these events that are happening right now in our nation, and it is our responsibility to change the laws that threaten not only our education, but our lives.

Many celebrities nationwide took to social media to promote the movement. Zendaya, Taylor Swift, Blake Lively and Selena Gomez were among some of the stars who called for restrictions on guns. ABC released a video of Malala Yousafzai, who was unable to march on March 24. In the video she said, “My time as an activist began just like many of you here. I witnessed injustice and violence in my community and I spoke out … To every friend, sister, or brother who lost a loved one, my heart is with you … They need other students, teachers, and leaders to walk together to end gun violence in schools.”

While the government may not want to listen to our voices now, other citizens do. The movement has spread like wildfire across the country, and we will not stop until our leaders listen and make the changes in gun laws necessary for public safety. As Emma Gonzalez, one of the leaders of the Never Again movement, said, “We call BS.”