As hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of demonstrators called for gun reform at March for Our Lives events across the country and the world today, a huge crowd marched through downtown Raleigh to add their voices to the cause.
According to Faisal Khan, one of the event's organizers, about ten thousand enthusiastic protesters marched along Fayetteville Street before gathering at Halifax Mall, near the state legislative building, where state representatives, teachers, veterans, and students rallied the crowd and spoke about their personal experiences with gun violence.
The National Rifle Association's grip on American politics was a central theme. Protesters and speakers pointed out that they believed the gun lobbying group was prioritizing money over children's lives and argued that politicians' willingness to accept money from the organization was equally detestable. (North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, are top recipients of the NRA’s largesse; the organization gave Burr more than $7 million and Tillis more than $4.5 million. Both of them have done the radical gun-rights group’s bidding.)
Others decried what they saw as the absurd solutions state lawmakers have put forth as options for combatting gun violence. Those include proposed initiatives to arm teachers, which House Speaker Tim Moore said he could not rule out as an idea to be pursued by the legislature's new school safety committee.
Through tears, Del Lancaster, a teacher at Joyner Elementary School, told the crowd, "The only thing giving a teacher a gun does is put more money in the pockets of gun manufacturers, and I for one will not stand for it."
He continued, "This state has done very little in the past ten years to fund public education. Don't you tell me now that you have the money to buy a weapon, a lethal weapon, when you can't buy those children over there books."
Lancaster joins 78 percent of teachers across North Carolina who say that arming teachers is not a good idea.
In an impassioned and heartfelt speech, Gerald Givens Jr., a veteran and leader at the Raleigh-Apex branch of the NAACP, told demonstrators that he has lost six family members to gun violence and that he wants citizens to hold their politicians accountable for doing nothing to stop gun violence.
"All of you students, parents, and community members here today, we don't stay home in fear. We choose courage and determination when fighting for what's right in facing oppression, ignorance, and violence," Givens said.
March for Our Lives was created in the wake of last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed seventeen students and faculty. A group of outspoken young survivors from the attack refused to let their classmates die in vain or wait for yet another massacre to strike an American school. And their grassroots movement hasn't shown any sign of slowing down.
Raleigh's march—a sister event to a massive rally in Washington, D.C.—was also envisioned and planned by young students who are fearful that their schools could be the next site of a shooting. Lauren Smith and Amber Mitchell, both fifteen-year-old Wake County students, decided to take matters into their own hands after reflecting on the countless mass shootings that they've grown up with.
"We just knew that it could happen to us at our school, and I think this has really stuck with us because it's become more evident that this can happen again," Mitchell explained. "I just want people to know that, you know, things may seem big, but if just one person has a goal and gets other people involved, we can get things happening."
The D.C. event saw a particularly poignant moment when Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez stood in silence after reading off the names of those who were gunned down at her school. Watch it here.