“My generation isn’t afraid to step up and organize when we have an issue that we feel this strongly about,” said Erin Simard, 16. “Whenever you educate teens about something, whenever you give them a chance to speak up, they are so good at getting things done.”
The teen-led call for action brought together all ages – from toddlers to grandparents – to make their voices heard across the country.
Pittsburgh’s March For Our Lives, one of about 800 marches taking place nationally, filled downtown streets with an estimated 35,000 participants. Students from upwards of 20 local high schools and colleges took part in planning the march and rally, which was organized less than six weeks after the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14th. The students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School prompted this countrywide movement.
“They told us for the first time we have an active role in the democracy,” said Erin, of Shaler, who headed organizing the Pittsburgh march with her 15-year-old sister. “They inspired Emma and me. We saw an opportunity in Pittsburgh, and we decided to take it.”
Passions ran high at the March 24th rally. Brandishing homemade signs, teens made up a significant percentage of protesters and led the march into Market Square from Grant Street.
Kidsburgh asked participating teens for their take on the experience. Here is what they said:
Hannah Price, 17, Canonsburg
“Everybody always says, ‘oh, gun violence can never reach me’ until it does. On Nov. 12, 2016, one of the police officers from Canonsburg was shot, and I knew him. He was one of the officers at our school. He was one of the guys we saw every day. And I remember my friends texting me and telling me how scared they were. … And I just felt so powerless. That’s one of the worst feelings ever. I thought, ‘I’m a kid. I can’t really do anything about it. I can’t even vote to make any changes.’ But after what happened at Parkland, those kids standing up and saying enough is enough, we can make a difference. We can stand up and tell our stories.
“Violence in America has become a symptom of disconnection. And I think people need to start unifying and understanding one another rather than just building up these walls in between them because when it comes down to it, we’re all the same. And when you strip away all the party stuff, we’re all the same people. We’re all looking for the betterment of America in one way or another.”
Flynn Begor, 16, Mt. Lebanon
“This was the first time that something had happened on this scale that I fully understood that entire situation. And to have it be someone my age, my grade, people that are even a year younger than me, in a school district that is exactly like mine, in a high school that is the same size as mine. It really made me stop and think, there’s nothing stopping it from being my school.”
Benjamin Gonzalez, 18, McCandless
“I’ve always wanted to get involved in something that’s bigger than myself. For some reason, this school shooting affected me the most. I think it’s because a lot of these kids, they’re just like me and my friend Logan. One of the most moving things was they all had social media. And on Twitter, I would just see their tweets of what it was like, and some were even during the shooting, so this one feels very real. To think of all the other shootings that happened and nothing has really been done is astounding to me. I felt like Logan and I could have the most influence if we did this together at this march.”
Shreya Gulati, 17, Apollo
“When I learned that the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas were actively taking charge and literally writing history, I was shocked, but also proud. I am proud to be taking part in organizing this march because I know that as the future generation of this country, I have to really work to shape it into a place I want to live in.
“And I hope that as one of the many hundreds of thousands of students taking part in this movement, I will inspire many hundreds of thousands of other students and many hundreds of thousands of non-students to take charge as well.”
Jordan Schmitt, 18, Forest Hills
“Being a student at Woodland Hills High School, I’ve experienced a lot of firsthand effects of gun violence. I lost quite a few classmates this past year and throughout my high school experience. So it’s really a personal issue for me because I know how it breaks families and ruins lives, not only in school but community-wise. That’s why I am personally attached to the issue and I would hate for me or my sister or anyone to be threatened during the hours of school.
“As a student, it’s really something that we are passionate about. Our schools are where we are for so much of the day and to feel unsafe at all or at risk in that learning environment isn’t acceptable whatsoever.”
Annie Ruzanic, 17, Squirrel Hill
“The March For Our Lives is so important, specifically for our generation, because in our lifetime we’ve experienced mass shootings that we shouldn’t have been experiencing. Taking a stand and making a change so that future generations don’t have to suffer what we’ve suffered is really important to me. I don’t want my little brother to have to grow up the way I have been growing up these past two years.
“Parkland is going to lead to so much change because when someone goes into your school and makes you unsafe, killing your friends and your classmates, it lights a fire in your heart and soul and pushes you to do things to make it a better place for everyone.”