LOS ANGELES —The March for Our Lives in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. proved one point: the debate on gun control legislation has stirred the nation’s consciousness.
“I think it was more of an energizer,” said Fremont High School student Fernando Mosqueda.
Students across the country, and the world for that matter, led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors of the so-called Valentine’s Day Massacre, have taken the narrative by the horns and galvanized a crusade against gun violence.
The Parkland, Florida, high school has been in America’s hearts since the Feb. 14 shooting by a former student that took the life of 17 students and school staff members. Since then, the students of Parkland have rallied and reached out to other students affected by gun violence in their communities in neighborhoods like South Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago, among other places.
The March for Our Lives Los Angeles event March 24 drew tens of thousands of people to its daylong rally. But Washington, D.C. was the place to be if you wanted to make your voice heard. The world listened as an estimated 800,000 people, according to organizers, came out in a show of force to throw their support behind the many students calling out for legitimate gun legislation.
South Los Angeles was well represented with 15 students from five local high schools taking part in the historic event. Students from Manual Arts, Crenshaw, Washington Preparatory, Dorsey and Fremont high schools participated in the nationwide call for change.
“Our lives are important and so are our voices,” said Manual Arts High senior Edna Chavez, who spoke at the Washington, D.C. event. “We’ve dealt with things for too long and enough is enough. It’s time to make our voices roar through the streets and make sure we get what we deserve and what we demand.
“We need more mental health resources in our schools that help us cope and overcome the trauma of gun violence. We need more programs in the community that offer guidance and support and that help us express ourselves and understand our power as young people,” Chavez added.
While South Los Angeles students attended the Washington, D.C., March of Our Lives, two students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High attended the Los Angeles event.
“This should never, ever happen again,” Mia Freeman told the downtown crowd. “We have sacrificed enough lives. This world needs to see a change.”
Hayley Licata told the crowd, “Any is too many,” when it comes to gun violence and urged everyone to vote on the issue.
A 10th-grade student activist named Maya, who said she lost her brother to gun violence in 2016, called on politicians to pass “common-sense gun laws” and said, “If they don’t, I will vote for someone who will.”
Maya and other students said they were pre-registering to vote when they turn 18, and one organizer drew some of the loudest applause from the stage after leading the crowd in shouting, “Vote them out! Vote them out!”
Zellie Owen, a student in the crowd from Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena and Students for Social Justice, will turn 18 before November’s mid-term elections.
Owen said she was “fed up” and warned politicians that “thoughts and prayers aren’t going to cut it anymore,” adding that she hoped the nationwide demonstrations would lead to “actual change.”
Rev. Eddie Anderson, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, stood with other faith leaders on the podium and asked marchers to look beyond school shootings to everyday violence in cities across the country.
“Raise your voice … until children in Watts and Chicago get as much attention as children in Parkland and Columbine,” Anderson said to loud applause.
Gun violence is nothing new to urban cities. Addressing the issue has been the problem.
As gun violence traffic hit more suburban places such as Parkland, particularly at a school, the call for better gun control has grown louder and louder after each incident.
South Los Angeles has always been a hub for gun violence. There’s even an area in part of the community dubbed “Death Alley,” where the homicide rate is extraordinarily high.
The South Vermont Corridor is a stone’s throw away from the Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization set up to change and improve the social and economic dynamics in the area. The Community Coalition issued a report in 2017, decrying the challenges and plight of young people trying feeling trapped by the constant threat of gun violence.
According to that Community Coalition 2017 Public Safety Poll, 34 percent of the youths polled felt their safety was impacted by gun violence “a lot.” Hakim Johnson, a Dorsey High senior, said he’s seen enough of the violence and wants things to change.
“I want us to break the cycle and tradition of violence,” Johnson said. “Gun violence is something our parents, siblings, and ourselves have been impacted by every day. I want to see more young black and brown students treated with dignity instead of as super predators.
“I’m tired of being profiled and surveilled at school and in my community. I want to see more support for restorative justice practices to be implemented in our schools, so we can begin undoing these cycles of violence and trauma in our communities.”
Mosqueda said he doesn’t see the momentum from the March 24 event coming to an end. The marches and rallies were just a tipping point in the movement for change.
“A lot of marches and protests seem to be cathartic,” Mosqueda said. “This was just a flashpoint to show, this was like a demonstration to policymakers and lawmakers like just how much people are mobilizing for gun reform.”