An estimated 1,300 people in Durango marched along Main Avenue on Saturday in sync with hundreds more demonstrations around the country in a rallying cry against gun violence and a plea for safer schools.
Marchers gathered at Durango High School and made their way along the sidewalks of Main Avenue to Rotary Park as part of the national March For Our Lives movement. The crowd – from young to old – carried manufactured and homemade signs with pointed messages: “No more guns.” “Education is about learning, not survival.” “Girls’ clothing is more regulated than guns.”
The nationwide protests were organized in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, and less than five months after a gunman killed two students at Aztec High School.
Once at Rotary Park, the crowd gathered around the gazebo to listen to emotional messages from a mix of speakers.
DHS student Sophie Hughes, 17, channeled Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez with her buzzed hair and unflinching determination during her speech.
“The notion of mass shootings has become normal to me,” Hughes said.
“I am angry that guns are valued more than human lives in America. My generation has become the voice America needs.”
Many called on Congress to pass stricter gun-control laws, while others criticized the National Rifle Association, an organization they said has too much control over the U.S. government.
“I really don’t think it is a Republican-versus-Democrat issue,” said DHS student Aubrey Hirst, 17. “Gun culture has taken over America itself, and it’s preventing us from making a change. It’s kids like us that are going to step forward and make that change.”
At the forefront of the discussion was the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle used in many of the largest mass shootings in the United States, including in Parkland and in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.
“We need way stricter reforms on who’s allowed to buy weapons and the severity of the weapon itself,” said Fort Lewis College student Rosie Fox, 18. “High school-aged kids should not be able to buy semi-automatic weapons.”
FLC student Nikole Simecek, who is working toward receiving a teaching degree, was drawn to the rally as a future educator who could one day be faced with an active shooter situation.
“When I’m in the classroom, these kids are terrified, even here in Durango,” she said. “I think a lot of our lawmakers are very out-of-touch.”
Several ralliers said Saturday that politicians are dragging their feet on responding appropriately to gun violence. The notion of arming school teachers is a Band-Aid approach to fixing the problem, Hirst said.
“Their solutions will not work,” she said. “I’ve talked to my teachers at school, and they do not want to be armed. People are dying and we are sick of it.”
The students, many of them too young to vote, said they are not convinced lawmakers have their best interests in mind.
“There are a lot of people in office for the right reasons, but also others who are not,” said DHS student Lola Thomas, 16. “It’s important the youth are speaking out. We shouldn’t have to be worried about getting shot in school.”
The central march took place in Washington, D.C., and more than 800 other rallies were held throughout the country. By all appearances – there were no official numbers – Washington’s March for Our Lives rally rivaled the women’s march last year that drew far more than the predicted 300,000. Gonzalez, one of the first students from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to speak out after the tragedy there, implored ralliers in D.C. who are of voting age to vote.
In her speech, she recited the names of the Parkland dead, then held the crowd in rapt, tearful silence for more than six minutes, the time it took the gunman to kill them.
Since the bloodshed in Florida, students have tapped into a current of gun-control sentiment that has been building for years – yet still faces a powerful foe in the NRA, its millions of supporters and lawmakers who have resisted any encroachment on gun rights.
Organizers are hoping the electricity of the crowds, their sheer numbers and the under-18 roster of speakers will create a tipping point, starting with the midterm congressional elections this fall. To that end, chants of “Vote them out!” rang through the Washington crowd.
In Durango, student organizers found support from adults, including speakers state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango; Durango Mayor Dick White; City Councilor Sweetie Marbury; and Durango School District 9-R board member Stephanie Moran.
“Enough is enough,” McLachlan said.
“These students are going to change the world. No student should have to get up and say, ‘I’m afraid to go to school.’ No parent should have to wonder if when they kiss their child goodbye, they are coming back that night.”
The Durango Police Department said the march was mostly peaceful. Officers received two reports of a car attempting to drive through the crowd at two intersections, said Sgt. Nick Stasi.
Marcher Dinah Swan told The Durango Herald on Saturday afternoon that she was in the small group of people the car tried to ram through. The first time the car attempted it, a volunteer crossing guard stopped and re-routed the car. The second time, Swan said, the car headed toward the group without stopping. She said had people not jumped back, the car would have hit one or more of them.
“We were not able to locate or positively identify the vehicle,” Stasi said.
“We did not have any other police incidents related to the march.”
The Associated Press contributed to this email@example.com.