by Madison Rubert
Well over a thousand demonstrators armed with bold banners, hand-made signs, and most importantly, their voices, flooded Downtown Gainesville on March 24 to protest current gun laws in solidarity with protesters in Washington, D.C.
On that Saturday at 11 a.m., protesters met at the Bo Diddley Plaza at 111 E. University Ave. to partake in March for Our Lives Gainesville, a sister march of March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., that was organized by UF freshman Heather Yu.
Eighteen-year-old microbiology and math student Yu organized the march after discovering nearby marches online in her room at 2 a.m. They were marching, Yu said, to demand gun law reform.
“We are marching on behalf of all American citizens,” Yu said. “Because this is a movement that started with a school shooting, but, in reality, affects everyone.”
Gainesville Major Lauren Poe, District 3 City Commissioner David Arreola, alumni and students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and an 11-year-old who led a walk-out for his elementary school spoke before the march.
Speakers encouraged the community to become politically active to combat injustice.
“I think people are recognizing that to create meaningful change that they need to unite, show up and be active,” Mayor Poe said. “That’s what you’re seeing here today in Gainesville, as well as in places all around the world.”
Poe said that individuals must band together to ensure democracy.
“Individual action is meaningless unless you’re able to build a movement behind it,” he said. “Showing unity by acting as one will become a tidal wave of change that all of these students are looking for.”
After the speeches, protesters, lead by police cars, marched down West University Avenue to the intersection of West University Avenue and Waldo Road, where they stood holding signs before returning to the plaza.
Carol Foil, 68, of Putnam County, was among those who marched. She held a sign exclaiming, “Grandma calls B.S.!” in large bold blue and red letters.
Foil was inspired to participate in the march, she said, after discovering a UF freshman had organized it.
“I decided to come out because I really support sensible gun laws,” Foil said. “I’m protesting the fact that so many politicians get so much money from the NRA that they can’t vote with their constituents.”
Another problem, she said, is that the National Rifle Association provides members with a ridiculous interpretation of the Second Amendment.
“Enough is enough,” Foil said.
UF freshman Jessica Rosen, attended the march with dormmates from Hugh Hall.
Incidents like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting are a fearful reminder of the current threat of gun violence students face, Rosen, 19, said.
“I wasn’t really active about gun control until it happened half-an-hour from my home,” she said. “I started to realize that I know people to a second- or third- degree that go there, and I can see the same thing happening at my school really easily.”
Although Gainesville resident Pat Harden came to march to advocate for gun safety, she mainly came to support youth, she said.
“I wanted to support these young adults because they are our future,” Harden, 82, said. “It’s obvious that the politicians won’t do anything about [gun safety] …so the public needs to rise up; we have the power in our hands.”
Yu said she was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout.
“It was really moving to see that many people stand united together,” Yu said. “To see how that many people care is really cool.”
She hopes that the march will send a strong message to politicians.
“Obviously the march itself won’t make reform, but I hope it will show politicians that there is so much opposition that they can’t ignore it anymore,” Yu said.
Her mother Shirley Yu, 51, traveled with Heather’s twin brother and family from St. Augustine to attend.
“I’m pretty proud,” Yu said. “Heather’s now in the history books.”