A large crowd gathered in downtown Ann Arbor Saturday afternoon for a student-led “die-in,” standing in solidarity with the victims of the massacre that occured in Parkland, Fla., at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School, as well as the 33 additional children killed as a result of gun violence since the shooting.
The crowd, diverse in age and background — ranging from high school students to elected officials — took over Liberty Plaza, raising signs with phrases such as “Law Makers work for us, not the NRA!,” “I should not be afraid to go to school,” and “#NeverAgain.”
Participants laid on the concrete for six minutes, approximately the amount of time the shooter was active at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, while the names of the victims and the additional 33 children were read aloud. Once the names had been read, stillness and silence overtook the park.
The demonstration was organized by Washtenaw Youth Initiative, a student-run organization encompassing students of the Ann Arbor, Saline and Dexter school districts.
After the die-in, additional students and speakers gave individual statements to the crowd.
Students stood up on the raised concrete platform to deliver monologues and personal testimonies on how they believed gun laws must be reformed in the United States. Marquan Kane, a senior at Pioneer High School, addressed the crowd in a bright orange jumpsuit, meant to portray the importance of gun reform and bring to light the issue of mass incarceration.
“We don’t have a gun problem in America, we’ve got several,” Kane said. “If you take the issues of mass shootings, suicides and gang violence, which are all exasperated due to easy access to these guns, you’ve got a huge problem.”
Kane explained why this issue is personal to him.
“I have lost two cousins to gun violence, and I’ve lost one of my friends who was shot in my neighborhood,” he said. “This issue is very personal to me, and not to mention the fact that I have been held at gunpoint in my lifetime. So, I know all too well about the trauma that guns bring to our lives.”
In addition to Kane, other Pioneer High School students delievered speeches, as did Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift and Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. Both Swift and Taylor assured their school district will support students in their pursuit of gun reform.
“(Swift will be) taking the fight to take guns out of school all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court,” Taylor said. “And we in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor police department, the city council, the administration, we are doing our part, supporting Dr. Swift and the school board and their safe schools litigation.”
In 2015, the Ann Arbor School District voted to ban guns on school grounds, bringing about a lawsuit from Michigan Gun Owners Inc and Uylsses Wong. The Michigan Supreme Court will hear a case on the Ann Arbor Public School's Gun ban later this year.
While Taylor also criticized the current White House administration, he applauded the students of Washtenaw Youth Initiative for continuing the movement in Ann Arbor.
“Even the youngest among you here, you probably can remember a time when we had a president with the humanity to weep for the loss of children,” Taylor said. “You remember a president with the wisdom to recognize the need to fix what is broken. After the powerful voices of the student survivors who demanded to be heard, after their cries for action were taken up around the country, you here today, the amazing students of Ann Arbor, you are doing your part as well. You are here today to express with force and determination that enough is enough.”
WYI are currently attempting to incorporate more school districts into their efforts. Kat Andrade, a junior at Saline High School and member of WYI's publicity committee, explained the importance of the organization and the encouragement they’ve received from their district.
“The support we’ve gotten from the community has been overwhelming,” Andrade said. “It preserves our passion in this issue and lets us actually affect the change.”
Andrade mentioned the issues members of the initiative hope to cover in the future, once they’ve made an impact on Michigan gun laws.
“Hopefully once we’ve helped stop open-carry policy in Michigan, we will hopefully be able to branch out into different issues, such as transgender rights and immigration, because these issues are vital to tackle in our community,” he said.
The Washtenaw Youth Initiative organized the school walkout at Pioneer High School on Feb. 21 in which students chanted “We are students, we are victims, we are change.”and has planned a school walkout and rally on March 14 in conjunction with the national school walkout.
Kane said the future of this movement will come in the form of young voters and elected officials.
“I do not feel safe in school, or the movie theater, or anywhere,” Kane said. “But, I see young people running for office, not only voting people out of office, but running for office themselves, and changing the legislation and system. That’s how it’s always been; the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, that’s how advancements are made. I believe we can’t be complacent in these times because progress is never permanent.”