Thousands of students and other community members took part Saturday morning in the student-organized March for Our Lives at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix to protest gun violence and urge legislators to provide more funding for school counselors and mental health services.
The rally at the Capitol was one of more than hundreds of similar student-led events held across the nation on Saturday in response to the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla on Feb. 14, 2018.
Survivors of that school shooting organizes the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and students around the nation organized similar events to let legislators know that it is time for action.
At the rally in Phoenix organized by Samantha Lekberg, 16, a student at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise and Jordan Harb, 17, a student at Mountain View High School in Mesa, people of all ages created signs, talked with each other, listened to speakers and then marched around the capitol.
Video by Mary Irish/AZEdNews: What students said at the March for Our Lives in Phoenix
Speakers, which included students, people affected by gun violence, and legislators, called for universal, comprehensive background checks on people purchasing guns, a ban on bump stocks, limits on access to AK-47s and similar weapons, and increased access and more funding for school counselors not school resource officers to make sure guns aren’t entering schools in the first place.
Grace Martinez, a student organizer for Stand Up, Speak Up, Save a Life, called for increased access for students to mental health services for suicide prevention, bullying, cutting and many other issues.
“Put the friend before the friendship, so they can get the assistance that will help them to survive and thrive,” Martinez said. “I advocate for self-harm prevention, because I was the one of the one in 200 young women who self harm. I am here today because I have a friend who put me before the friendship. I am living proof that getting help works.”
“Our generation is ready to take on the challenge of mental health,” Martinez said. “I am here today to see if our elected officials are ready to tackle these challenges with us.”
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-District 7) spoke at the March for Our Lives and said that many years ago before he was a politician, he was a U.S. Marine who fought in Iraq using an M16A4.
“The M16A4 it is a deadly weapon. It is a weapon that kept me safe. It made other people unsafe,” Gallego said. “That weapon should not be in the hands of civilians. It was designed to kill as many people as possible.”
Gallego said that along with instituting comprehensive background checks, “Let’s get rid of our assault rifles out there. Let’s make sure that those who shouldn’t have guns don’t own guns. And let’s make sure that we actually prioritize the lives of our children over the donations of the NRA.”
Everything at the March for Our Lives was organized by high school students with help from adults for the things it’s not legal for students to do, said Samantha Lekberg, co-organizer of the event who attends Willow Canyon High School in Surprise.
“What I really want you all to do is to look around and understand that this is a movement,” said Jordan Harb, co-organizer of the event who attends Mountain View High School in Mesa.
“This is a movement born out of the defiance and self-survival. Born out of the notion that we refuse to live every day fearing that the next round of thoughts and prayers will be towards us,” Harb said. “This is a movement born out of the youth and the students and the high-schoolers across this country and the entire world.”
Harb said every young person is powerful, “because we have single-handedly changed the conversation on an epidemic that has killed tens of thousands in the past decade. We have single-handedly caused companies to leave the NRA. We have single-handedly held our elected representatives accountable.”
Harb urged young people to get registered to vote, and keep the momentum going by being a voice for those who have been lost to gun violence.
Then Lekberg spoke to the thousands of people at the event.
“When I was 10 years old in fifth grade, I walked home on a Friday and in to my house to the news of the Sandy Hook shooting. I had never heard anything like that before. And to know that kids younger than me, at 10 years old, were killed it really stuck with me – as you can tell I’m here today,” Lekberg said.
“When the Parkland shooting happened on Valentine’s Day, I came home on a Wednesday to the same news that so many people had their lives taken away from them. So I decided to join the brave, courageous, outstanding teens in Florida and got in contact with everyone I could to help me make today happen,” Lekberg said. “All the students behind me in front of me to the sides they have put in so much effort and I have been so honored to work with them. What you’re doing is going to cause change and the future will be different because of every one of you standing here.”
Afterwards, Molly Jimmerson, a member of Students Demand Action, thanked the people and groups fighting to keep people safe before she spoke about her experience with gun violence.
“Next year, it will be a year since a man walked into my life holding a shotgun,” Jimmerson said. “I was working at a restaurant as a hostess when I opened the door for him. It took me a minute to process the fact that his face was covered, and he was carrying a gun. So he fired his weapon to get my attention to get the keys to the register. Unfortunately, I did not have them. I was 17 years old when I was forced to lay on the floor face down with a gun to my head. Now almost a year later, I am still trying to pick myself up off that floor.”
James Wade Hinckley Warren, a survivor of gun violence, said he was 17 years old in 1991 when he got into a fight with a 16-year-old who returned 10 minutes later with a 9mm handgun and shot him in the neck severing his spine.
“At my school, we started Students Against Violence Everywhere and talked about our commonalities instead of our differences much like we are doing today to stop this plague of gun violence and senseless acts of violence among our students,” Hinckley Warren said. “We need to get back to resolving our issues, and stopping bullying and hatred in school.”
Sienna Rodriguez, 17, is a junior at Deer Valley High School, who was impacted by domestic violence and gun violence when her cousin was shot and killed by an ex-boyfriend while working in Avondale.
“If you didn’t already know, domestic violence is a common thread among perpetrators who commit mass shootings such as the one in Parkland,” Rodriguez said. “Nikolas Cruz was known to have stalked and threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend.”
“Looking at the tragedy in Parkland and the tragedy that impacted my family personally, we can’t help but wonder, what if we had legislation that ensured that since both of these perpetrators had a history of domestic violence that they were prohibited from accessing firearms?” Rodriquez asked.
“What if policy makers did a better job of proposing legislation that made the safety of students a priority? What if we had the education to understand the root causes of why people choose to exert power-based violence over others? What if we had curriculum to tell us how to prevent abuse before it starts?” Rodriguez said. “What if I told you we do.”
Rodriguez said Bloom 365 presented its healthy relationship curriculum in her health class at school.
“Healthy relationships consist of equality and freedom not power and control, and I believe that if more people understood that we’d have a culture rooted in love and not fear,” Rodriguez said.
“Violence wears many masks. It lurks in the hallways of elementary and high schools. It fits between the teeth of abusers. It can be handheld and sold at conventions,” Rodriguez said. “Evil and violence have no place in the schools, hospitals, theaters, night clubs and every other place in America we have seen it carried out.”
“We as a nation, a movement and as students with a voice, have to hold legislators accountable to make sure that tragedies like this never happen again,” Rodriguez said.
Slideshow by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews: March for Our Lives