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Youth of Arizona rallies at Arizona State Capitol

March for Our Lives Comes to Phoenix

Adianna Bermudez, Features Editor

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Orange shirts bear the slogan, “We Call B.S.” A sticker placed on a brown Dooney and Bourke bag says, “Silence is not an option. VOTE.” Miniature flags stuck into hats say, “Impeach Donald Trump.” Posters denounce the actions of lawmakers and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Picket signs declare enough is enough. These are some of the many powerful messages shared through various mediums at the March for Our Lives (MFOL) rally in Phoenix on March 24.

According to an article on vox.com, the MFOL campaign began as an immediate response to the shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD). The same article estimates that at least 1.2 million people nationwide participated in the MFOL. There were 450 marches held throughout the U.S. According to an article by nbcnews.com, demonstrations occurred in other countries as well including the U.K., Japan, India, France and Australia. The marches are bringing awareness to gun violence and advocating for the change of U.S. gun policies including comprehensive background checks and bans on certain gun modifiers.

According to azcentral, the Arizona Department of Public Safety estimated 15,000 people attended the march in Phoenix. Jordan Harb, co-chair of MFOL Phoenix, posted on the official MFOL Phoenix Facebook page on March 25, stating that this number may be well above 15,000 reaching at least 20,000.

Also present at the march were many organizations, including NextGen America and Students Demand Action, registering young people to vote. Audrey Ruiz, an 18-year-old studying political science at ASU, was one of the many young people representing NextGen America which, according to Ruiz, is a progressive organization that fights for various ideals including gun law reform.

Ruiz’s main mission was to register young people to vote. “I believe in the youth vote. I know that in the 2018 midterm election we can totally elect people that actually represent us,” Ruiz said.

The power of young people was a recurring theme throughout the day. From 10-11 a.m., speeches were given by various individuals including advocates for specific organizations and gun violence survivors. Harb, a 17-year-old from Mesa who is attending Mountain View High School, began the session with an improvised speech of his own. He admitted to not having prepared anything due to being too busy. He said he is probably failing a few classes but that “we won’t talk about that until Monday.”

Harb’s speech focused on the youth participants of the MFOL movement. “This is a movement born out of the youth,” Harb said. He then spoke directly to those he praised. “I implore you to understand that, god damn it, you are powerful!” Harb said. He concluded his speech by urging those that hadn’t already to register to vote. “Don’t just march today. March the next day,” Harb said. He encouraged the audience to keep paying attention, hold their representatives accountable, and to be informed voters.

In addition to Harb’s empowering speech was Molly Jimmerson’s account of her experience with gun violence. Over a year ago, Jimmerson was working as a hostess in a restaurant when a man attempted to rob the place. The criminal demanded Jimmerson give him the keys to the register, but she did not have them. She was forced to the ground with a shotgun to her head. “I was 17-years-old when I was forced to lay on the floor, face down, with a gun to my head,” Jimmerson said. “Now almost a year later, I am still trying to pick myself up off that floor.” After telling her story, Jimmerson directed her comments to the adults who blame school shootings on just bullying. “The worst bullies I’ve ever seen,” Jimmerson said, “are adults hiding behind their screens, telling kids that they deserve to be shot because they were mean to lonely classmates.” She was met with a roar of applause. As Harb did, Jimmerson urged the youth in the crowd to register to vote so that they could vote in the midterm elections. “I’ll see you at the polls,” Jimmerson said.

The most tragic of the speeches heard at the MFOL rally, was that of Jim and Anne Parsons, a married couple who lost their daughter, Carrie Parsons, in the Las Vegas mass shooting in which Stephen Paddock shot at Route 91 Harvest Festival attendees from his hotel room. Jim and Anne wore orange, the color the co-chairs of the MFOL Phoenix requested people to wear to the march. Jim, who uses a wheelchair, spoke while Anne stood behind him. She wore dark sunglasses and her lips remained stiff throughout her husband’s speech. Anne kept her hand on Jim’s shoulder. Jim expressed the pain that his family has endured since Carrie’s death. “The agony will remain with us until we die,” he said. He praised the work of the youth, especially those in Parkland, Florida, for demanding action from lawmakers who “owe it to us” to do more for our country. “There is no place in our society for assault weapons,” Jim said. He concluded his speech by saying bump stocks, high capacity magazines and assault weapons must be banned. The crowd joined in every time he said, “must be banned.”

To end the session, the Queen Creek High School choir sang their version of “You Will be Found” from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” The cover included a brief listing of gun violence statistics and the schools that have been affected by gun violence, including Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The crowd was brought to tears with a crescendo of the sentence “You are not alone.” When the final note was sung, the high school choir was showered in thunderous applause.

With the speaking session completed, the march officially started. The march took place in the surrounding streets of the Arizona State Capitol building. People walked with their chosen affiliated organization and/or with their families.

Parents walked with their children holding signs that said, “Protect Kids. Not Guns,” and “Selling firearms shouldn’t come above the lives of Children!” Two men carried one child each on their shoulders. The kids’ signs said, “WE MATTER.”

A group of Latino teens, representing Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), wore black t-shirts that said “Funds not guns.” They walked side by side and led a large group of people in the march. The LUCHA group guided people in their version of a traditional military cadence. Their version went, “Everywhere we go! People want to know! Who we are! So, we tell them! We are students! The mighty mighty students! Fighting for gun control! For our families!”

Additional groups represented at the march were mothers, seniors and teachers.

Water was freely available throughout the march. Food trucks, including Tropic Like It’s Hot, were selling food. Music played after most of the participants returned from the march. David Bowie’s “Heroes” and Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help from My Friends,” echoed across the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, across from the Arizona State Capitol building.

Harb announced on the official MFOL Phoenix Facebook page that the group has planned more events for this year. The first of these events has been dubbed “National Townhall Day” and takes place on April 7.

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Youth of Arizona rallies at Arizona State Capitol