Community members gathered by the hundreds on the corner of Monte Vista Avenue and Geer Road Saturday afternoon, spurred by the nationwide March for Our Lives movement to rally against gun violence.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started an uprising in protest of school shootings and in support of common sense gun legislation following the Feb. 14 shooting at their school, where a former student gunned down and killed 17 of their classmates and teachers.
A nationwide school walkout on March 14 marked the first form of activism by students, and the statement was followed by Saturday’s March for Our Lives. After coordinating a 17-minute walkout at Pitman High School where students reflected on the lives lost in Florida, students Frances Haydock, Alexia Avina, Makena Inghram and Morgan Haydock partnered with local progressive groups Our Revolution Turlock, Modesto Progressive Democrats and Be the Change Turlock to host a march in their hometown.
“I think because it happened to fellow students in high school, that was the breaking point for us,” Frances Haydock said. “We felt for them because we’re just like them in Florida, so that was the biggest thing that made us say, ‘Let’s do this.’”
On Saturday, there were over 800 March for Our Lives rallies across the nation. Haydock said that one of the march’s main goals is to change gun laws through voting, and a voter registration booth was set up at Turlock’s event.
“This next generation holds incredible power,” Our Revolution Turlock Cofounder Carrie Anne Castillo said. “When they come together, this generation will move mountains before they even move out.”
According to HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that promotes participation in democracy, thousands of people heeded the call for change Saturday. HeadCount volunteers alone registered more than 4,800 new voters at just 30 March for Our Lives events nationwide.
Haydock emphasized the importance of voting when she spoke at Turlock’s march, and called on attendees to elect politicians who will make a change.
“We are the future of this nation and of this world, and yet our pleas for change as of yet go unanswered by the politicians who are in the pocket of the NRA. I have a message for all of these cowardly politicians that when we turn 18, we will vote you out,” Haydock said. “We are the most powerful voting coalition in modern times and you should be terrified of us and our power. We are not afraid of you or your money and you do not represent us.”
So, what exactly were activists marching for on Saturday? Haydock explained to the large crowd that had gathered at Stanislaus State.
“We are here today to ask for several gun reforms which will make us safer,” she said.
High school students’ chief demands, Haydock stated, are a ban on all assault rifles and the raising of the age to purchase a firearm to 21. Students also ask that Congress close the loopholes in the country’s background check laws which allow people to get the gun they purchased within three days, even if the background check has not yet been completed.
“This policy makes it way too easy for people to get their hands on a gun, even if they shouldn’t have one,” Haydock said.
Before listening to Haydock and her classmates speak, participants in Turlock’s March for Our Lives marched from Geer Road down to Crowell Road. The group carried signs that said things like, “Love your kids, not your guns,” “Mass shootings are not natural disasters” and “Desks are for learning, not shielding.”
Though the march was organized by high schoolers, marchers varied in age. One marcher’s sign read, “Not one more. This grandma has had enough!”
Social media has allowed the movement to reach all demographics quicker than in the aftermath of other school shootings, said Avina, and Inghram added that this time, there is no end in sight for the effort to end gun violence.
“Our generation is at this point where we’ve had enough,” Inghram said.
With a walkout and a march already in the books, high school students will make their next move on April 20, when another day-long walkout is scheduled to remember the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.