Since the tragic February 14th shooting that claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, student activists have led the strongest calls for change. Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky have become household names; their calls for gun reform have prompted action on state- and national-level bills.
This momentum continued at Saturday’s March For Our Lives, where advocates across the country flew to D.C. to deliver powerful speeches about the harms of gun violence. Each and every speaker had a powerful story--but here are five that can’t be missed:
At just 11 years old, Naomi Wadler was the youngest activist to give a full speech at the March For Our Lives rally. Her speech was also one of the most powerful. Wadler earned national attention earlier this month, when she and fellow student Carter Anderson led an 18-minute walkout of their elementary school. The first 17 minutes honored the nationwide walkout in honor of the students and staff who were killed in the Parkland shooting; the last minute was dedicated to Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old woman who was killed at her high school on March 7th (and whose death received far less media attention).
“I am here to represent Courtlin Arrington,” Wadler said in her speech. “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.”
“For far too long, these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers,” she continued. "I am here to say never again for those girls too.”
Yolanda Renee King
Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, made a surprise appearance at the rally to conclude Parkland student Jaclyn Corin’s speech. "My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," King said. "I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period."
Sam Fuentes, another survivor of the Parkland shooting, was in the middle of delivering an passionate speech when she threw up onstage. “Lawmakers and and politicians will scream that guns are not the issue, but can’t look me in the eye,” she said before it happened. The cameras cut away, and the crowd provided a swell of support. But within moments, Fuentes was back, undeterred: “I just threw up on international television,” she yelled, “and it feels great!” She then finished her speech, pleading with lawmakers to enact gun reform and leading the crowd to sing an emotional “Happy Birthday” for one of her fallen friends, Nicholas Dworet.
Edna Chavez, a 17-year-old student who hails from South L.A., took the stage to speak about another side of the gun reform debate: the everyday shootings that seldom make the news. Chavez lost her brother, who she described as her “hero,” to the senselessly commonplace violence that plagues her community. In one of the most powerful moments of her speech, she asks the audience to say his name, Ricardo. As they chant it back, she fights back tears, then continues with her message: “For decades, my community of south Los Angeles has become accustomed to this violence. It is normal to see candles. It is normal to see posters...It is normal to see flowers honoring the lives of black and brown youth that have lost their lives to a bullet.”
Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, has emerged as one of the movement’s sharpest voices. But for nearly six minutes during her Saturday speech, she was silent, memorializing the 6 minutes and 20 seconds the Parkland shooter spent inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Analyst David Corn called it “the loudest silence in the history of US social protest.” And we won’t forget it any time soon.
Image Credit: Video screenshot via the Guardian News
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Victoria Albert is a Boston-born graduate journalism student. She covers reproductive justice, health policy, and feminism, and has written for In These Times and Alternet. She tweets at @victoria_alb3.