Hundreds of Parkland students, parents and teachers traveled to the Washington, D.C., area Thursday for a long weekend of politicking and protesting that will culminate in Saturday’s March for Our Lives, the student-led rally for gun control announced after last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
With some classmates already in the Northeast on a media circuit, around 200 Parkland students flew into Baltimore on Thursday. They’re heading to the U.S. Capitol the following morning, where they’ll break up into small groups and lobby members of Congress on gun laws.
The students — who’ve already scored a rare legislative victory for gun-control activists in Florida — hope to impress upon lawmakers the urgency of passing stricter gun measures, said Demitri Hoth, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. While bills that aim to improve school safety and shore up gaps in the federal gun-purchase backgrounding system are currently making their way through Congress, legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines isn’t moving.
“It’s not something that they should hold off on,” Hoth said. “They should immediately begin proposing laws at the national level.”
Some students were already meeting with teens their own age to talk about their plans and their experience on Feb. 14, when a former classmate shot up their school and killed 17 people. Jaclyn Corin, Matt Deitsch, Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Alex Wind — the core group behind the #NeverAgain movement — visited a D.C.-area charter school Thursday morning where two students have been killed by guns this school year in off-campus incidents.
A larger group of more than a thousand Parkland residents — students and teachers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High as well as chaperones — is arriving in the nation’s capital on Saturday for the march. Some students are traveling in buses departing from Coral Springs on Friday, while others are flying into D.C. early Saturday morning.
These trips are funded by Mobilizing MSD Alumni, a group of more than 11,000 Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni that formed in the aftermath of the shooting. So far, the group has raised more than $84,000 through a GoFundMe account and hopes to collect more donations to pay for the trips of students currently on the waiting list, said Michelle Alban, a spokeswoman for the group.
Travel expenses for the group of 200 students flying into D.C. on Thursday have been covered by Giffords, an organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to combat gun violence. Giffords has also helped coordinate Friday meetings with 40 members of Congress. South Florida lawmakers Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson are hosting a reception for the students Friday afternoon. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi also intends to meet with them.
Students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, whose views on guns and school safety range widely, have already fashioned a high profile in Washington since the shooting. Meanwhile, the March for Our Lives 501c(4) non-profit created to further the students’ movement is flush with millions in donations from Hollywood A-listers, and Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Common and Vic Mensa are scheduled to headline the event from a stage on Third Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue.
More than 800 marches are planned in cities around the world, including at least a half-dozen in South Florida starting earlier Saturday. Many Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are staying home for a 10 a.m. march in Parkland that starts at Pine Trails Park, 10555 Trails End. Marches are also planned in Boca Raton, North Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, Kendall and Doral, among other locations.
Katrina White, a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, said she hoped the marches would “spread awareness about gun control and make sure that this never happens again anywhere, ever.”
“I hope all of the governors, senators, they all see we’re going to make a change, with or without them,” she said.
McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Alex Daugherty contributed to this report