Students, faculty join national movement protesting for gun control
March 28, 2018
“Hey-hey! Ho-ho! The NRA has got to go!”
“Enough is enough! Enough is enough!”
“Rain rain go away! Take away the NRA!”
“No more silence, end gun violence!”
The shouts rang out as the wave of brightly colored windbreakers and ponchos surged forward. The air was cluttered with flags and homemade signs — red paint dripped down sheets of white paper, and swirling calligraphy sparkled in the sun. Gradually, each distinct chant coalesced into a resounding roar as protesters spilled into the street. The march had begun.
Inspired by the #NeverAgain movement and the student-led activism following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), which left 17 dead and over a dozen wounded, Saturday’s international March for Our Lives protest, a movement organized and led by student activists, called for an end to gun violence through tighter gun control and regulation.
City centers including the Civic Center in San Francisco and the City Hall in San Jose were flooded with marchers of all backgrounds as residents from around the Bay Area took to the streets to protest federal gun legislation.
Joining the movement, numerous Harker students including Anika Banga (12), Megan Huynh (12), Sumi Wadhwa (12), Olivia Long (12), Jerrica Liao (12), Krishna Bheda (12), Esha Deokar (11), Haris Hosseini (11), Zachary Hoffman (11), Jennifer Hayashi (11), Avi Gulati (10), Alicia Xu (10), Anika Tiwari (10), Anya Gert (10), Sejal Krishnan (10), Meona Khetrapal (9) and history teacher Byron Stevens. Among Harker journalism, Prameela Kottapalli (11), Nicole Chen (11), Kathy Fang (10), Kaitlin Hsu (12), Sahana Srinivasan (12), Vijay Bharadwaj (12), Katherine “Kat” Zhang (11), Devanshi Mehta (11), Eric Fang (10), Irina Malyugina (9), Farah Hosseini (9) and Vivian Jin (9) attended the march.
“I hope that this march shows our country that we’re not backing down from this issue and this isn’t something that’s fleeting or temporary,” Haris said. “If politicians are going to continue to support legislation that makes access to guns easy, we’ll just vote them out. We are the future.”
Earlier this month, at the March 14 vigil, student council invited students and faculty to sign up for the March for Our Lives as a sign of solidarity and support for the students of MSD High School. Posters around campus have also been encouraging students to participate in the march in the weeks prior to the march.
“I got really inspired by the Parkland students after the shooting, how they decided to begin their own movement, completely student-led and student-run,” said Megan, a member of the outreach committee of the March for Our Lives. “Seeing such a big group of students caring about one singular issue would definitely motivate Congress to take some action, hopefully, and if not, we’re all able to vote next year in the upcoming election.”
On an international level, participants voiced their support for increased American gun regulation in over 800 satellite marches across the world, in cities including Washington, D.C., the center of the movement; New York City; London; Sydney; Buenos Aires; Tel Aviv; Manila and Accra, Ghana.
“We still have guns in the UK, but after a similar incident that happened in an elementary school, we really tightened our gun laws. We haven’t had any incidents since,” attendance coordinator Sue Prutton, who is from the United Kingdom and attended the San Jose march, said. “We [Americans] need to take a close look at guns. I think I’m just incredibly proud of the students for stepping up and doing what so many of us adults should really have been willing to do in the first place.”
Standing by the side of Harker students were students from schools across the Bay Area as a surge of student-led activism sweeps the country and culminates in Saturday’s marches.
“I just really believe in the cause, honestly,” San Jose marcher Meona said. “I feel like we’re all receiving more power. We should take that chance and show the power that we all have.”
March for Our Lives San Jose
At San Jose, students, teachers and allies alike marched from the City Hall to Arena Green, where a dozen speakers ranging from high school activists and survivors of gun violence to military veterans and local government officials called for reform in gun legislation. Among the speakers at the rally was Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of of California’s 19th Congressional District, who urged attendees to support the state representatives who would champion their causes.
“I think I was invited because of the pin I’m wearing. It’s a capital red F — that’s my rating from the NRA,” Lofgren said, prompting cheers and shouts. “We need to take steps to ban assault weapons, to limit magazine capacities, for universal background checks, enhanced background checks, waiting periods, red flags. We need to ask our Congress members to earn that F rating.”
Santa Clara University sophomore Helen Kassa delivered an impassioned speech emphasizing the unity of the movement and the necessity to keep fighting.
“People can do anything as long as they have the bravery, the willingness, the courage or the audacity to do it,” Kassa said during the rally. “Today is about the power of this coalition of all races, genders, sexual orientations, religious backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and all walks of life.”
Lining the sides of the stage were food trucks and booths with merchandise. Representatives from the League of Women Voters also roamed the crowd, asking high-school students to pre-register to vote.
Speakers urged attendees to become politically active by voting in the upcoming midterm elections and supporting the politicians who would fight for their causes in local, state and national legislatures. Prospect High School senior Hiwad Haider closed the rally by calling for students to vote in the upcoming elections — and for the rest of their lives.
“Register to vote, actually vote, turn out to vote and vote your conscience because the way you vote is the way you think is going to keep you safe and the way you think is going to stop all these mass shooting, all these tragedies, from happening,” Hiwad said. “Right now, we’re not safe. Whether California, Nevada, Florida, New York, Maryland — another school shooting in Maryland just four days ago — we’re not safe.”
March for Our Lives San Francisco
Although the protest in San Francisco followed a slightly different agenda with speakers heading a rally at the Civic Center Plaza prior to the student-led march down Market Street, the turnout and participants of the protest were no less spirited in their cries for reform.
“We shouldn’t have to be here, but when the government doesn’t do their job, we’re here to show them that we don’t want to sit by anymore,” rally speaker and freshman at Crystal Springs Uplands School Maya Segal said. “We’re here to show them that we are sick and tired of constantly being afraid of guns, and that we won’t stop fighting until they’re no longer a threat.”
