They showed up bearing homemade signs and placards that honored the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
They chanted and cheered and spoke of surviving a massacre that claimed 17 of their friends, teachers and loved ones.
Mostly, though, the crowd of more than 1,000 parents, children, grandparents, students, teachers and politicians who gathered at the Broward County Federal Courthouse at 1 p.m. Saturday for a rally focused on one thing: a desperate need for stricter gun laws.
State Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, argued that tightening security at public schools isn’t enough and called on Gov. Rick Scott to ban the sale of assault weapons. Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, told the crowd that their voice is their vote, and their vote is the future.
But the most emotional moments of the rousing two-hour rally belonged to the survivors — specifically the Douglas High School students who expressed their grief and great fury by imploring the public to vote in the upcoming November elections.
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” said Emma Gonzalez, 18, a senior at Douglas High, her voice wavering between anger and tears. “Just like [the historic Supreme Court decision] Tinker V. Desmoines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook, and it’s all going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most importantly, the students.”
In her electrifying speech, which has gone viral, Gonzalez called out the National Rifle Association, President Donald Trump and the neighbors and relatives of the gunman who knew about his erratic behavior but didn’t act on it.
“If all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change we need to be,” Gonzalez said to a roar of applause.
Gonzalez told the Herald that she had written her speech on Saturday morning, drawing on conversations with friends and the mayhem she witnessed since the shooting for inspiration. She said she thinks anti-gun rallies like the one held Saturday will grow in number over the coming months, and that the growing number of school shootings will spur young people to become politically involved.
“This is going to push [gun control reform] to happen quicker, at the very least,” she said. “It won’t happen immediately. It’s unrealistic to expect bureaucracy to move fast. That’s not the way the government was built. But it was also built way before we had access to this type of guns. So it has to change.”
Educators weigh in
Later on Saturday, more than 150 teachers crammed into the Tamarac headquarters of the Broward Teachers Union for an emergency meeting to provide emotional guidance and support.
Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer of the National Educational Association, flew in from Washington on Saturday morning to attend the meeting.
“America has got to do something,’’ Moss said. “We cannot continue to stand and do nothing.”
Tom Kuroski, president of the Newtown Federation of Teachers Local 1727 union chapter, also attended the Tamarac meeting. Kuroski has amassed a lot of experience with school shootings since guiding the members of his chapter through the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
“Everyone thought Sandy Hook was going to be the watershed moment, because it wasn’t just a school shooting: It was a school shooting of first-graders,” he said. “If that wasn’t enough to shake up our society and make us think about what we’ve become, nothing could.”
But Kuroski also said that the energy and emotion at Saturday’s courthouse rally was noticeably stronger than similar events he’s attended in the past.
“This one felt different,” Kuroski said. “Those young people are the tip of the iceberg that’s going to crash down on these legislators. They’re going to realize that no matter how much money they get from the NRA, there’s a big group of young people who are now voting and are going to keep us from continuing on this path we’ve been on.”
For the immediate future, though, experts say South Floridians should brace themselves for a long recovery period.
Dr. Kristen Bolomey, PSYD, a clinical psychologist and therapist from Coral Springs, attended the rally Saturday as an emotional outlet for herself after having treated devastated patients all week since the shooting.
Bolomey, whose patients range in age from 4 to 94, warned that although the massacre will fade from national news in the coming weeks, local residents will be suffering its aftermath for much longer.
“You’re going to see a lot of emotional fatigue,” she said. “There’s going to be increased irritability. Everyone’s going to be on edge, because this isn’t going away that easily for us.”