Thousands of people marched through the streets of St. Louis and all over the world Saturday, urging lawmakers to take action on gun reform.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, inspired the country to participate in March for our Lives after 17 of their classmates’ lives were taken on February 14. There were over 800 sister marches to the foundational march held in Washington D.C.
The march in downtown St. Louis filled the streets with over 10,000 people of all ages. As they marched, the crowd, led by local students, shouted:
“Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”
“This is what democracy looks like!”
“Vote them out!”
“The NRA has got to go!”
“They think it’s a game, they think it’s a joke!”
On stage, in front of thousands of people, SIUE senior sociology major from Chicago, YaqKeha Witherspoon, opened up about her own gun violence tragedies.
“I’m only 21 years old, and my life has been plagued with gun violence,” Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon said that the problem is everywhere, not just in public places.
“America has a gun problem, not only because of what happened in Florida, or any of the other mass shootings that have happened in the history of the U.S.,” Witherspoon said. “Those things were tragic and horrifying, but this problem is not only in our schools, our movie theaters or our churches. It’s in our neighborhoods and in our homes.”
Witherspoon shared her firsthand experience facing crimes perpetrated by guns.
Witherspoon’s father was shot and is now paralyzed from the waist down.
“My whole life, I have watched him struggle to do the simple things in life, that people take for granted, but very rarely ask for help. All I remember of my father, or ever will remember of my father, is him being in a wheelchair due to a gun,” Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon realized she could not escape the gun violence that affected people she was close to, so she instead decided to fight to put an end to it.
“I realized that I would never actually be safe until I take a stand. My friends would never actually be safe until I take a stand. So I’m standing here before you asking that we all say no more,” Witherspoon said. “No more senseless deaths. No more taking money from the NRA, and no more standing by while people around us are dying.”
Sandy Hook Elementary teacher and shooting survivor Liesl Fressola spoke with tears in her eyes as she declared, “Columbine should have been the last one.”
She explained that the drills they had practiced were not enough to save 26 lives.
“I held my colleagues and students as they cried in fear that this might happen again. And then it did happen, again and again and again — all across our country,” Fressola said.
Fressola said she felt powerless after the shooting at Sandy Hook, but, now, with the help of Parkland students, she has learned how to use her voice.
“The students of Parkland have shown us the way. They’ve shown us how to be empowered and strong in the face of tragedy,” Fressola said. “I’m asking you today, all of us … to stand with the students in Parkland and call for real common sense solutions that puts students’ lives first.”
In order to keep the citizens in the U.S. safe, Fressola urged the crowd to take action.
“We need to end this now,” Fressola said.
Missouri State Representative of the 78th District Bruce Franks Jr. praised the young Parkland students for changing the script of this movement by making it about gun violence everywhere in the country.
“So, what the young people did, they said we’re gonna march for our lives; every single one of these lives that are affected by gun violence,” Franks said.
Franks addressed the issue of gun violence all over the country as he spoke of his firsthand experience with gun violence.
“As I speak, I’m not speaking as a state representative, I’m speaking as the little kid…while two men were arguing, my brother was outside playing, he was nine years old, one pulled out a gun, the other one picked my brother up, and, as the man who pulled up the gun shot, the other one held my brother up and used him as a shield,” Franks said. “I’m talking to you as that grown man who has been to 167 funerals, most of them being from gun violence.”
Franks encouraged the crowd to be understanding of anyone who might not be on the same page concerning gun safety. He welcomed anyone to become involved with the movement.
“All too often, we will alienate people when they’re just now coming to the party, when they’re late to the party. Well, I thank you for coming to the party,” Franks said.
March for our Lives St. Louis posted on their Facebook page that the next step to take is registering to vote, and then voting.