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March for Our Lives speakers shame elected officials for ‘inaction’ regarding gun violence prevention
June 21, 2022
“Today, survivors and activists stand before you as we demand change,” March For Our Lives Parkland President Zoe Weissman said.
MFOL, a youth-led organization dedicated to ending gun violence, held its second nationwide protest on Saturday, June 11, after the shooting at Tops Friendly Markets supermarket in Buffalo, New York that killed 10 people and the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed 21 people.
The main protest took place in Washington, D.C., with over 400 sibling events taking place all over the United States, including one in Parkland, Florida.
MFOL was founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students after the shooting at MSD on Feb. 14, 2018, which left 17 students and staff dead. The organization led one of the largest youth protests since the Vietnam War on March 24, 2018.
The largest protest of MFOL in 2018 took place again in Washington D.C., with over 830 sibling events occurring around the globe on the same date. Speakers at those events included Jaclyn Corin, X González, Edna Chavez, David Hogg, Naomi Wadler, Cameron Kasky and Yolanda King.
In Parkland, the event kicked off with the National Anthem, sung by Alexa Aronson, and the original song “Quiet,” written and performed by MILCK. MILCK also performed a duet with ShineMSD of the song “A Little Peace/The Flower.”
Sixteen-year-old Weissman is president of the Parkland chapter at March For Our Lives and kicked off the event by declaring that Americans still have to march, four years after the shooting at MSD.
“People say most movements take a long time until change is made, but ten years since the Sandy Hook shooting and four years since the Parkland shooting seems like a pretty long damn time to me,” Sari Kaufman, a speaker at the event on June 11 in Parkland and gun violence prevention activist, said in her speech.
Kaufman, a sophomore at Yale University and founder and president of MyVote Project, was a sophomore at MSD when the shooting happened. The shooting inspired her to become an engaged citizen, joining MFOL on the Change committee and founding MyVote Project.
“We have done our jobs. We had record youth voter turnout in 2018,” Kaufman said. “We have passed red flag laws in more than 20 states, even here, in the ‘Gunshine’ state,, and we helped change the culture around gun violence prevention. Now, more than 80% of Americans support background checks and red flag laws.”
Kaufman’s statistics are true. A recent survey from Morning Consult and Politico showed 88% of Americans support background checks on all gun sales, while a Pew Research Center survey found overall support at 81%. Pew’s survey was among the lowest, with Quinnipiac and ABC/Washington Post in 2021 both finding 89% and Gallup finding 92%.
According to a survey by APM Research Lab, 77% of Americans think a family member should be able to petition a court to temporarily keep guns from people who may be a threat to themselves or others, also called a “red flag” law, while 70% think police should be able to.
These statistics, Kaufman argues, prove that gun control is not a “Democrat vs. Republican” issue, as she argued in her speech. She believes, instead, that it is an “American” issue and a public health and safety issue.
Debbi Hixon, Broward County Public Schools school board member and wife to Chris Hixon, who was murdered in the MSD shooting, agreed with this statement, calling it a “human” issue in her speech.
“What people don’t realize is after the cameras leave, after the news cycle changes, we are still here, still grieving, still wondering why,” Hixon said. “Well, I know why. Because it’s all too easy for a 19-year-old murderer to walk into a store, purchase a weapon of war and steal lives.”
Hixon’s son, Corey Hixon, held up a photo of Chris Hixon on stage as she spoke. Hixon described how Chris, a veteran who served in the Navy for 27 years, died while trying to disarm the shooter, saying Chris and all Americans “deserve better.”
“He survived a war, but he did not survive a day at school,” Hixon said.
Hixon’s point echoes the many points made at the Parkland MFOL and others around the country, arguing that Americans should be free to do daily, mundane activities like attending a synagogue or a concert without the fear of being shot. One of these people was Florida state representative Anna Eskamani, who attended the MFOL in Orlando, and she listed several shootings in the United States within the last few decades.
“We honor those no longer with us through action and stand united in finding power in pain, as we remember the victims lost to gun violence in this country一those in the headline and those you will never hear about. Columbine, Virginia Tech, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin,” Eskamani said. “Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a Naval facility in Washington DC, an African American church in South Carolina, Planned Parenthood Health Center in Colorado, a holiday party in San Bernardino, California. Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, a high school in Parkland, a Taiwanese church in California, spas in Atlanta, Georgia, a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, an African American grocery store in Buffalo, New York and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Not one more.”
Several speakers at the Parkland MFOL, as well as Eskamani, spoke about how gun violence is not just school shootings, or as speaker Romania Dukes added, and against Black and brown people.
Regarding Black and brown people, speaker Albert Campbell from the Circle of Brotherhood organization in Miami contended that the violence his community faces unites his community and the Parkland community. He asked attendees to put one finger in the air and repeated, “We are one.”
MSD yearbook adviser Sarah Lerner, who spoke at the event, emphasized that school shootings are not the only type of gun violence to focus on; people should also focus on gun violence against Black and brown people, LGBTQ+ people, Asian people and Jewish people.
Speaker Megan Vaz, a domestic violence survivor, added women into that discussion, talking about her personal experience as a woman abused by her father and threatened by his guns. She backed this up with evidence that supports that one large red flag in mass shooters is their misogynistic behaviors.
Eskamani’s statement of “Not one more,” repeated at the MFOL in Parkland during the march itself, is one of the reasons MFOL was started, as they wanted the gun violence epidemic to end with them. MFOL maintains that not one more person should die from gun violence, as over 100 Americans die because of it every day.
“A shooting should not have happened at my school, but it also should’ve stopped at my school,” Lerner said in her speech at the event.
Lerner chalks up the fact that it did not stop at MSD to failures in government by politicians and leaders, adding that if they do not do their job, they should be voted out.
“We the people elect our lawmakers and leaders; they work for us. They do not work for the National Rifle Association and they do not work for the gun lobby,” Lerner said. “They need to do their jobs to keep us safe or they need to be voted out.”
Several times during her speech, chants broke out in the crowd, declaring, “Vote them out.” Among those slammed at the event and threatened to be voted out were Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
“It’s not good enough to simply hope and pray our children aren’t shot; we actually have to vote for someone who cares about this issue and is actually committed to doing something about it,” speaker Gail Schwartz said. “If your candidate isn’t loudly declaring the desire and the urgency to help prevent mass shootings in our communities by halting the proliferation of killing machines like AR-15s and AK-47s, then they are not deserving of your vote.”
Schwartz lost her nephew, Alex Schachter, in the shooting at MSD. The shooter used one of the aforementioned weapons, an AR-15. AR-15s were also used in the shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, Boulder, Orlando, Las Vegas, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Nashville, San Bernardino, Midland-Odessa, Poway, Sutherland Springs and Pittsburgh.
“No one stopped this killer [in Uvalde, Texas]. Certainly not the kids, not the educators, not even law enforcement that showed up on the scene and waited outside. No one,” Schwartz said. “We must never forget what happened to 49 friends up in Orlando that were executed at a nightclub. No one came to their rescue, either. Our lives shouldn’t depend on someone coming to the rescue because history has shown, time and again, no one is coming to the rescue.”
Schwartz told the crowd that the only people coming to the rescue is “us” with their votes. She attempted to motivate and inspire the crowd to vote in November, as the midterm elections are this year, and told those not already registered to vote to register at the stands set up surrounding the march.
“In my 2018 speech, I also noted that this fight would be a marathon and that the students of Stoneman Douglas and the students across this country would be your coaches and your motivators to keep fighting,” Kaufman said. “So, four years later, we are still telling you to keep running, to keep fighting because I do believe that this time will be different.”