The Ann Arbor Pioneer High School parking lot turned into a sea. A sea of solidarity, a sea of support, a sea of hope, a sea for change. As far as the eye could see, the crowd was standing together, strangers at first but friends by the end, holding up signs, uttering chants and speaking out for a better future.
“It’s important to come out as a show of solidarity and support for all the communities that are facing gun violence,” Rachel Briegel, a University of Michigan Social Work graduate student, said. “This includes students, people of color and all of the areas affected in our country right now.”
Oakland Early College student, Dilynn Erngren, agreed.
“I think it’s important for the new generation to come out,” she said. “There’s been so many mass shootings and they’ll keep happening unless we do something about it. I feel like it could be anyone of us.”
Students, parents, teachers and individuals of all different professions and backgrounds came out to march and show their support.
Read Karleigh Stone’s column on what the walk meant to her:
Nancy Parker marched for her kids.
“They were six months old when Columbine happened and it’s still happening today,” she said. “They’re 19 now and I don’t want it to continue.”
Her son Collin, a Michigan State University student, said, “We’re the only country in the world that has this gun violence and we have to do something.”
Erngren’s grandmother, BJ, is happy to support her granddaughter and the younger generation.
“I’m so incredibly proud of my granddaughter, her friends and that generation as a whole, that I had to be a part of this with her. It’s something we will always remember,” she said.
But along with her feelings of elation for how young people are striving to make change, BJ is also concerned for their well-being.
“I’m scared. I have another granddaughter and her school was on lockdown last year. It’s horrifying. The fact that an 18-year-old had a military assault rifle is inexcusable and unacceptable.”
Teachers marched for their lives and the lives of their students, and they want politicians to know that arming teachers with weapons is not the answer.
“I came out here because I’m a teacher and I’m standing here to protect my students and my kids,” teacher, Michelle Hadous, said. “It’s shocking, it’s unnecessary and it needs to stop. But we do not need to bring more guns into our school system. We need to take the guns out of the hands of those that shouldn’t be getting them in the first place.”
Mira Friedman, in the graduate social work program at U of M, hopes to be a school social worker one day and knows things need to change for the good of her future students and colleagues.
“Not only am I a student right now, but my career goals are to work in a school,” Friedman said. “These are our lives and we have this opportunity to take a stance to protect. Everything that’s happened so far could have been prevented. It could be my students, it could be my siblings, it could be my colleagues when I start to teach and that’s a horrendous thought.”
In addition to showing support for affected communities, the hundreds of individuals participating marched with a purpose to inspire change in gun laws and in America’s political climate.
“I don’t think they should be banned all together, but I think there should be more regulations and it should be harder to obtain a gun,” Jannie Nouhan, Allen Park High School junior, said. “There’s no reason for the average citizen to have a AR-15, but a normal pistol or hunting gun is ok.”
Mary Clair Wissman, a teacher at the International Academy in White Lake marched with her colleagues, holding a sign that said “I’m a teacher armed with a ballot,” and she said it’s all about commonsense.
“We want commonsense gun laws. We are here to support that and we’re here to support our students who walked out on Wednesday,” she said. “This is what we should be armed with (referring to her sign). We should use our voice and our vote to get the people in power who understand our gun laws are ridiculous. No other country has to suffer to way we suffer and we need to get people in who understand that.”
Wissman also believes that both political parties need to start listening to one another, rather than “demonizing” each other. She says they need to come together to protect children.
Another University of Michigan social work graduate student, Ashley Zuverink, is excited about how many young people are enthusiastic to vote in November.
“The current political climate is not supportive of social justice issues,” she says. “But we’re encouraged by the youth right now that have voices that are starting to be heard and are coming out to vote and that’s where we can see social justice take place.”
Saline High School junior, Skylar Brodnan will do her part when she can vote.
“I think it’s important to show the current administration that we won’t stand for senators who are bought and paid for by the NRA and that we’re not okay with kids being shot under the guise of freedom.”
BJ Erngren held up a sign that said, “You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote them out.”
“This is our democracy and we can’t be lazy,” she said. “I told my granddaughter democracy is a verb. It’s an action word.”
Among chants of “Vote them out,” these sentiments were echoed by Congresswoman, Debbie Dingell, self-proclaimed enemy of the NRA, who’s spirited speech gave hope for gun control legislature.
“Young people are the voices that will finally make a difference,” she declared. “Today is not the end, it is the beginning of our action.”