200,000 people stood silent for six minutes and twenty seconds.
Emma Gonzalez was a survivor of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas just a month and a half before. Yesterday, wearing a military-style jacket and close-cropped hair, she led the silent repose across the Capitol and in full view of the world.
Her silence spoke louder than any polemic at the D.C. rally. She broke it only to recount for the audience the terror her classmates underwent in that short lapse of time, which would leave seventeen dead and another seventeen wounded before the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, melded back into the crowd.
It was a fitting focal point for a rally calling on elected officials to make substantive changes to gun laws nearly two decades after Columbine thrust mass shootings into the national dialogue. The last notable change in gun laws at the federal level was the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which expired in 2004 when Congress failed to renew it.
Students took the stage one by one to admonish lawmakers for their inaction and siding with the gun lobby at previous inflection points in the conversation on gun control. Jumbotrons replayed Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) town hall meeting last month, in which he refused to pledge abstention from gun lobby donations.
Parkland student Alex Wind was unequivocal in his speech. “If you take money from the NRA, you have chosen death.”
He concluded, “we choose life.”
The tipping point for the resurgence in demand for gun reform has been the shooting at Parkland, but speakers and protesters alike reminded the crowd that this is a conversation that extends beyond school shootings. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was emblazoned on signs and banners, recalling the inaction following the shootings of Michael Brown and other victims of color.
The dialogue that emerged on Saturday was serious and sincere, but there were moments of hope and relief. Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King, led the audience in a chant, repeated three times:
“Spread the word, have you heard? All across the nation. We are going to be a great generation.”
The question remains what happens next in the push for gun regulations. Past inaction has left many pessimistic, but this is the single largest response to gun violence in decades. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Keep scrolling for some of my other favorite shots from the day.
Edit: grammatical error, change ‘Just’ to ‘just’ in second paragraph.