COMMENTARY: March for our Lives Report
800,000 people feels like a lot—feels like you’re a bean in a jar full mixed beans and the closer you get to the bottom of the jar the more you can feel the weight of the other beans pushing down on you.
We had moved deep inside the crowd to get close to the front of the March, The March for our Lives. At 9a.m. my personal space was at arm’s length, which was cozy. As noon approached, open space incrementally disintegrated as more people showed up, getting to where I was unable to move freely. I felt claustrophobia setting in and a little panic building in my nerves…
However, these feelings became less noticeable as I became acclimated to the site and caught up into the symbiotic atmosphere of the grand occasion. After a while, it seemed as if we were just one massive human organism, mouths and hands, cheering and applauding, singing and clapping together—in harmony and unity. As the mass of people shrank and expanded, constantly changing shape, I didn’t notice anyone being aggressive. Anytime I accidentally bumped into or shouldered by someone, they were courteous and respectful. Sorry said was sincere and forgiveness wasn’t needed, just acknowledgement: sorry about stepping on your toes—that’s ok—don’t worry about it, they’re too big anyway—haha. It was incredible to see how people could put aside their petty differences and come together as a force of decent commonality.
I shed my usual shyness and carried on conversations with complete strangers; had a wonderful talk with a person from Baltimore who admired my southern accent. The weather was our mutual friend, sunny and cool, and the season calm and beautiful, the emerging cherry blossoms signaling the arrival of Spring. In this urban garden, we were all peas in a pod of chaos—thankfully it was organized chaos. Before I arrived, my biggest fear was there would be no place to go to the bathroom—I had worried needlessly. There were hundreds and hundreds of Porta-Potty clones lined up along the Mall like blue plastic soldiers formed up for a parade.
My friends and I had taken the Metro in from Springfield and arrived at the Mall in the early morning. We made our way over to Constitution Avenue and then headed towards the Capitol. The crowd steadily thickened as we approached the headworks of the event where a large stage had been erected at 3d street. When the influx of marchers (standers) began reaching saturation, we squeezed out and crossed over the street to gain higher ground, ending up on the veranda of the Canadian Embassy. From there we scanned the area for the best spot to park ourselves. Then we zigzagged across the park to a patch of sparse trees that fronted the U.S. District Court. Here, I could easily see the stage only a few hundred feet away—but only by holding my camera high above my head and looking at the pictures.
I didn’t have to see them. Over the loudspeakers, I heard their voices loud and clear, the students who inspired the March. My travels had taken me all the way from Okinawa, Japan to support them, to be here with them and add my small presence to help make their footprint bigger. Like myself, a wide swatch of Americans and other citizens of civilized societies around the world had recognized these young leaders as giants of change, and these kids showed why they deserved that distinction. Simply put, they spoke as adults and we listened as children. They said what needed to be said, what more of my generation should have said years ago—simple but succinct words: Never Again, Enough. I could hear grief quiver in their voices as they remembered their fallen classmates, as they talked of lives cut suddenly and violently short, of the small talk and the kidding around they’d never do again, of stories of friends who would never realize their hopes and dreams, of places they would never go together again—never again. Most importantly, these magnificent young people outlined the way ahead necessary to fix that which is broken, that which empowers madmen access to weapons of mass murder. And the students made it very clear, loud and clear, that the NRA and others who stand in their way are doomed to fail. They asked us to let our senators, congressmen and congresswomen and elected officials know they will be held accountable for their actions (or inactions) that contradict measures to prevent another school shooting from ever happening again.
I hope the people in power were watching the March for our Lives. If they were not paying attention, their electorate was—who are now watching them. I hope they saw the collective of people who came today, who’s rallying cries, spelled-out on handmade placards was deafening—especially the children’s signs. Silently they shouted with their sweet smiles, bravely they sang hope and determination with glimmer in their bright eyes. With small, precious hands they held banners that told of worries that no child should have: ARMS are for hugs. Why should we be afraid? I don’t want to die. Am I next?
Thousands and thousands of dedicated teachers sent an unequivocal message with their posters, saying their aspirations were to arm their students with knowledge—not themselves with guns. Parents proudly carried their kids on their shoulders and danced with them in the streets, daring to believe that change is coming, that a better future exists for their sons and daughters. I saw veterans like myself who served so war and violence would never touch our hallowed land, who want to keep the weapons of war out of our schools, out of our places of worship and out of the hands of people who, for whatever sickness inspires them, desire to kill innocent people. Many of the signs displayed were actions in themselves describing the actions that need to take place. The gist of those messages, the bottom line they invoked, was this: Vote Them Out; if the politicians empowered by the people to legislate change are unwilling to do so, or are unable to perform, then they will be identified, targeted during election and replaced.
Gradually the day passed and everyone went home. The primary lesson the students taught was that the March is just the beginning, and that everyone’s homework is to stay involved, is to speak up, is to keep the momentum going—and is to never forget. I left that historical place feeling hopeful, inspired—and ashamed. I can’t forget the hope that I saw in the children’s faces; it makes inspired seem such an awful word, the need to be inspired by a movement that began by a reaction to another slaughter of innocent children. I’m ashamed that it’s come to this. But all we can do is move forward, hopefully building unity and strength as the movement grows and the false fear of people losing their second amendment rights is shown to be a lie made up by powerful, special-interest groups who care nothing if children die. The sign with the following slogan is what I’ll end with, because if this movement fails, it speaks what I fear will be our future. GUNS WILL BE THE DEATH OF U.S.
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