The power of the moment was not lost on the thousands of students, teachers and parents in attendance.
“To anybody who thinks their voice doesn’t matter, it does,” Samantha Goldberg, a 17-year-old student at Stoneman Douglas, said as she was walking to the rally Saturday. “Every single voice comes together and makes a huge impact. This is just the beginning. This march is the first step in a long process, but ultimately there’s going to be a huge change. I mean, there’s not half a million people here for nothing.”
Michelle Lo Brutto traveled to the march in Manhattan on Saturday with her family and her cousins from their home in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Around her neck she wore a sign demanding gun control in memory of her sister, Cristina.
In 2012, a gunman, armed with an AK-47, opened fire inside the supermarket where he worked with Cristina Lo Brutto. Cristina, 18, and her colleague Bryan Breen, 24, were both shot and killed. The gunman later killed himself.
“He had severe mental health issues and was hospitalized three times and he was still able to buy [a gun] legally,” Michelle Lo Brutto said. “I think everyone has just had enough, they’re just tired of seeing people they love get hurt or killed and they just don’t want to be the next one.”
Many in attendance felt they had been impacted by gun violence in one form or another, and said they were tired of the status quo.
“Sandy Hook happened not too far from my hometown several years ago,” said Sophie Zipoli, a high school senior who traveled to Washington from Burlington, Connecticut. “After that, I thought there’d be some significant change, yet here we are years later and there still so many mass shootings and school violence.”
Chicago native Ke’Shon Newman’s 16-year-old brother was shot and killed a few blocks away from his home in Chicago’s south side. Now, the 15-year-old routinely checks an app on his phone that tracks gun deaths in his city.
Newman told MSNBC that he traveled to Washington Saturday, to not only demand safety for students in America’s classroom, but an end to gun violence in general.
“I just want the world to be a more safe environment for everyone, this march today is going to bring more awareness around the country,” he said. “Let’s just stop all the gun violence in this country and let’s get to action.”
Teachers and parents also attended the rally and they were not shy about sharing their opinions on gun violence.
“It’s unacceptable to me that our children live in fear of something like what’s been going on in our schools,” said Deb Sheridan, an eighth grade teacher from Leesburg, Virginia. “We need to address gun control issues and make our children feel safe in schools — that’s the one place that they should be going in and looking for an education, not worrying about their safety.”
Richard McDonald, 70, came from Detroit to Washington to visit his granddaughter and bring her to the March.
“I know that they’re not fully engaged,” he said of Trump and Congress, “and I think the only way to do [create change] is to keep demonstrating that the public is against more guns. The idea of arming teachers is insane and it’s not going to make things any better. What makes things better is not having guns at all.”
Rebecca Shabad reported from Washington. Chelsea Bailey and Phil McCausland reported from New York. Jack Sears contributed reporting from Washington.