More than 30,000 people marched through Downtown Saturday afternoon, chanting “enough is enough” and “books not bullets” and waving signs with slogans such as, “If kids are old enough to get shot, they’re old enough to have opinions.”
The Pittsburgh March For Our Lives, like others held in Washington D.C., Dallas and Portland, was arranged by high school students to call for legislation to end gun violence and mass shootings in schools.
The protest was organized in response to the massacre that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, when a former student opened fire on students with a semi-automatic assault rifle. Previously, students participated in national classroom walkouts on March 14 to protest elected officials’ inaction on gun laws.
The Pittsburgh march began in front of the City Council Building, went down Grant Street, onto Liberty Avenue and ended with a rally in Market Square.
Amara Ostroff, a 14-year-old student at Fox Chapel High School, accompanied her friends to the march. Ostroff was among many other young people who attended the protest to show their support for their classmates and other students in cities across America.
“We’re fed up. We go to school every day and we are afraid. We don’t want to get shot,” Ostroff said. “I think we need legislation, stronger gun control and a ban on assault rifles.”
Protesters carried signs that captured the various talking points of their beliefs. One Vietnam War veteran held up a sign reading, “We carried AR-15’s on the streets of Saigon, we don’t need these assault weapons on the streets of Pittsburgh.” The phrase #NeverAgain was displayed on T-shirts, buttons, hats and bags.
Marcher Elizabeth Kimbell, waving a “Generation Columbine Stands With Generation Parkland” sign, said she did not approve of the solution some politicians were offering of arming teachers, including her sister, a teacher at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School.
“My 5-foot-tall sister is supposed to defend her classroom in the case of a shooting. So what can she do? She’s not even physically big enough to block anything,” Kimbell said.
Brent Dye, a teacher who works in the Penn Hills school district, came out to the Pittsburgh March For Our Lives to express his frustration with the “lock down” procedure students and teachers have to practice and go through with in the event of a potential shooting. Dye does not believe that the procedure, which requires students to be still and silent, is effective, especially for children with different behavioral needs or disabilities.
“I have two children — a kindergartner and a second grader — and they’ve been going through the training that a lot of the schools have been going through lately. I don’t believe the training is effective for children in individualized education programs in particular,” Dye said.
Once marchers got to Market Square, politicians and people impacted by gun violence addressed the crowd, including Pennsylvania Senator Jay Costa and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Lauren Hogg.
Alyson Derrick, a senior English writing major at Pitt, attended the post-march rally and was moved by the speakers who presented their life experiences. Derrick mentioned a mother who spoke about her daughter, who committed suicide, and the catastrophic emotional effects of self-inflicted gun violence.
“I appreciated how she pointed out that her husband has guns and that’s OK, but it’s something that needs to be regulated in certain situation,” Derrick said.
Julia Gaetano, a 17-year-old student at Baldwin High School, attacked the National Rifle Association in a speech at the rally, calling for political representatives to stop accepting its financial support.
“It is time to close your wallets and take back your spines from the NRA,” Gaetano said.
Echoing what other signs and speakers said, Gaetano said she was exhausted with the amount of shootings that occur in schools.
“We are a generation tainted by bullets and blood,” Gaetano said.