Hundreds of people, ranging in age from those too young to walk to Dr. Anne Riley who described herself as “83 years old and still marching,” packed the Silver Spring Civic Center Saturday morning for pre-rally event prior to the national March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C.
The event, led by U.S Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), offered attendees a chance to gear up for the day’s march. Those who preregistered and paid $20 left the 90-minute rally and climbed aboard one of more than 25 buses that took them to the march in D.C.
Raskin and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who rode his bike to both the rally in Silver Spring and the national March in D.C., reminded the crowd that gun control is possible, noting that Maryland has passed several gun control laws, including criminal and mental background checks.
“We were besieged in Annapolis, and we prevailed. It can be done,” Frosh said.
The politicians’ remarks were short to allow young people to carry the day, Raskin explained, calling the assembled students “an army of peace and nonviolence.”
Emily Dohler Rodas, a senior at Albert Einstein High School, thanked Raskin for giving the teens the ability to carry the day. “Many of you have been great in having our back and not taking over,” she said.
Gun safety should not be a political issue, Olivia McCarren, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, told the crowd. “The truth is the bullet doesn’t know if the student is right, left or anywhere in between,” she said, declaring, “a weapon of war has no place in a school. The time for change is now.”
Many of the teenagers wore a sticker denoting the year they would be voting. Karen Elrich of Takoma Mobilization handed out the stickers, describing them as a reminder to those in power that the students will soon be voting.
“I will be 18, and I will be voting this year so my message to Congress is, if you don’t hear me now, trust me, in November, you sure will,” said Bianca Shah of Thomas S. Wootton High School.
Daniel Gelillo of Richard Montgomery High School, admitted he is afraid to go to school and that “enough is enough.”
Referring to political activists of the 1960s, Gelillo told his fellow students, “We need to be the Bobby Kennedys and Gene McCarthys. We need to be the one to stick our neck out.”
Angelique Wong of Rockville High School reminded the crowd that with each school shooting, more young people die. “If we don’t have youth, we don’t have a country.”
The rally’s most forceful speaker was Rev. William Barber, an activist from North Carolina who said school shootings must not be countered by teachers with guns. “Jesus told us those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”
The same politicians who want to arm teachers also want to cut funding for school and health care and limit access to the voting booths, he said.
“No one in this nation needs an assault weapon to protect themselves, nor do they need an assault weapon to hunt,” said Barber.
He accused all politicians who accept money from the National Rifle Association as taking blood money.
He criticized the Second Amendment, declaring it was created “to give slave masters the ability to kill black folks, and now it’s getting all of us killed.”
Many teachers were in the crowd, including Naomi Manzella from Norwood School in Bethesda, who carried the sign, “This teacher uses arms for hugging.”
The robotics and library teacher explained, “I was trained to be a teacher, not a sharpshooter.” She said she believed in “sensible gun control acts” and criticized the NRA for having its “hands wrapped around politicians for too long.”
Politicians were visible everywhere, including former Md. Gov. Martin O’Malley; Kathleen Matthews, chair of the state Democratic Party; County and local officials and those currently running for office.
Besides speeches, students from Montgomery Blair High School’s choir set the mood by singing, “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet, Love” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
While the speeches were going on, many people created posters. Others had brought posters with them. Topics ranged from anti-NRA and anti-Congressional statements to school safety.
One girl’s sign read, “My School’s Dress Code is Stricter Than our Country’s Gun Laws.” Another young person’s sign read, “Guns Have More Rights Than Me.” One young person wore a sign with a large target on it while yet another person carried the sign, “18th Century Laws Cannot Regulate 21st Century Weapons.”