Standing before thousands of people on Christopher Columbus Boulevard on Saturday, sophomore political science major Benjamin Aitoumeziane spoke about the importance of gun control.
“My message to the Baby Boomer legislators who think more guns is the solution: Start packing,” said Aitoumeziane, who is the director of external affairs for Temple College Democrats, in his speech. “For all of the young people who are ready to make change: Run for office, protest, make noise, get arrested and, most importantly, vote.”
Protesters met at the corner of 5th and Market streets on Saturday to participate in March For Our Lives Philadelphia, one of more than 800 marches held across the globe to protest gun violence and call for gun control.
These marches were spurred by the advocacy of students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14 that left 17 dead. Students from the school organized the national march in Washington, D.C, which drew hundreds of thousands of people.
Attendees marched through Old City, stopping near South Street and Columbus Boulevard for a rally with speakers including Sen. Bob Casey and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Student organizers of the Philadelphia march, like 16-year-old Ethan Block, a sophomore at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, New Jersey, also spoke.
“What we’re doing here today is not something that everybody will forget about in a week,” Block said during his speech. “This is not something that flies under the radar and goes unnoticed. What we’re doing here today will go down in history.”
Hunter-Willow Jones, an incoming freshman, said she felt emboldened by the fact that high school students are spearheading the movement against gun violence.
“It’s because it is completely student-run,” Jones said. “That’s what makes this protest different.”
For Janae Whaley, a freshman education major, the march was an inspiring moment.
“As an education major, this is a big deal to me,” Whaley said. “It’s just really empowering to be a part of a young generation rising up against what’s going on.”
That sentiment was echoed by countless attendees at the march and rally.
A group of girls who attend John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School near Spring Garden marched because they are hopeful that their voices can make a difference.
“This is one of the only ways we can voice our opinions without any repercussions,” said 16-year-old DeOvionne Brown.
“We are the future,” said Brown’s classmate, Madeline Urbine. “It’s really empowering. We have the power to make a change.”
Speakers at the march emphasized the importance of gun reform legislation, voting presence and equal media coverage of all types of gun violence, not just school shootings.
Block called for “extensive reform” and said that supporters of the movement “will not settle for baby steps” toward stricter gun laws.
Shapiro said he supports the movement to end gun violence — whether it’s in schools or in Philadelphia neighborhoods.
“We gather here in a city where we saw 300-plus homicides on our streets last year,” Shapiro said during the rally. “I have a very simple message today: It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Representatives from organizations like HeadCount, which works with musicians to promote democratic participation, encouraged participants to register to vote along the route and at the rally.
Many members of the audience were reduced to tears when the father of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student and survivor, Mark Timpone, took the stage to share a part of his son’s experience at the school on Feb. 14.
“My son bumped into the shooter in the stairwell,” Timpone said. “[He] was busy reloading, and my son ran back up the stairs and a teacher unlocked the classroom door for him and one other student. If there was one more round in that 30-round magazine, my son might have died that day.”
Prior to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, Timpone said he owned an AR-15 rifle, which he purchased from an unlicensed dealer at a Fort Lauderdale gun show. He purchased the gun legally, but it was not registered with law enforcement.
Timpone expressed his remorse to a silent crowd.
“Was it wrong?” he said. “Yes, and I own that.”
A few days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Timpone said he surrendered his rifle to authorities.
Several other speakers at the march, including 1996 Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumna Rebecca Salus, referenced a quote from the high school’s namesake about the significance of activism at the beginning of her speech.
Douglas, an American journalist, was an active advocate for issues like women’s suffrage until her death in 1998 at 108 years old.
“Be a nuisance where it counts,” the quote reads. “Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics. But never give up.”
“Who could have known the meaning her words would hold for her namesake high school and for an entire generation of students?” Salus said.
UPDATE: A quotation from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been revised to reflect accurate information.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the article that was printed in The Temple News’ March 27 issue.