“When Will Enough Be Enough?” read one of countless signs hoisted in a crowd of activists who came to the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Saturday. The event, conceived after last month’s mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman High School, drew a crowd of more than 200,000. With wrenching speeches and musical performances by Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others, the day took on the feel of civic performance; a plea to the country through television. But in the crowd, the march was also a feverish, populist scrum, with parents, students, teachers, children – and inevitably, survivors of the dead – mobilizing to express a personal message, sometimes exasperation, sometimes heartbreak, sometimes outrage.
In the early hours, students poured out of Washington’s metro stations. “It’s the first time our age group has really entered into the conversation,” Krystal Perotti, a young high school teacher in New York and graduate of Sandy Hook High School tells Rolling Stone. “I think we’ve become much better organized [since Sandy Hook],” she adds. She had arrived with the activist group Sandy Hook Promise: At the end of the block stood a team organizer, waving marchers through crosswalks like drum majors. “Organization matters,” she went on. “We know that policy change is not going to happen overnight.”
Just like their parents, millennials’ views on guns, according to polls, are decidedly mixed. While activists poured into Pennsylvania Avenue, a long line of high school students assembled outside Ford’s Theater (where Lincoln was shot) – a school field trip from Huron, Ohio. A few crimson “Make America Great Again” hats dotted the line. “Absolutely not,” said one junior, Max, who wore the hat and was surrounded by male buddies, when asked if he supported the marchers. “They can go ahead and march, but it’s not going to do much.”
Guns are more common in Huron, the group explained; “Like that time under your grandfather’s bed!” one student shouted. He hooked a thumb at a young boy. “He was looking for Easter Eggs, and under his grandfather’s bed was an AR-15.” The boy shuffled nervously. “Actually, it was an AK-47,” he replied, a murmur met with nervous laughter. Finally, one freshman, eyeing the protestors who marched by, spoke up. “Who really needs this giant ass rifle just to defend their home?” he asked. “I perfectly support people having guns. But they don’t need these big war machines.”
If speaking out was the measure of success, then the March For Our Lives fulfilled its mission. Getting the country to listen, though, will be difficult, and legislating a solution harder still. “But look around you,” said one woman in a volunteer’s uniform. “Thousands of teenagers are out protesting. On a Saturday.” Her words were quickly drowned out in the chants of “Vote Them Out,” and her face fell behind a sign that read, “We: March. You: Listen.” For a time on Saturday, it felt as though the country just might.
Rolling Stone captured a few of the marchers, signs and messages below.
All photos by Jessica Lehrman