Thousands of students, teachers, parents and victims carried signs and marched across Illinois in the cold, snow and sleet on Saturday as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives against gun violence. The marches were largely led by students, many of them moved to action after last month’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
At least 23 marches were scheduled across the state, from Woodstock to Carbondale.
Organizers say more than 700 people came to Douglass Park in Champaign to push for stronger gun control laws, despite winter weather warnings.
The largest crowds gathered in Union Park on Chicago’s near west side.
Groups that appeared to be in the hundreds also marched in Springfield, Macomb, Bloomington-Normal and other communities.
Several signs in Champaign read, “Protect Kids Not Guns.” One included the phrase, “My Outrage Can’t Fit on This Sign!”
Students across the country say they’re fed up with a lack of action from adults and politicians after decades of shootings in schools.
Chelsie Nunez joined marchers from Champaign’s Central High School.
“We have the right to stand up for what happened and make sure things change so students in the future don’t have to go through the same thing,” she said.
Charles Osley’s brother was just feet away from a student gunman last fall at Mattoon High School, he said. One student was injured by gunfire. Mattoon is about an hour south of Champaign.
“I’m hoping to see gun reform on a grander scale,” he said. “Assault weapons ban, conversion devices banned. I’m not looking to ban all guns.”
Osley serves as an organizer with Students Against Gun Violence at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus.
“I don’t think people know how bad gun violence is,” he said.
Osley’s group is also organizing events for April 20 in support of tougher laws.
Students On A National Stage
NPR News reported on the largest gathering in the country, the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC:
The students are frustrated by what they say is the inaction of adults, especially politicians, who offer thoughts and prayers in the wake of school shootings but fail to pass legislation that protect kids from gun violence. They hope these marches will provide momentum for change ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
“I think it’s something that if any politician pushed in general, they would really have an easy time getting re-elected because they would be, they would show that they’re practicing what the preach and are trying to be leaders in their own right, but right now I think in Washington, we’re not seeing that,” David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, told Weekend Edition Saturday.
In the U.S. capital, chants of “vote them out” rang out in between dozens of student speakers from elementary to high school age, including several survivors of the Parkland shooting as well as Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter. There were also performances by Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande.
Student speakers used the national stage to call for an assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. They also called on young people to register to vote.
“Politicians either represent the people or cannot,” said Cameron Kasky, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who survived the shooting. “Stand for us, or beware, the voters are coming.”
Counter Protesters Join The March
Advocates for gun rights also joined the rallies and marches. WGLT public radio reported on some of the counter-protesters in Bloomington:
The march also drew in about a dozen counter-protestors, including Shane Bragonier, who said he was marching for his Second Amendment rights.
“That’s what it’s all about. We have the right to have guns. We’re legal, law-abiding citizens and we’re not going to stand idle and let people take our guns from us,” Bragonier said.
Bragonier said those advocating for gun reform were focusing on the wrong group of people.
“Legal gun owners aren’t the people that are doing the school shootings. These are kids that aren’t educated and probably weren’t raised right by their parents, and some of these places probably don’t have background checks (like ours),” Bragonier said. “We have to have a firearms card to start with, and we have to pass a background check. We have to have a second background check every time we go to make a purchase of a firearm.”
Bragonier is a member of the National Rifle Association and said protestors criticizing the group aren’t educated on its programs.
More Student Walkouts Scheduled
Student groups say they’re building momentum ahead of November’s mid-term elections. Hundreds of student walkouts are planned for April 20, which marks 19 years since the mass shooting in Columbine High School. Fifteen people died in Columbine, including the student gunmen, and two dozen others were injured.
Organizers of April 20 walkouts planned in Champaign-Urbana say they’ll hold events in the days surrounding the protest to educate students and other voters on the issues of gun violence and gun control and provide them with resources and tips to get more involved.