The demands for change came from even the youngest of marchers. Throngs of students took to the streets — thousands in Newark — hundreds of thousands more across the country, calling for action and government accountability.
“To our lawmakers, please hear me when I say this: we are not here to ask you to do something, we are here to demand that you do something,” said student organizer Princess Sabaroche.
“I want to go to school to learn and make a positive change, not to be shot,” student activist Darcy Schleifstein said.
The campaign is riding momentum, as outcries for stricter gun control strengthen in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. In all, 22 marches across New Jersey were all organized entirely by student activists, catalysts for social change.
“Today, we march for the Parkland 17 and for the 13,000 children lost to gun violence every year. We march because our broken government enabled this entirely preventable massacre,” said student organizer Sarah Baum.
“I feel like as the youth, the next generation, we have to be the ones to protest now, so that we can make the change because we’re going to be the ones voting and it’s our lives that are in danger as students,” said 12-year-old Makayla Rivera from West Orange, “so we need to march so we can show them this is more important than guns and the industry.”
They held signs with poignant thoughts, quick quips. A rally cry of “never again.”
“I don’t think enough people are realizing that lives are being lost here because of people who have a disregard for human life and they don’t care enough,” said 14-year-old Jeremiah Roberts.
A group of students from Newark’s North Star Academy were frustrated and ready for justice.
“My sign says how many people were killed, and one is too much already,” said 12-year-old Ethan Maina.
“That’s why we need more laws. We need our law officials to wake up and open their eyes, open their eyes to what this march and everything that’s going on in the world because they have it good up there, but we don’t have it so good down here,” said 12-year-old Janeva Roberts.
As they walked through the streets surrounding Military Park reminding the public that the gun violence isn’t just happening in school hallways, but in neighborhoods, at every age. It was the first march for 9-year-old Samantha Rivera.
“I don’t want to have to take my language arts test while worrying about if someone may come into the school and shoot up everybody because I don’t think that’s something safe,” she said. “And school is a place where you don’t really want to worry, except for something educational. You want to feel safe there.”
“At times, I’m sad this is even something that they have to think about, all the issues that are pressing right now. But they’re growing up in a very important time and they need to know that activism needs to be a part of their lives because all of this affects all of us, and it will affect their children, too,” Carla Rivera said.
The big message though, that their voices will be turned into votes, that they’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen with all the world watching.
“So when you wake up tomorrow morning, feel good about what we’ve done today, but don’t take your foot off the gas pedal for one second,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
And so this march through the streets of Newark, through the streets of D.C., through Philadelphia and across the country is really just beginning. The last stop will be at the voting booth.
“I turned 16 last week. I can’t vote now, but in 2020, like the many high schoolers here today, I will cast my first vote in both the congressional and presidential elections. And the children and I here today will remember the action and the inaction of our politicians and we will vote you out,” warned Schleifstein.