Flanked by three fellow Montgomery County high school students, Matt Post strode confidently to the podium on a stage on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., and faced the hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and races that had gathered for Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally.
“My name is Matt Post. I’m a 12th grader and a student member of the [school] board from Montgomery County, Maryland,” the Sherwood High School student said to loud cheers after introducing the founding members of MoCo Students for Gun Control: senior Brenna Levitan of Montgomery Blair High School, sophomore Michael Solomon of Springbrook High School and sophomore Nate Tinbite of John F. Kennedy High School.
“You and I gather at a time of moral crisis for our country. We stand at a moment when our nation’s laws are not guided by what is right or wrong, not by what is morally sound for the many, but instead is limited by the insatiable greed of a few,” he told the crowd, many waving signs bearing messages about gun control. “In their greed, the gun lobby and their politicians have tried to deflect and distract us. They’ve tried to twist what is so clearly a gun issue into anything else. But we won’t fall for it. We know that to only focus on school safety instead of American safety is to dismiss the thousands of tragedies in between the massacres.”
Post and the other county student leaders of a local movement advocating for more gun control had been invited to speak by the rally’s student organizers after all four captured national attention March 14 as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and spoke to the sea of teens who had gathered there.
Crowd members at the March for Our Lives on Saturday. Credit: Amanda Perelli
Post’s message Saturday was echoed repeatedly by a long list of student speakers, including several from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where students began organizing to protest gun violence and call for stricter gun control laws after a gunman killed 17 in a Valentine’s Day rampage. Since the shooting, students have walked out of schools across the country to protest gun violence. Saturday’s rally was the third attended by students from Montgomery County; more than 1,000 had walked out and traveled to the Capitol on Feb. 21 and more than 2,500 left classes March 14 to gather at the White House to observe 17 minutes of violence for the Parkland victims.
During Saturday’s three-hour rally, children as young as 11 years old from communities across the country, including Chicago, South Los Angeles and the District, spoke movingly of their experiences with gun violence and the loss of family members and friends who had been shot. Parkland high school student Emma Gonzalez silenced the crowd as she spoke of each student gunned down at her school and then led an emotional moment of silence—appearing for a total of six minutes and 20 seconds, the same amount of time it took for the gunman to kill her classmates.
The students’ impassioned speeches, many accompanied by tears, were woven into a seamless program that included videos, some depicting scene from previous mass shootings and statistics about gun deaths, and performances by celebrities including singers Miley Cirus, Ariana Grande, and Jennifer Hudson, rapper Common and Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame and Ben Platt, star of Broadway smash Dear Evan Hanson.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) was a prime target of the speakers, who urged the crowd repeatedly to stand up to the powerful gun group and to vote out of office those who take its money and who won’t support stricter gun control laws. While people mostly listened quietly as the students told their stories, chants of “Vote Them Out” and “Enough is Enough” would occasionally ripple through the crowd and swell in volume.
“We’re going to have to have some courage to fix this,” Post told the crowd during his speech. “It’s going to take some will. So let me ask: Is there a will to keep these weapons of war off our streets? Is there a will to break the stranglehold of the NRA? Then stand up, speak up, register to vote. If we sustain our efforts, if we keep our heads up now, who can stop us? If we march today, canvas tomorrow, vote 227 days from now, we will make this a turning point for our country.”
Throughout Montgomery County, residents traveled to D.C. to the rally, which kicked off shortly after noon, or protested locally. Nearly 900 people joined U.S. Rep. Jaime Raskin for an early morning gathering in downtown Silver Spring. Standing in front of a packed room at the Silver Spring Civic Center, Raskin and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh spoke of the need for gun control. They were joined by the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, an activist who explained the intersectionality of institutionalized racism, religion and gun violence, before the crowd boarded 20 school buses and headed to D.C.
Near Chevy Chase Elementary School, families gathered with their signs in the morning as they prepared to make the trip into D.C., while at Leisure World in Silver Spring, residents of the community for those aged 55 and older were planning to support those rallying in D.C. by holding their own march on the sidewalk of Georgia Avenue.
Students near Chevy Chase Elementary School get ready to head to D.C., left. The kids took another group photo once they'd arrived downtown. Credit: Vladimir López-Bassols
In the District, Blair students Eric Feigen and Aidan Lambiotte handed out stickers as the crowd gathered for the rally. The stickers were labeled with dates such as 2018 and 2019 to illustrate the year in which a rally attendee would be eligible to vote. Blair junior Marlena Tyldesley came up with the idea with her family and produced the sticker with the help of donated funds.
“These stickers symbolize when high school students can vote and we’re passing them out to show Congress and everyone the years that we can vote and the years we’re going to try get gun legislation passed and we can finally get people out of office,” said Feigen, 16, who held two large rolls of stickers printed with “2019”.
Feigen, who had marched with county students in the two walkouts, said he was inspired by the size of the crowd at Saturday’s event.
“This march is different from the other two, which is really amazing because the other two have been only kids,” he said. “So it’s great that we have all these other adults and just everyone like the whole community coming out to support us. It feels like, you know, all of you guys have our backs and it’s really amazing. It’s a great feeling.”
Scenes from the march. Credit: Amanda Perelli.