Photo Essay MSD Strong

“This is why I march” were the words that ended nearly every speech at Parkland, Fla., on Saturday. A reverential crowd of tens of thousands gathered there at 10 a.m., with long lines waiting to enter Pine Trails Park, located about a mile from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It was a racially and age-diverse crowd that drew from Parkland and surrounding towns, and—if the signs carried were an indicator—also a politically diverse one.

The students of Stoneman Douglas called out their determination to stay the course in the fight for gun safety: “We speak for the ones who can’t.” They also expressed their determination to use the ballot box: “They have the money, we have the votes” went a popular chant.

Tony Montalto, the father of Gina Montalto, who was 14 when she was killed, took the stage with his son Anthony, who held a sign almost as wide as he was tall that read: “My sister could not make it here today. I’m here for her.” Mr. Montalto thanked the Parkland community for its support and called for compromise and legislative action, starting with limitations on the capacity of semi-automatic magazines.

“Gina was a smart kid with a kind heart,” he said. “We felt she was destined to change the world. Through this movement, she might do just that.”

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex also was killed, told of the meeting he arranged of the 17 victims’ families and the leaders of the March for Our Lives movement. The students, he said, “inspired him to his core” and had won the families’ full support.

“It was just a beautiful thing to watch all the families congratulate them,” he said of the student activists. “Tell them that we love them, tell them that they are fighting for all of us, and we all have their backs.” And he said that legislators in Washington had told him they were making progress because of the students’ determination and because the 17 families were speaking “with one voice.”

Then the assembled crowd marched a mile to the high school, beginning the first lap of the marathon that the MSD students say they have started.

If one cry from the marchers summed up the day, it was a familiar one: “This is what democracy looks like.”

And that is indeed how it felt.

View an exclusive photo essay of the march in Parkland, Fla.


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