Students march in gun control rally
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Yesterday, I held 17-year-old victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Joaquin Oliver’s picture as I marched with 61 protestors from around the county through the streets of Ybor. Oliver just became a naturalized US citizen in January of 2017 but never had the opportunity to vote. He had hopes and aspirations. He was a child who had a family whom he loved and loved him. He said that his mother and grandmother shaped him and that he would be nothing without them. But now he is gone. This young, passionate man had his future stolen from him. I felt my anger intensify and I shouted with my fellow students to put guns down and to stop the influence of funding from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
In the back corner of Centennial Park, I watched students speak in awe. As they spoke, I felt chills run up my body. Although I did not speak at this rally, watching other students’ rage induce well versed speeches, tears and action against injustice in our society was truly inspiring. Even though they are not old enough to vote, they are still finding ways to make their voices heard.
Freshman Aedan Bennett and juniors Alex Barrow, Patrick Lewicki, Delaney Holloway and Morgan Nystrom, along with three students from other schools, held posters of victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The crowd was much smaller compared to the last rally, but the students who spoke did not fail to earn applause and cheers from the audience.
“I call upon you to take action, to not let this movement die out like the others,” junior Alex Barrow said. “This one is different. It is an ongoing battle that must be fought, for we must win this war. We cannot allow for our fellow students, our friends, our family, to become just numbers, statistics, like so many others have in these tragedies.”
As organizer Safiyyah Ameer, a freshman at Blake High School, held the microphone, Plant High School junior Laz Vasquez sang and played guitar to “Imagine” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In the audience, people recorded, sang and swayed to his performances. Both songs were written in a time when young activists helped lead the way. “Blowin’ in the Wind,” became an anthem for black people during the Civil Rights movement. During this time, Martin Luther King was in his 20s and 30s and he led the movement. “Imagine” was written amid the Vietnam War as a call for unity. Students also led the Vietnam war protests. The songs were appropriate to the cause as they assert the need for peace.
As a group, we marched along the path that the organizers, including Barrow, had scouted and walked through prior to the march. We carried the photos of the victims as well as posters that said: “Make America safe, ban assault weapons” and “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE” and shouted chants to end gun violence. Amplified by bull horns and speakers, our voices boomed along the streets. I have never felt more empowered than I did as I marched with other students and heard the honks and encouragement from passersby.
When we sat in the middle of a street and halted traffic, we continued to shout and fell in unison. Around me, protestors had intense expressions of fury, while some smiled as they observed the solidarity of our community and schools within the county.
No one was arrested, but tensions arose with the police. Although the police commanded students to march on the sidewalks, many remained on the streets until they brought out bicycles and were forced to move. I followed their orders, but never stopped chanting at the top of my lungs, until I was out of breath. A police officer apologized later but said his purpose was to protect the students.
Once we returned to the park, we all cheered and received bottles of water from the organizers, much earned after numerous students lost their voices.
On March 24, there will be a larger protest, also assembled by Ameer.
“We have not reached our goals yet,” she said. “We have to keep on making sure that our voices are heard, keep on organizing, keep on marching and protesting until we see that action.”