Since the Parkland shooting on February 14, students, activists and public figures alike have been taking a stand to end the gun violence epidemic in the United States. Over the past decade, the general public has become desensitized whenever another shooting occurs followed by the obligatory “thoughts and prayers.” Now, with the reaction after the Parkland shooting in tandem with figures like Emma Gonzales, “thoughts and prayers” has been replaced with “policy and change.” and young people from across the nation are mobilizing to become the last generation to witness the epidemic of gun violence.
At Oglethorpe University, we’re some of the privileged few. We live in the wealthiest neighborhood in Atlanta, in a gated campus where not even Campus Safety carry weapons on their person. At the small population of around 1200 students, most students are either extracurricular workaholics or are too busy in their studies. Comparatively to other universities in Atlanta—such as Georgia State and Georgia Tech—we are incredibly privileged to be able to go to school in a place where gun violence is not an immediate danger to most students.
However, this doesn’t stop us from giving a damn.
Since March 14, where a hundred or so Oglethorpe students participated in the National School Walkout to remember the victims of the Parkland tragedy, the gears have been moving to organize on campus. Along with a handful of student activists and the generosity of Student Life and the Student Government Association, I’ve had the privilege to work with students and administrators in mobilizing the student population to participate in the March for Our Lives and call for the end of gun violence in the United States.
After hours and hours of organization and logistics, around twenty-six students arrived in the academic quad to participate in the March for Our Lives in Atlanta. We consisted of researchers, photographers, future doctors, actors, and advocates for change. What surprised me most was the level of involvement by the freshman class, and for that I can’t thank them enough.
The station was overflowed with young and old marchers when we arrived—many of them were there with their peers, families, or own local activist group. On the train, I met a young girl who went to the DeKalb School for the Arts and had drawn up a sign full of portraits of the victims. She was with her family, and her mother couldn’t have more proud of her participation and creativity in the creation of her sign. Next to me were alumni of Virginia Tech, who, in 2007, lost thirty-three lives at the hands of a mass shooter on campus. The train was packed—I was overwhelmed with the amount of support my community was giving to those affected by gun violence. We were all complete strangers in that train car, yet a strong sense of solidarity was felt throughout.
When we arrived at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the streets were already filled to the brim with marchers. I was overwhelmed by emotion, but I had to keep track of my peers and what we had come here to do. We were a happy group of marchers. Before the speakers got started, we were cracking jokes, complimenting fellow marchers on their signs, and even dancing to some of the music they were playing at the center. Though we were gathered there for a cause that was grave and pertinent, what was crucial is that we had some fun in creating and sharing community while we were at it.
The speakers were phenomenal. Hosted by two Georgia students, Jennia and Royce, they brought on Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Majory Stoneman Douglas senior Carly Novell, civil rights icon and Georgia house representative John Lewis, and local student activists. One student read a poem she had wrote for the occasion, while another performed a song she had wrote. Mayor Bottoms gave a statement of solidarity to the crowd, “I stand with you to say that the city of Atlanta hears you. The city of Atlanta stands with you,” which was received with cheers and hollers. “We are never too young, we are never too old to march; to speak out and find a way to do something about gun violence,” spoke John Lewis, who also mentioned that his former colleagues—Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy—had been victims to gun violence.
Yet, what resonated with me most of all was Carly Novell, who was a survivor of the Parkland shooting. Prior to the shooting, she said, she was worried about a math test, her prom dress, and if a boy in her grade liked her. Now, she was worried if her fellow classmates were mentally stable enough to keep strong through the school year. Novell remembered Carmen Schentrup, a victim of the shooting, who was one of her first friends in high school. "I hid in a closet February 14 and I'm not hiding anymore,” said Novell, “I'm not hiding from my government, not hiding from the NRA, not hiding from guns. And most of all I am not hiding from change." And from there, we began our march.
“Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go!”
“Not one more!”
“Vote them out!”
“No more silence, end gun violence!”
These chants resonated throughout the city streets as we walked. They bounced off the concrete buildings, echoed into the alleyways, and found voice again in the hearts of the marchers. Oglethorpe students lead a couple of the chants and made acquaintance with some fellow marchers from local universities like Emory and Georgia State. Once Oglethorpe marcher, Chrysta Avers, was stopped by Shannon Purser, who played Barb on Stranger Things, for a photo with her and her sign.
When you’re in the middle of a march, it’s sometimes hard to recognize the magnitude of what you’re doing. Yet I recall passing the Mercedes-Benz stadium and looking back to see thousands of people on our flank leading their own chants, and was reminded that this wasn’t just the same kind of march people have led in the past. This march was a movement—a movement for our country and congresspeople to recognize that we give a damn and “thoughts and prayers” doesn’t cut it anymore. Complacency and silence means death nowadays, and we are to utilize our voices while we still can.
The march wasn’t just about school shootings though—it was about police brutality, victims of domestic violence, and the endless deaths of black men and women at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us. It was about Stephon Clark, twenty-two years old and father of two children, who was shot twenty times after police decided he fit the ‘criminal’ profile and saw the phone in his hand as a lethal weapon. It was about Scout Schultz, who after a mental breakdown, was shot on Georgia Tech’s campus because the campus police were ill equipped to deescalate the situation and subsequently furthered the murders of transgender and non-binary individuals.
This is a movement for peace. This is a movement for common sense gun reform. This is a movement for us to set aside our political differences and grudges to join together for something that might actually change our country. We were over 30,000 strong in the streets that day, Oglethorpe. The movement is now.