The stage for March For Our Lives, with San Francisco City Hall in the background. All photos by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Marching for (some) lives

On March 24 I attended March For Our Lives in San Francisco, one of several hundred events that took place that day to protest gun violence in U.S. schools. With an estimated turnout of up to two million people worldwide, this was one of the largest protests in US-American history. While I’ve grown cynical and weary from the many protests I’ve attended, particularly since Donald Trump’s election, I felt it was important to document this occasion.

I attended March For Our Lives primarily to take photos of the speakers on the stage. The lineup alternated students of various ages with adults, including some politicians and celebrities. An alumnus and current student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and a survivor of the Columbine High School massacre, were among the presenters.

Activist and Columbine survivor Briar Goldberg speaks at the rally.
Ibraheem, a student, speaks at the rally.

The lineup of speakers was ethnically diverse, and I was pleased that several brought attention to racial disparity. One of the first student speakers stated that Black Lives Matter. Another questioned a Second Amendment that was written by “men who own men”. Another student explicitly said “Fuck the police”.

Justin, a student, stands with fist raised at the rally.
Leo, a student, speaks at the rally.

Politicians included San Francisco mayor Mark Farrell, Board of Supervisors president London Breed, and Senator Dianne Feinstein. When Feinstein took the stage, a person behind me commented that she had no right to be there, having not spoken out about the school shootings previously.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed speaks at the rally.
Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks at the rally.

Celebrities included Cathy Richardson, current lead singer of Jefferson Starship. It was an amusing moment when she introduced herself as such, and then sensing some confusion in the crowd, said “No, I’m not Grace Slick, but this is Grace Slick’s daughter,” China Kantner.

China Kantner and Cathy Richardson speak at the rally.

I was disappointed that no music was performed at the San Francisco rally, especially since I had turned down the opportunity to sing with vocal activist groups at the rally across the bay in Oakland that morning. The Oakland organizers had scheduled their event early enough so that participants could attend in both cities, but I knew I wouldn’t have the stamina.

I ended up leaving immediately after the rally, having neither the energy nor desire to stay for the march. I’ve marched up and down Market Street so many times, and am not convinced that these kinds of protests — with mainstream celebrity backing (especially for the Washington D.C. event) and full support and cooperation of the police—make that much of a difference. They might be good for building solidarity, but ultimately it’s going to take a lot more civil disobedience to create real, lasting changes to the system.

As I’ve written previously, I don’t want guns simply “controlled”, I want them gone. All of them, from the hands of the police and the military as well as civilians. I don’t expect my idealist vision to happen any time soon, but I wish more folks would dare to dream beyond the confines of the U.S. Constitution and imagine the possibilities of a completely new human society built upon true respect for life.

Interestingly, just today retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens posted an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment. Perhaps that’s a glimmer of hope. If folks won’t listen to the radical black activists who have been calling for an end to gun violence for decades, maybe they’ll listen to this 97-year-old white man.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Some of my photos are also on Wikimedia Commons, alongside those from other contributors. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

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