On an overcast morning with a slight chill in the air, people began converging outside the historic courthouse in downtown Riverside. In the early hours of March 24, it resembled the Women’s March Riverside, but only in numbers and enthusiasm. There were some significant differences.
March for our Lives, Riverside, was organized and led by ten students from area high schools. It was a clearly non-partisan event, lacking the political party representatives and local candidates that had dominated the Judicial Plaza in January. There were no informational tables, no election flyers, only volunteers offering to register voters.
The high school students had been meeting for a mere month to pull together the event. There were no celebrity performers, no politicians, just the voices of the Riverside Resistance Revival Choir and students who delivered clearly stated and passionate oratory.
They decried the frequency of mass shootings, demanded attention to the fact that shootings in American schools continue to occur, called for change. Kalysta Garland and Isabel Washington presided, introducing speakers who had a singular purpose in mind: inspiring activism to change gun laws.
“We don’t want thoughts and prayers, we demand action!” Ian McPherson declared, followed by Alan Vargas, “The time for mourning is past, the time for action is now!”
Melissa Soria brought up the subject of voting. “Since Sandy Hook, the bloody cycle has been going on for almost 20 years and nothing has been done!”
On a more somber note, Ellen Davis, who was the only college student on the podium, recounted her experience in Las Vegas where she had attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert when 58 died and more than 500 were wounded. That night, her father drove to Las Vegas to take her to the hospital because there were not enough ambulances for everyone who had been hurt. Her sister Annie Davis, declared, “We are the generation to make change, we are the generation to end gun violence.”
Senior Jacob Palaban recounted how government inaction and current gun laws have allowed things to fester, but gleefully added, “This year I can vote, next year gazillions can!”
“Vote them out!” the crowd roared.
Ayanna Johnson warned the days of student compliance are over and despite being followers of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and John Lewis, “Not only will we run you out, we will vote you out!”
With the admonition, “Let’s get Loud,” more than 4,000 sign carrying, chanting people headed out to circle the city.
“Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA (National Rifle Association) has got to go!”
“What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”
The march returned to the plaza at the historic courthouse where Hector De Leon gave a final exhortation to get out and vote, Lucy Mumford and Robert Jimenez read the names of seventeen victims of the Parkland shooting and finally attempted the release of newly emerging butterflies. But as with all butterflies in winter, they preferred the warmth of human fingers to the cold, cloudy sky. Not to fear, Jimenez led a tour of butterflies hand carried through the delighted crowd.
Coming: Part 2, Thoughts and Aspirations of Young Student Leaders