They came Saturday morning from all directions. Rivers of sign-toting chanters and marchers. Flowing from the east and west, off Spring and Hill streets, up and down West Fourth, Fifth and Sixth streets. They disembarked from public and private buses, hopped off the Metro at Pershing Square and followed the sea of humanity onto North Broadway toward City Hall.
As noon approached, the Los Angeles version of the nationwide, student-inspired and -led March for Our Lives to protest gun violence had drawn tens of thousands. They packed Grand Park in front of City Hall and overfilled the Broadway steps. And still they came, a stream stretching out down Broadway.
Saturday’s march was organized mainly by teenagers and survivors in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It came 10 days after a National School Walkout during which students across the country left their schools and observed 17 minutes of silence for the Florida victims.
Emblematic of the gathering were students Gabrielle Vargas, 17, and Aracely Sotelo, 16, of DaVinci RISE High School, who came with Jessica Sotelo, Aracely’s mother. Aracely Sotelo carried a sign decorated with images of 39 bullet holes; it said a gun can fire that many bullets faster than someone could read the sign. “We should be heard,” Sotelo said of students who have been ignored for too long. “We’re the generation that’s going to make a difference.”
Vargas said the proliferation of campus violence needs to stop. “We’ve grown into a situation where this kind of thing is normal,” she said. “People underestimate us. We have technology at our hands 24/7. We know a lot more than people think we do.”
Thousands had been expected at the march, but those estimates were dwarfed by the numbers who came to proclaim “enough is enough” and call for an end to the gun violence that has swept through schools increasingly since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, and even before at Jonesboro, Arkansas, a school shooting marking its 20th anniversary on Saturday.
Among the speakers Saturday were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, actress-comedian Amy Schumer and Black-ish star Yara Shahidi. Garcetti exhorted the crowd with chants of “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose lives? Our lives. Whose nation? Our nation.” He also touted California’s existing gun control measures and told President Donald Trump to “get with the program.”
Schumer reached out to the youth in the audience. “All of you have said, ‘No more.’ All here have learned so much from you. Thank you for teaching us,” she said.
Schumer also urged politicians to refuse donations from the National Rifle Association. “You can make a little less money and look in the mirror and know you don’t have blood on your hands,” she said. Otherwise, she added, “You’re digging the graves of those you are sworn to protect.”
For Shahidi, 18, who was accepted to Harvard to start classes in the fall, the Florida tragedy spurred her already extensive activism. A supporter of causes ranging from intersectional feminism to Black Lives Matter, Shahidi said, “People have the right to know we’re being protected, especially in a place dedicated to our education.”
She also praised students for forcing a global discussion on guns and violence.
Hundreds of marches Saturday drew massive and diverse crowds across the country, from New York to Los Angeles and across the Southland in cities including Long Beach and Burbank. In Washington, D.C., half a million youths and their supporters marched along Pennsylvania Avenue. Together they spoke a single message meant to rattle the walls and echo down the corridors of power: “Enough is enough.”
In Los Angeles, they were high schoolers, hipsters and old hippies. There were teens and their families, toddlers in strollers and the occasional family dog. They came from school, civic, social justice and religious groups.
Avery and Rob Clyde, of South Pasadena, brought their sons Kayson, 10, and Kieran, 4, to the march. “It’s simple, enough is enough,” Avery Clyde said, adding that it is a sad statement that children and teens are the one who have to educate their elders about the problem of campus violence. “I think adults are finally waking up to it,” she said. “My kids are going to be in high school one day and that scares me.”
Asked why he thought the event was important, Kayson Clyde said, “I don’t want to be afraid to go to school.” The fifth-grader said his school recently went through what was called a “soft lockdown,” which he said “was pretty scary.”
Avery Clyde said it was a sign of the times when she saw an announcement for an “active shooter protocol meeting” — at her younger son’s preschool.
Sprinkled through the crowd were volunteers encouraging those in attendance to register to vote. Amalia Walter and Ellie Reingold, 18-year-old freshmen at Pomona-Pitzer, took advantage of the opportunity, although they weren’t sure how much good it would do.
“It’s better than nothing,” Reingold said.
“It seems everything is going to shit at once,” Walter said.
Also at the march were many who have been affected by gun violence in various ways. Bill Reid of Rialto said his son, Jonathan Reid, was lucky to survive seven bullet wounds as a victim of the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center that killed 14 people and seriously injured 22.
Although Reid said he has never been a supporter of gun ownership, nearly losing his son has given the issue much deeper resonance for him.
On hand were representatives and survivors from other high profile shootings, including Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 students and six staff members were killed, and the Route 91 Harvest music festival massacre in Las Vegas, where 58 were killed and more than 850 injured.
One of those concertgoers, Shana Caputo, 52, from Thousand Oaks was there with her friend, Ellen Rivera. “I was in the killing zone,” said Caputo, referring to an area where much of the carnage occurred at the concert site. However, as harrowing as that was, she said, “When I heard about Parkland, something really changed in me.” Rivera added, “I felt like I was in the shooting all over again.”
Caputo said of the two events, “It’s completely changed my life. They say you can’t change someone. Well, here I am. I was a Republican,” and a gun supporter, she said.