“It should have ended with us”

  • Salli Garrigan, Columbine shooting survivor.

Five weeks ago, 17 students and teachers were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, another tragic school shooting. That tragedy prompted students across the nation to start a movement to stop the violence and encourage gun control legislation and forever put an end to school shootings. The movement culminated in a massive national protest demanding gun control legislation on March 24th, 2018, appropriately titled “March For Our Lives.”

The main march took place in Washington D.C, with over 700 sister marches popping up all over the country. In Denver’s Civic Center Park, a rally of several thousand people started at 2 pm, prior to the march. The rally saw various speakers take the stage passionately conveying their  message demanding change.

Speakers included shooting survivors, parents of survivors, friends and loved ones. The last person to speak was Maddie King, a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Like many other speakers that day, she addressed our political leaders. “My friends are dead. People are dying,” she said. “You aren’t doing anything.”

There were people gathered as far as the eye could see, holding up signs with sayings like “Thoughts and prayers do not stop bullets,” and “Drop the guns not the kids.” The crowd of onlookers was made up  of children, students, parents, teachers and concerned citizens. After asking various protesters in the crowd what one thing would help stop the epidemic of school shootings, I heard “No more AR-15s.” “Universal background checks.” “A mandatory waiting period.” And this seems to fit with what the general public also believes.

The latest national Quinnipiac University poll showed that two-thirds of Americans support a ban on assault rifles. In addition, the poll showed  97% of Americans would support a universal background check. And yet, as the Parkland students pointed out, “nothing has been done.” At one point, the entire crowd chanted “Show me what democracy looks like”. And that message was loud and clear!. There were people everywhere running around with clipboards, encouraging students to register to vote. People were holding up signs urging students to take their future into their own hands and the message was clear. “Listen to what we have to say, or we will vote you out.”

I spoke to the mother of a young boy who held a sign saying “We have the right to live”. While talking to her, she started crying. “As a mother, I don’t want to have to live in fear of my children getting shot when I send them to school,” she said. I also spoke to a group of students who were all 16-17 years old. They all had the same message. “In 2 years, all of us will be able to vote. We need to show that there has been a huge shift in public opinion and we are tired of dying while the adults don’t do anything about it. We are the future, and we can make a difference.”

And in the end, that is what this march was about. It was not about red vs. blue. It was about us as students recognizing that something, anything, needs to be done.

Author and journalist Hunter S Thompson once wrote “We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave”, to illustrate the feelings of the late 1960s, during the Vietnam protests. He followed that passage up saying “So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”. This passage so perfectly captures the spirit of the 1960s, which was the last time we had a flood of national protests inspired by young people. It was the last time we had an overwhelming sense that we were fighting, and not just that, but that we were fighting for what was right.

However, this passage also portrays the ultimate failure and crushed dreams that this movement left behind when the wave “broke and rolled back”. Tom Mauser, father of Daniel Mauser, who was killed in the Columbine shooting, said “This is your Vietnam” when he spoke at the march, and that really rings true. Seeing all the people my age becoming politically active, registering to vote, educating themselves on the issues and then showing up to a peaceful, yet so incredibly powerful protest, gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, we won’t let the wave roll back. That maybe we won’t let this momentum die. That we can make a difference.

River Lathers is a Senior at Middle Park High School working as an intern at the Winter Park Times.