March for Our Lives: Student-Led Demonstrations Nationwide Call for Action on Gun Violence

National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2018 | Go to article overview

March for Our Lives: Student-Led Demonstrations Nationwide Call for Action on Gun Violence


WASHINGTON * Led by the nation's teens, upward of 1 million people joined nationwide demonstrations billed as the March for Our Lives in calling for real action from legislators to end the scourge of mass shootings in America and also address an endemic culture of gun violence.

The main march in Washington, D.C., was initiated and organized by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the scene of a mass shooting Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, that left 17 dead and as many more wounded.

Fellow students and young people around the country took up the rallying cry and organized more than 800 sibling marches that drew a reported 1.2 million people into the streets March 24 in every state, in cities large and small, including Parkland.

The scene in the small Florida community was "really powerful," said Madeline Tolerico, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, as an estimated 20,000 people walked the 2 miles from Pine Trails Park to Stoneman Douglas.

Wanting to ensure a Catholic presence at the march, Tolerico had classmates and friends gather at her house to carpool, she told NCR. The signs they carried, made the night before, bore slogans like "Never Again" and "Enough Is Enough" that have become synonymous with the student-led stand against gun violence.

The epicenter of the March for Our Lives was the nation's capital, where an estimated 200,000 people, including numerous Stoneman Douglas students, took over Pennsylvania Avenue and downtown D.C. to say "enough" to gun violence, and "vote them out" to members of Congress who don't support sensible gun control legislation.

Hundreds of young people from Catholic high schools and colleges joined the march, many gathering first at St. Patrick's Church downtown for testimonials and Mass. In his homily, Franciscan Fr. Jacek Orzechowski drew a parallel between the readings from Jeremiah, who as a mere youth was appointed a prophet of peace, and the young people gathered there in the capacity crowd.

"God believes in you. God is empowering you," he told the students. Through their actions, the priest said, they could "overcome violence and hatred with the power of love."

A group of 27 students from Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, Pennsylvania, traveled through the night to participate in the march, leaving at 3 a.m. in a "cheese bus," as senior Hannah Moffett, one of the organizers, called the yellow school bus they rented for the six-hour trip.

"The administration was really on board. Everyone was excited to go to the march," she said. Mercyhurst students raised more than $1,175 for the trip, she said, through a GoFundMe campaign and by designing "Enough" sweatshirts they sold to students, their families and alumni.

"Coming down here was super empowering," Moffett said.

John Spengler, a senior at St. John's Jesuit High School & Academy in Toledo, Ohio, said that participating in the march was an opportunity for him and other students to live out the tenets they were being taught at school.

"One is being committed to doing justice," said Spengler. "To act out that tenet in our lives and make sure that, no, we're not just graduating from St John's, we're actually able to fight for justice in this nation."

Spirits were high as the march began, even as the crowd became gridlocked within sight of the Trump International Hotel just blocks from the White House.

Matthew Ochalek, a theology teacher at Mercyhurst Prep, accompanied the student group. Calling himself a long-time protester, he was bowled over by the turnout and the crowd's passion.

"This is one of the most inspiring moments of my life. AU of this being led by young people," said Ochalek, who added it reminded him of the prophet Isaiah. "It will be a child that leads you. And here we are."

The March for Our Lives program began promptly at noon, several blocks from the U. …

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