Hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on Washington and rallied across the US in what anti-gun campaigners hoped would be a pivotal moment in the bid to end mass school shootings in America.
The March For Our Lives, one of the biggest demonstrations in the US capital since the Vietnam War era, was led by survivors of last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died.
From a stage near Congress survivors demanded an end to “senseless violence” and vowed to vote out politicians who failed to introduce gun control measures.
Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez, 18, stood silent on stage for six minutes and 20 seconds, the amount of time the school shooting took.
Tears streamed down her face as the crowd chanted “Never Again”.
Alex Wind, 17, also a Parkland pupil, said: “They say the young are insignificant. Well, Joan of Arc fought back English forces when she was 17-years-old. Mozart was eight when he wrote his first symphony.”
Fellow pupil Delaney Tarr, 17, said: “If they continue to ignore us we will take action until they cannot ignore us any more. Today, we fight. Today, we roar.”
Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr, echoed his most famous speech.
She told the crowd: “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by their character.
“I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun free world, period.”
Cameron Kasky, another Parkland student, said: “To the leaders, sceptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn – welcome to the revolution.
“Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”
While teenagers were in the forefront of the march many also brought several generations of their families, including babies in strollers and grandparents in wheelchairs.
Eight year-old Larisa Jeffers, wearing a Harry Potter scarf and glasses, was one of three generations of the Doros family who came from Philadelphia.
She said her teacher had talked to her about what to do if there was a shooting at school, and she felt unsafe sometimes in class. “I hope people listen to us,” she added.
Sharon Doros, 74, her great aunt, said: “We all have children and grandchildren, and they’re afraid every day when someone opens the door to their classroom. We failed but I think the kids are going to make the change.”
The crowds stretched away from the US Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the Trump International Hotel, toward the White House. Crowds were respectful as they passed Mr Trumps hotel. The president was not at the White House, having flown to Mar-a-Lago in Florida the previous evening.
Young peotesters carried signs with messages including “Am I Next?” and “Arms Are For Hugging” and “Washington You’re Fired”. Another read: “I’ve already had my first lockdown drill”.
One boy aged about eight, wore a skeleton costume and held a sign saying “Do I Look Like A Target?”. He clutched the hand of his younger sister who wore a teddy bear outfit with a sign saying “I have a right to life”.
Diton Dashaj, 37, had his two year-old daughter Ezra, who will soon be going to kindergarten, on his shoulders.
His wife Christina, 34, said: “When you go to look at schools now parents are having to ask ‘What is your school shooting policy? Where do the kids hide if it happens? That wasn’t the case when I was a kid, it’s just not the kind of conversation we should be having.”
Many younger people at the rally chanted “Hey-Ho, Hey-Ho, the NRA has got to go,” directing their anger at the National Rifle Association.
Others railed against Republican politicians, accusing them of being financially beholden to the NRA and blocking gun control proposals like a ban on assault weapons, and tighter background checks for buyers.
Julia Bishop, 18, a survivor of Parkland, said she was pleased that pressure form teenagers had achieved a raising of the minimum age for buying a rifle in Florida from 18 to 21, and a three day waiting period for purchasers.
But she said: “I’m worried this will blow over like every other mass shooting. Nearly 60 people were killed in the Las Vegas one and we were sad for a week and nothing happened, no-one did anything about it. I think those who died at our school would want us to be activists.”
David Hogg, 17, another of the survivors, said: “This is the start of our marathon. They’re going to start trying to move the finishing line so we need to conserve our energy. We need to use this anger as adrenalin, but realise that stamina is important.”
He added: “Washington is very nice and pretty but it’s all spectacle at the end of the day. In reality the politicians aren’t saying anything. We need to realise it’s BS, and call BS. Speak from the heart because these politicians don’t.”
Celebrities on the Washington march included Kim Kardashian West and her husband Kanye West, who brought their daughter North West.The reality TV star said new gun laws were “common sense”. Miley Cyrus, the pop singer, also marched with her family.
A poll showed that 69 per cent of Americans, including half of Republicans, now favour stronger gun control laws.
On the eve of the march Mr Trump announced he was pushing through a measure to ban “bump stocks,” a device which allows semi-automatic weapons ton fire like machine guns.
The Washington rally was among more than 800 events across the US and worldwide.
There were also big rallies in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
In New York Sir Paul McCartney spoke about the death of John Lennon as he marched.
He said: “One of my best friends was killed in gun violence right around here, so it’s important to me.
Democrats were hoping to register at least 25,000 first-time voters at the rallies.
Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat senator, said: “What’s so extraordinary about these young people is how articulate and committed they are. They are the voice of a new movement much like the civil rights movement.
“In private I am feeling that my Republican colleagues know they have to do something, and it has to be meaningful.”
An NRA spokeswoman said it had not taken a position on the protests.
Among older demonstrators there was a common theme, with many saying they felt they had failed young people.
Richard Urycki, from Akron, Ohio, said: “I’m a 68-year-old white guy, a baby boomer, and I think this is wonderful. I’m here to support them because my generation let them down. I never saw the sense of guns for anything apart from hunting, but I wasn’t politically active until now.”
Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/24/massive-crowds-rally-across-us-urge-tighter-gun-controls/