Over 4,000 people flocked to Pioneer High School’s campus Saturday to rally in solidarity with the other national March For Our Lives protests against gun violence. Ann Arbor’s march was one of the hundreds that took place across the country, and one of the 28 Michigan communities that participated.
Marchers came from various locations and for a multitude of reasons. Many marchers cited intersectional issues related to gun violence such as Black Lives Matter, women’s rights and mental health awareness as reasons for their attendance.
Gretchen Ascher, a South Lyon East High School junior and a speaker at the rally, reiterated the five requests for gun reform set out by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, including reforming the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive’s policies to increase gun sale tracking efficiency; passing significant legislation on gun sale background checks; and prohibiting high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Aside from policy reform, speakers emphasized the violence perpetuated by a lack of gun regulation in the US.
Serena Varner, a Washtenaw International High School senior, began the various event speeches with her poem, “X Marks the Spot,” highlighting the multiple intersections of gun violence with other national issues, especially within the Black community.
“Philando (Castile) suffered at the intersection of gun violence and anti-Blackness,” she said. “Let’s not pretend gun violence was not an issue before it started stealing away white lives.”
Varner affirmed the tragedies of all gun violence, but urged the crowd to recognize the disparities in distinct groups.
“Black parents write their children’s eulogies, now it’s white mothers,” she said. “You are learning to mourn the loss of your baby, that is not okay … Females lost in domestic violence, trans killed, LGBTQ members gone, more intersections, still more gun violence.”
Michigan State University freshman Sami Prakash held a sign recalling the implications gun violence holds in stigmatizing people with mental health issues.
“Our administration has been using mental illness as a scapegoat for reasoning why mass shootings occur,” Prakash said.
Celeste Kanpurwala, the local events leader for Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, warned against the tragic consequences of easy gun accessibility and suicide. She spoke about her personal experience with gun violence — her father suffered from depression and died by firearm suicide.
Kanpurwala expressed her optimism with Moms Demand Action and stated though the fight for gun reform will be long, change is on the horizon due to an increase in membership in the organization.
“The NRA was formed 147 years ago, and Moms Demand Action was formed just over five years ago,” Kanpurwala said. “But guess what? Recently, our membership has surpassed theirs thanks to Americans who have come together and said ‘enough.’”
Natalie Koelzer, a sophomore at Stevenson High School in Livonia, Mich., voiced her opinion about politicians labeling the March for Our Lives organizers as too young and incompetent, calling it hypocritical compared to lawmakers’ attempts to regulate women’s health.
“A lot of people say that we don’t know enough about guns to create regulation, but there aren’t many lawmakers who know a lot about the female reproductive system and who are very much involved in trying to regulating women’s health,” she said.
Her sign had a hand-drawn diagram of the female reproductive system and said, “I don’t know enough about guns to demand regulation? Label this diagram of the female reproductive system. I’ll wait.”
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., were also in attendance. Dingell recounted the experience she had growing up in a household with instances of domestic violence.
“It’s happening when you’re going to a concert, and you’re in church, and you’re going to the movies,” she said. “Or, for some people, when you’re in the home. I lived in a home with a man who should not have had access to a gun. I know what it’s like, keeping someone from shooting their mother. I know what it’s like to hide in that closet.”
Rabhi also expressed the importance of the movement’s momentum in creating a model nation.
“We believe in a nation where our children can attend school safely,” Rabhi said. “We believe in a nation where people don’t get shot at when they go to a club, or another venue. We believe in a nation where an unarmed Black man doesn’t get shot down in cold blood by a law enforcement officer.”
After the speeches, the crowd marched around Pioneer High School, Stadium Boulevard and South Main Street for approximately an hour. Cars honked encouragingly to the marchers as they passed by the Big House.
At the rally prior to the march, Las Vegas mass shooting survivor Liana Treviño disclosed her story of that night in Las Vegas, leaving the crowd with a lasting message to not forget what their marching represented.
“Never forget the reasons we fight,” Treviño said.
Hannah Chosid, LSA sophomore, attended the march and expressed her disappointment with the current response to mass shootings from many politicians.
“These families deserve better than just ‘thoughts and prayers’ from the government,” Chosid said. “These parents shouldn’t have to bury their children whose lives never should have been taken. We deserve action because families deserve to feel safe sending their children to school to get an education, and students should feel safe walking into their school buildings.”
Treviño was there, she said, so no one else would have the same experience she did.
“We fight because we are more valuable than any gun. We fight so that no one else has to run for their lives, or watch their loved ones die,” Treviño said. “And we fight for the ones that we’ve lost too soon. We fight for a safer today. Our lives depend on it.”