Photograph by Sophia Rodriguez-Bell
People gathered in Oakland and San Francisco as part of the March For Our Lives rallies in support of common sense gun reform on March 24. This year, on Valentine’s Day, a gunman killed seventeen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, 1,516,863 people have died from guns in the United States.
There were two nearby rallies, one in Oakland at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza followed by another larger one in San Francisco at Civic Center Plaza. The rally in Oakland was followed by a march to Lake Merritt while the rally in San Francisco was followed by a march to Embarcadero Plaza. Thousands of people gathered at both events with students from Berkeley High School attending both. Both events included many young and powerful poets, spoken word artists, and even rappers in addition to a series of politicians and organizers.
The organizers of these events are fighting for five specific changes: first, universal, comprehensive background checks. Second, a digitized, searchable database for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Third, they would like the United States government to fund the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America. Fourth, they would like a ban on high-capacity magazines. Finally, they would like a ban on assault weapons.
The organizers stated on their website, “We will not stop our advocacy until we see the change we demand – a change that is necessary in order to save innocent lives across our nation.”
One man at the March For Our Lives in San Francisco carried a sign which read, “As a gun owner and defender of the second amendment I’m here to tell you the NRA has lost its … mind.” Other marchers said that all guns, not just assault weapons, should be abolished. However, they said that reforms in gun control seemed more within reach in the short term. Morgan, a UC Berkeley student who preferred not to disclose her last name, said, “I’m not a supporter of gun reform. I think abolition is the way to go, but I know that’s really difficult because it’s rooted in a history that really values the right to bear arms.”
At the rally in Oakland, Oakland Tech student and poet Samuel Getachew spoke about the harmful effects of gun violence on the black community. At the San Francisco rally, Oakland School for the Arts student and rapper Justin Walton discussed the need for interracial unity in the face of gun violence. “Black and brown communities have been plagued by gun violence for centuries. Their voice needs to be heard as well,” Walton said.
In addition to students, social workers, medical health professionals, music teachers, and many others marched in solidarity with the Parkland survivors and in support of their mission. Mandi Spishak-Thomas, a medical social worker at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, attended the rally in San Francisco. Spishak-Thomas expressed disapproval that some lawmakers reference the preservation of life to propose abortion regulations but do not take action to protect students’ lives against gun violence.
Lilly Sloane, a San Francisco-based family therapist, offered a critique of current political rhetoric about mental health. She said she disagreed with the argument that gun violence is caused by mental health issues and instead attributed gun violence to “white terrorism, toxic masculinity … greed,” and a lack of gun control legislation. Lauren D’Ambrosio, a music teacher and San Jose State University student, said, “The scariest thing about school should be finals.” Demonstrating a similar sentiment, Youth in Arts Executive Director Miko Lee carried a sign that read “Books Not Bullets.” Many activists in Oakland and San Francisco carried signs advocating for supporting education rather than facilitating gun access.
The March For Our Lives organizers continue to encourage local action including voter registration and raising awareness.