For many, the most powerful moment at the March for Our Lives, the anti–gun violence rally that drew an estimated 800,000 people to the National Mall on Saturday, was the minutes-long total silence that fell after the 18-year-old activist Emma González took the stage. She spoke—forcefully, quickly—and then stood quietly crying until her appearance had lasted six minutes and 20 seconds. That was the amount of time it took a teenage gunman to enter her high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, kill 14 of her classmates and three faculty members, and then disappear into the crowd fleeing the quiet-shattering semiautomatic assault of his AR-15 in Parkland, Florida, last month. Since then, González and many of her fellow survivors have been transformed from ordinary high-school students into celebrities by repeatedly proclaiming and acting on their slogan #NeverAgain—one that should have been shouted two decades ago, so that nearly 200,000 students wouldn't have had to go through the trauma of experiencing (and dying from) school shootings since Columbine in 1999.
Cher live-tweeted her voyage to the protest, and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were also in the streets in D.C.; Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ariana Grande all took the stage at the National Mall on Saturday afternoon. But the attention and admiration were focused on González and her fellow activists who organized the march, making the 1,000-plus-mile trek to the Capitol from Parkland and prompting 800-plus cities to organize protests in solidarity.
Yes, the D.C. rally was imperfect. Britney Spears's "Toxic" blasted from speakers before the speeches; when Malala Yousafzi, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, popped up on the jumbotron, a teen standing next to me shouted, "Yes, b---h, yes!" But those were the moments that made the march feel authentic—along with, of course, the moving speeches from students who lost their younger siblings at Sandy Hook, prompting them to start gun control groups at age 11, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s 9-year-old granddaughter Yolanda's call-and-response with the crowd: "Have you heard? All across the nation. We are going to be a great generation," the marchers repeated loudly after her. By the time González took the stage, near the end, the "vote them out!" chants had become "vote her in!"
Here, meet a few of the hundreds of thousands of protesters, from the 10-year-old daughter of a U.S. senator to a high-school math teacher, and hear why they put their faith in the students.
Ronan, 18, student, South Carolina
"Being here just feels right. Children are dying in schools? That’s just not right. There was a gun threat at my sister's school, where a 17-year-old got two handguns, and I was just like, I’m so tired of this. I don’t want to come home one day and find out my little sister was killed. I’m not scared to go to school, but I’m scared for all my friends. And I feel like we’ve been desensitized to this—every time you turn on the news, it’s like, Oh, there’s another mass shooting, and the media likes to gloss it over. [Parkland] was a surprise, but it's heartbreaking, because at the same time, it wasn’t. Everyone predicts the next one. You just never know which school it’s going to be at."
Mia, 10, student, Hawaii
Mia: "I made this sign. I think it’s cool we can all protest and make change."
Linda, Mia's 43-year-old mother: "My husband [Brian Schatz] works here as a Hawaii U.S. senator, but we’re actually here for [our kids]. It’s really about them seeing how change happens, and understanding what it means to be in a democratic society and participating in our government and actually changing things. We have to sort of lay the foundation of the future for them, so it's easier for them to execute that change."
Lynn, 55, "Today’s my birthday, and it’s the best birthday ever", "I work for corporate America," New York
"I’ve been waiting for this march for many, many years. After every shooting, I’d say, 'Where is the outrage, why is there no rally?' When it comes to mass shootings, I feel like our government is basically aiding and abetting them with the lax gun laws—if they were tightened up, we wouldn’t have the levels of carnage that we do. So as soon as I heard about this, I had to come."
Nafisa, 17, student, Maryland
"People say we’re little kids and we can’t make a difference, but if the adults can’t do anything about it, we have to say something, you know? I’m about to graduate next year, but I’m still protesting for my little brothers and sisters and cousins. It seems so far until it hits close. There was just a shooting in Maryland a few days ago. And ever since the shooting in Parkland, I’ve been really scared to go to school. We’ve had three drills since, and the first time, we didn’t know it was a drill. I got so scared, I was texting my parents; I was about to cry. It makes me nervous that it can happen so quickly—one minute we’re sitting here having fun, and the next minute someone can just pull a gun.
