Less than six weeks after the shooting in Parkland, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School led over 20,000 people through the streets of their community in Saturday's March for Our Lives. And despite the weight on their shoulders and the horror they experienced, the air about these students was not one of despair. It was one of confidence.
Before these multitudes took to the streets, they converged on Pine Trails Park, where students, parents, teachers, and alumni made speeches to the crowd. And while the most visible of the Stoneman Douglas survivors made their way to Washington D.C. for the main march, those who stayed behind continued the fight on their home turf.
"I think about the current state of gun safety laws in this country and I am saddened by the long road to reform that lays ahead," said Casey Sherman, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, during the rally.
"But then, I see all that we have already accomplished," she went on. "I see companies cutting ties with the NRA. I see the state of Florida taking much needed steps towards gun safety. And I see marches started by students just like myself popping up in cities all around the world. Those 17 people did not die in vain."
The momentum generated by the students was a point of pride for the members of the Parkland community, particularly for the many parents of students who were in attendance. Meredith Buchwald, who has two sons at Stoneman Douglas, had no doubt about the historical significance of what these young activists are doing.
"This is gonna stop here," said Buchwald. "And because of these kids, going forward, everything is going to be unbelievable for these kids because of them and change is going to happen and it's going to come with all of them."
Of course, there were also reminders of how horrific those 6 minutes and 20 seconds of shooting were for the students who had to endure them. Samantha Mayor made her way up on stage and over to the podium with her left leg still in a brace.
"My name is Samantha Mayor and on the 14th of February I was shot in the knee in my fourth period classroom," said the 17-year-old. "As I am aware that the horrific tape that replays in my head will never be rewinded, I am also aware that the need for change is overdue."
The rally lasted about two hours, with tens of thousands of supporters applauding and cheering every brave sentiment that the students echoed across the fields. At around 12:45 p.m., the march began, making its way down Pine Island Drive.
Along the way, protest chants reverberated from the head of the march all the way to its end. Calls of "Vote Them Out!", "Who Are We? MSD!", and "Break the Silence, End Gun Violence!" roared out for a mile, until the procession reached Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In the shadow of their school, only feet away from the gates where memorial wreaths have lain for over a month, the day was at its most somber. But the students leading the march kept their heads held high. Their chants fell silent in honor of the 17 who lost their lives on February 14, but they didn't stop walking. Not for an instant.
"This is to show that we will not stop making progress," Sherman had told the marchers through a megaphone, "that we are going to keep moving forward!"
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