A mass of students, joined by parents, teachers and other Bay Area residents, gathered outside of San Jose’s City Hall at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 24, holding up signs with bold, brightly colored phrases on them. What differentiated this from any other march, however, was that many of the volunteers and organizers, identifiable by their “March for Our Lives” t-shirts, were not adults.
This march was one of the hundreds across the nation that happened on Saturday. The movement to push for gun control legislation is being led by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida after 17 students and faculty members were killed there on Feb. 14. In San Jose, local organizers included not only teenagers, but also elementary schoolers.
Hazel Stange is one of those young organizers. A senior at Lincoln High School, Stange has been an intern for the Women’s March organization for nearly a year and a half, coordinating Black Lives Matter and La Raza events, and the Women’s March. When the organization contacted her with a request to be the youth outreach coordinator for the March for Our Lives, she was more than willing, because she strongly believes in the power of youth activism.
“I think [the march] will add more seats to the table, not only for young people, but young people of color,” Stange said.
Stange emphasized her belief that the movement would not only change the discussion of gun control, but also lead to the discussion of other issues that have been pushed to the side.
“It’s really mobilizing the people that have been disenfranchised and looked over and spoken over, and it’s really elevating us to a place where we can sit at the global table and take part of that discussion not only on gun violence, but also on distribution of wealth, healthcare, women’s rights,” Stange said. “It’s doing a lot for young people.”
MVHS junior Ananya Saxena attended the San Jose march with her mom, and later in the day participated in a march in Palo Alto with her choir to show her support for stricter gun control legislation.
“It is a problem that affects us directly and even though we technically don’t have a voice in government yet, we still have the power to make a change,” Saxena said. “It’s a national issue, regardless of what state you live in, so if you support something, I think you should show your support for it. Even if it’s not an issue where you live, it’s an issue for somebody, and you have the ability to help somebody with your voice.”
Almost an hour before the march was officially set to start, a crowd was gathering not only at the base of City Hall, but also at a nearby Starbucks. Although he didn’t take part in the march itself, congressman Ro Khanna, the U.S. representative for California’s 17th congressional district, showed his support for the movement before the march. He made an appearance at the Starbucks to take pictures with protesters, talk to supporters and even film a video for a teenager’s student government campaign.
“I have been so inspired by these students who are changing the conversation on gun violence, and I wanted to be out here supporting their energy, supporting their passion, supporting their vision,” Khanna said.
After the San Jose march, Saxena joined her choir, which had coordinated with the Palo Alto City Hall. They performed in a church before marching down University Ave., while continuing to sing, to a nearby square.
“A lot of people saw it, it was good, it was intense,” Saxena said. “There were a lot of feelings. It was a movement of pretty much only high school students and a few middle school students, and I don’t think that many marches had that.”
Despite her strong feelings against the NRA and what it stands for, coming from a conservative family has helped Stange understand the perspective of the NRA’s supporters.
“I’m from Galesburg, Ill., a very small town., Everybody has rifles strapped on their chests, so I understand the culture and the pride in having a gun but to not to listen to what’s happening and not acknowledge the fact that students are dying, and it wasn’t one occurence, it wasn’t two, it’s an epidemic,” Stange said. “And if we’re not acknowledging that, we’re adding to that. So I’m very disappointed in the NRA’s stance, because it has so much power to enact greater change and promote gun safety.”
Khanna also echoed Stange’s call for gun safety reforms, a sentiment that was the foundation of the national march.
“I completely think we need common sense gun safety laws, we need background checks, we need to get the AR-15s off the the streets so they’re not civilian weapons, we need to have high magazines regulated, there’s no reason for large rounds,” Khanna said.
With many protesters sharing stances similar to Khanna’s, they chanted slogans like “No more silence, end gun violence,” and carried signs that denounced politicians whose campaigns relied on NRA money.
“[The NRA does] have a lot of political control, and I don’t think that’s right,” Saxena said.
Stange, along with many of the speakers at the event, emphasized the need for gun safety and gun control, but are careful to make the distinction between gun control and the complete eradication of the second amendment right to bear arms.
“We’re not trying to take away your guns,” Stange said. “If you work with us, we can help you keep them. But we need to do that in a safe way that’s going to keep everyone safe.”
Listen to a few excerpts from speakers at the event.