Impassioned chants echoed down Market Street as crowds of protesters marched towards the Embarcadero Plaza, about two miles away from the rally. At the front of the line were students bearing a banner that read “No More Deaths,” with Jason Chen, a freshman at Lowell High School and the head student organizer of the San Francisco march who led the chant “No more silence, end gun violence!”
“The turnout is great,” Chen said. “All these people are in San Francisco to show their support for the youth, to show their support for gun control. Students are leading the charge across the nation.”
While marching down Market Street, protesters held up creative posters sporting a variety of slogans and phrases. From signs emblazoned with “protect our lives, not guns” to posters inscribed with “arms are for hugging,” demonstrators of all ages found a creative way to channel their activism.
Marcher Janie Pinterits took a more unconventional route than most with her protest sign, bringing along a fourteen-foot-tall puppet poster adorned with golden poppies. The design was chosen for the poppies’ symbolic significance as California’s state flower.
“It’s a pretty intersectional crowd. I think we see people from a variety of races and ethnicities. What I also see is a span of socioeconomic class. I see some representation of the LGBT community as well,” Pinterits said. “I think this is really crucial: We have to be working together to be more effective in the change that we’re seeking.”
While both the San Jose and the San Francisco marches were largely coordinated by individual professionals and activists on Facebook, the pulse of the movement rested in student-led political activism.
“I was tired of seeing this over and over again. I knew that if I didn’t do something about this, it would just be another Sandy Hook, another Columbine. Nothing would change, so I was inspired and I wanted to do something,” said senior David Lei of Prospect High School, who served as the lead coordinator of March For Our Lives San Jose. “It’s not just gun control, it’s a bigger problem. We have to rally and fight against the things that oppress us, that are doing harm to our country.”
Sophomore Avi Gulati marched at San Jose with friends to advocate not just for gun control, but also for women’s rights. In his hand he held a poster stating: “A woman’s body should not be more regulated than guns.” In the end, Avi believes the movement and its organizers inspired him to become more involved in political action.
“I’m never going to forget this day in my life because like the women’s march, it means so much,” Avi said. “The speakers today, the rally chants, everything just came together in this powerful, poignant manner, and the Prospect students did a great job organizing this. I think this march is a great catalyst for social advocacy among teenagers like me that are passionate and have a voice.”
We the Students: March for Our Lives San Jose’s student activists on why they organized the event
1:30 p.m. Exactly on schedule, Prospect High School senior Hiwad Haider descended the stairs from the makeshift stage in front of the San Jose City Hall, closely followed by his classmates and fellow organizers. They tumbled onto the crisp, dewy grass in a tangle of windbreaker-clad arms, dancing to the beat of Ray Dalton and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.”
Amidst the sea of protesters on the rain soaked grass, Harker senior Megan Huynh joined the crowd in shouting various chants, with a homemade poster in hand and a March for Our Lives button pinned to her black shirt. Her poster, which read “Watch out NRA: our generation votes next,” matched Hiwad’s message onstage.
“Seeing such a big group of students caring about one singular issue would definitely motivate Congress to take some action, hopefully, and if not, we’re all able to vote next year in the upcoming election,” Megan said. “We’d definitely be able to get aware about which pieces of legislation to vote for, which Congressmen are supported by the NRA, things like that, and use our vote to create action.”
During the weeks before the march, Megan worked with students from several other Bay Area high schools as a member of the outreach committee behind the March for Our Lives San Jose. Earlier in the month, she also helped coordinate a vigil at the upper school, during which 17 students delivered speeches in honor of the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“What we do is try to publicize the march,” she said. “I put the fliers up around campus with Sumi, and we put fliers and handed out letters to stores in downtown San Jose to let them know the march is happening, things like that.”
Off to the side of the stage, lead coordinator of the march and Prospect senior David Lei broke away from the huddle of March for Our Lives t-shirts to chat with a parent standing nearby. The students seemed to heave a collective sigh — the march that they had worked around the clock to organize since the shooting was over.
Rummaging through his car trunk in the aftermath of the march, David was no longer the imposing figure that opened the San Jose rally. Yet, his serious demeanor and quiet passion remained the same.
“In the wake of tragedy, I was tired of seeing this over and over again, and I knew that if I didn’t do something about this that it would just be another Sandy Hook, it would just be another Columbine. Nothing would change after it,” David said.
For David, public appearances aren’t abnormal — as a member of Prospect High School’s football team and the executive president of ASB, he’s been used to the spotlight. This march, however, was his first foray into politics.
“I’ve always thought the same as the status quo, which is the government is stupid, and I shouldn’t get involved because nothing is going to get done. But, after this [march], it really opened our eyes because it’s not true,” David said. “We do have a voice and we can make a change.”
In contrast, fellow Prospect High School senior and organizer Hiwad Haider is no stranger to social activism. He volunteered to phone bank and canvass for Ash Kalra, a California state assemblyman in addition to working as an officer on Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s student advisory board this year. In the end, Hiwad emphasized that gun control is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Instead, he explained that policies such as the second amendment must adjust to the times and the amount of harm they may potentially create.
“We’re kids for a solution, we’re not kids from a blue state or a red state,” Hiwad said. “Whether you’re a gun advocate or a gun control advocate, we’ll protect your second amendment, we’ll protect what our founding fathers put forth — so long as it keeps us safe because right now, we’re not safe, and we know that.”
More than anything, Hiwad believes in the importance of independent student activism and its ability to create change.
“I’m not speaking on anyone else’s platform,” Hiwad said. “We’re all here, we’re all kids, and we’re all speaking on our own platform because we want to feel safe, and we don’t want that threat anymore.”