The strident beams of the rising sun were cast through the bus as we crossed a river somewhere in Maryland. Despite a muted 4:00 a.m. alarm, tired fumbling in the vacant bathroom, and regrettably knocking on the door of a poor friend who nearly missed the report time — I reflect on this orange-tinted encounter as the waking moment of what would become a truly unforgettable day. Our arrival in D.C. was shortly thereafter, and the grueling earliness of our departure was betrayed by a mounting sense of energy — helped, of course, by some generous snacking and the chilly tinge in the air as we disembarked the bus. We were on a sleepy side-street, animated by sparse gatherings of marchers migrating toward the Mall. Soon we joined this pilgrimage of signs-under arms and jackets zipped-high, as Pennsylvania Avenue awaited on the other side, and the participants were already converging in force.
I am not reserved, and in fact find it necessary to admit that I was a bit nervous by then, not to mention in the days preceding Saturday, March 24. I had never participated in a march or a protest of any kind before, let alone in an event of this magnitude and coverage. I knew that we were marching for a cause which was controversial, charged, and complicated, and I expected this to become apparent as we maneuvered our way into (quite literally) the center of national attention. And so, entering the street, we joined a crowd with as many signs as there were heads, the pulsing of music from towers of speakers joined by panning images of protestors on the jumbotrons. It quickly became evocative of a concert for me, but a very different animal in that sense — after all, we were hoisting the message, with the nation and its lawmakers our audience.
I was immediately struck not only by the volume of signs but also by the diversity of messages they delivered. While the binding call for gun control was ubiquitous, the marchers represented a plethora of telling issues behind the problem, whether by appealing to the hallmark phrases of the movement, attacking the prospects of arming schools, articulating the gun dilemma of the inner-cities, targeting the empty promises of politicians, clarifying the second amendment and its disparities, berating the institutional corruption that informs the pervasiveness of gun culture, or inventing a few clever and cutting memes to satirize social and political motives.
This consolidated array of issues regarding gun policy in America was echoed as the speakers took the stage to amplify our forces. By now, the earlier reservations I expressed had perished, consumed by a sense of solidarity with the crowd, a sense of uniformity and purpose and conviction with the words that echoed down the street. In these moments the message was communicated to me, and I hope to others, that the issue of guns in America exceeds the atrocity of school shootings on which this movement was prompted; just as the signs were diverse, an array of speakers represented their causes, speaking for the neglected streets of DC, LA, speaking of the laxness of gun laws, the poverty of schools, and the infestation of security which so many in our removed and privileged circles overlook. While undeniably jarring, this was also empowering, to know that the students who admitted their capacities to host this movement were also giving voice to the voiceless — they used their platform to expound understanding of the intolerable dangers faced not only in schools and public venues, but in places of socioeconomic exclusion, the gun an indubitable common denominator.
This, for me, became one of the resounding messages of the day. Captured in the calls of youthful activists, it gave me confidence in the prospects of our generation, not only to sober America’s parasitic gun culture, but to create a more equitable, collaborative, and less complacent society. This was accentuated in the street, where I saw displays of solidarity, inclusivity, maturity, and conscientiousness that affirmed the conviction by which we mobilized ourselves (although the NRA would probably tell you otherwise).
To have been a part of this milestone for change is something that I will never forget. In the end, I think what’s most important is that we keep the conversation going.