"It's not a faraway thought that we can lose our lives at any moment. It’s happening right now. My cousin and I took part in the walkout, and my parents were really nervous about it—I was born in 2001, after Columbine, and they were like, this has been happening since way before you were born, and it's not going to change. But this is the 21st century. A lot of stuff change, and I’m about to vote next year, and I’m putting my vote where it counts."
Simalee, 15, student, Maryland
"I’m just happy to see a lot of people here. It’s comforting. Maybe, hopefully, in the future, we can see a difference, because it needs to stop. It’s sad and it’s heartbreaking to see so many dying for doing nothing—just for being innocent children."
Brian, 40, self-employed, Washington, D.C.
"These are my kids, so, you know, it's a big deal, and it’s good for them to stay involved and see everything that’s going on. Guns are getting out of control, and they're all in school, and their safety is important—more important than guns. I think it’s important for them to have a say on the way things go. They're kind of aloof about it right now, you know, because it hasn't happened to them. And since it's a lot of isolated incidents, the parents seem concerned, but we don't really fear too much. So this was really impactful—I think a lot of people just saw how important this is, and I hope they're actually paying attention of how many kids were here. A lot of people think kids are too young, but you know, if they’re old enough to get shot, they’re old enough to have a voice about gun rights."
Claire, 74, scientist, Massachusetts
"This is my third march in Washington since Trump was elected president, and I intend to keep coming as long as it takes for him and his cronies to get it clear that the people have the power—not him. When I heard the students were organizing this, I said, 'I’m gonna be there.' Because, like they said, enough is enough."
Shane, 18, college freshman, Maryland
"I’m here because I’m just tired of it. I’m really just tired of it. My parents are tired of it, too. It happens all of the time. When more than 10 people are killed in a mass shooting now, it’s not an event. It’s repetitive—way too repetitive."
Gabriel, 18, college freshman, Maryland
"My mom’s a teacher, and two of my aunts work in the school system, and a big reason why I'm out here is I don’t really stand for arming teachers—I feel like that’s kind of a naive thing to do. I know my mom doesn't want that. And I love her and my aunts to death, but they don’t have no business holding guns. I just think it’s like trying to fight fire with fire—it doesn’t work."
Shaila, 40, high-school math teacher, Annapolis
"I wanted to come out and support the kids, because you see the anxiety; you see how it affects them. We’ve had incidences in our county. To be honest, if they weren’t leading the charge—I just had to be here for the kids who were leading this, with all the things that are going on, the anxiety they feel, and the fact that literally nothing’s getting done. I love the group Moms Demand Action because they’re getting a lot done; they're working on state laws. But I cannot begin to tell you how much my blood just boils when I hear 'thoughts and prayers.' How many times are we just going to have 'thoughts and prayers,' you know? Working in the school, it angers me. You see the baggage people are bringing; the fact that in this latest go-round it was like, 'Oh, well, arm the teachers.' It’s like, What are you talking about?! It’s absolutely ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. I just would choose not to do it—not because I wouldn’t want to save the children in my classroom, but because I don’t think doing that would be my best bet."
Camagu, 54, pharmacist, Brooklyn
"I’m here because my daughters are high-school students."
Amanice (Camagu's older daughter), 16, student, Brooklyn
"I feel like my life is so alert now. I have to be more cautious about things. Going to school’s a little hard, because it could be my school next, or my friend’s school next, and it’s a life-or-death situation, which is terrifying. And it's not even just schools—it’s also places you go on a regular basis, like churches and parties."
Yolisa (Camagu's younger daughter), 15, student, Brooklyn
"We feel like we should not be afraid to go to school every day. My mother shouldn’t have to worry about me not coming home. I'm so disappointed, because [the adults] could have been doing this since Sandy Hook. I’ve been watching a lot of CNN, and I watched an interview with a boy whose brother died at school and I really felt his emotions, because who wants to know that their brother got shot at school? That's the last place you want to die."