Last weekend, students across the state demonstrated a remarkable awareness of social issues and ambition to drive social change.
At 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 24, students met outside West High School in Salt Lake City — not for class, but to take a stand against gun violence. The demonstration, March for Our Lives, was organized after 17 people, 14 of them teenagers, were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Estimates by Utah Highway Patrol put the crowd count at around 8,000. Packed together tightly and overflowing into the street, protesters held signs that read “Utah: Ban Assault Weapons Now,” “Students Demand Gun Reform,” “Arms Should Be for Hugging” and “How Many Lives Are Your Guns Worth?”
According to The Washington Post, there are 150,000 students in the United States who have experienced a school shooting.
Emma Gonzalez, a Stoneman Douglas student who hid in a classroom while gunman, 19-year-old, Nikolas Cruz roamed the halls with an AR-15 and “Military & Police” revolver, said she wanted the shooting to be a turning point for the country.
“We are going to be the last mass shooting,” Gonzalez said.
Around 11:30 a.m., students led the demonstration away from West High towards the Utah State Capitol. From the high school, marchers headed east and walked in the street on North Temple.
The walk from West High to the Capitol was approximately one mile, according to Google Maps.
As the students and activists marched through the street, chants could be heard like “student lives matter,” “this is what democracy looks like” and “say their names.”
According to Vox, about 1.2 million people marched throughout the country in an estimated 450 marches.
Around 11:50 a.m., the demonstrators began the quarter-mile walk up Capitol Street. Soon after, they marched up the grass to the steps of the Utah State Capitol.
An hour earlier, a counter-demonstration was held at the Capitol by Utah gun rights activists, which police estimate 1,000 people attended. A few dozen stuck around for the March for Our Lives protest and held signs bearing sentiments like “Come and Take Them” and “Assault is a Behavior, Not a Device.”
As people continued to pile in, students spoke to the crowd and expressed why they were marching: to send a message to politicians.
“I certainly don’t understand,” one student said, “why today, across the nation, we have to hold the biggest protest in American history to tell our lawmakers that 17 people getting shot at a high school is not acceptable.”
The student continued by making it clear that she and other students were not being put up to protesting by anyone. “Let’s be clear about that,” she said. “No one is using us as their puppets. No one is using us for their agenda.”
And they don’t have to, said the high school student. “There is no greater motivation than outrage at seeing students that could be you and your friends being killed over and over again.”
In her speech, the student noted the importance of continuing to push for gun reform after the march ends.
“After you march for our lives,” she said, “after you vote for our lives, we need you to spend for our lives. You shouldn’t support companies that don’t support your children’s right to be safe at school.”
March for Our Lives wrapped up with a crowd rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon, who, as Paul McCartney reminded reporters as he marched in New York City, was himself killed by gun violence.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace,” students sang. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”
Whether or not you agree with the student protesters, their courage and ability to generate momentum in unquestionable. Their message should not be lost on anyone. This is the only country in the world where mass shootings are a biweekly occurrence, and something should have been done about it after Columbine.
Nothing was done, and that is why we had Virginia Tech, then Sandy Hook and now Stoneman Douglas. Lawmakers should listen to the hundreds of thousands of students across the country who are fed up and should start taking meaningful policy measures to address gun violence.
There may not be any easy solutions to preventing mass shootings, but doing nothing is not a solution at all.