Under a crisp blue sky, Pine Lake Park filled with thousands who came to hear students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School talk about making the future a safer place with tougher gun laws.
Parkland, Florida, has become ground zero for gun control activism after the massacre on Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead at the high school and spurred many survivors to speak out about ending school shootings.
Students holding signs and photos of slain classmates packed the bleachers behind the podium. The rally began with a video clip message from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who were leading the rally in Washington.
Tables were set up throughout the park for voter registration. Sixteen-year-olds were urged to pre-register.
Students passed Parent’s Promise to Kids, a contract in which parents promise to vote for any legislative leaders who support children’s safety over guns.
“What parent would break a promise to their kids?” asked one young girl from the podium.
“On behalf of America’s children, we need parents to sign contracts pledging they will vote for legislators who support children’s safety over guns,” she said.
Students emphasized the power all adults of voting age have to change gun laws. They pledged themselves to vote in every election and get all their friends to register and vote.
In fact, people were asked to vote and then get 17 more people to vote as well. The 17 stand for the 17 lives lost in the Feb. 14 school shooting.
Voting is the way to transform this moment into a movement, said Sarah Kauffman, a sophomore at the school. Vote in all elections, she emphasized.
“Policy change is not as difficult as losing a loved one,” she said.
Emily Opalinski, 14, was attending the march with her family including her father, the Rev. Bret Opalinski, pastor of Christ Methodist Church. She is a freshman in another high school and said on the same day as the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, her school got a threat through the internet warning it would be the target of a shooter.
“We were all scared and in shock,” said Emily, who was preparing to go to track practice when news broke about the shooting. She watched the events unfold live on a phone.
The Rev. Opalinski came to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the day of the shooting, which was also Ash Wednesday, just to walk around in the crowd and pray with people.
The Rev. George Hunsaker, a retired United Methodist pastor from Indiana, said he was impressed with the young people.
“I have a great-grandchild in middle school,” he said. “I have a strong sense these youth with make a difference.”
Karen Hunsaker, his wife, talked about schools that have hurricane glass on the insides of their classrooms to protect children. “Can you imagine the need for that?” she asked.
The CHURCH's Position
The United Methodist Church’s Book of Resolutions includes a lengthy statementon gun violence which calls for background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases. It also calls on the church to advocate for the eventual reduction of the availability of guns.
“Prayer makes a difference but people need to be informed about laws that support those working for change. We need to vote for candidates that are proposing change,” she said.
Emily Opalinski believes her peers are going to bring change.
“I am going to make a difference with them,” she said.
Read coverage of the March for Our Lives in Washington, Marchers call for new gun laws
Read related story on local parishes that fed and housed youth who came to join the March for Our Lives in Washington, Churches offer lodging for youth marchers
Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.