A Generation on the March
By Rebecca Liebson
Standing among a sea of protestors at The March For Our Lives in Washington D.C., septuagenarian Mary Woolley couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Joined by her daughter Nora and 18-month-old grandson Ferdinand, Woolley reminisced about her teenage years in the 1960s.
“I was part of all the student activism back then and it really makes a difference,” she said. “I think it will be the same thing today.”
Empowered by the actions of their peers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students across the country have begun to fight for stricter gun control regulations by organizing rallies and walkouts.
Once, older generations criticized student protesters. This time around their parents and grandparents are joining them and in many cases encouraging them to speak up.
Having grown up in Littleton, Colorado Meredith Schlaifer saw how the 1999 Columbine High School shooting devastated her community. After witnessing countless shootings in the years since, Schlaifer said she felt obligated to march with her husband and two toddlers.
“I think it’s taken me a long time to have kids because of Columbine and now that I’ve finally had kids and I see that they’re going to school I’m worried about them and I’m worried about their friends,” she said. “I brought them because I want them to be more active than I was. I want them to know what they can do as they grow up.”
Self-described activist Judith O’Neal said she wanted to stand alongside her grandson at his first march. “It means the world to me to be here with him,” she said. “I wanted him to be a part of this and with good reason. He has to get up and go to school everyday knowing something may happen.”
Thirteen-year-old Mehki O’Neal said the experience helped him realize his potential to make a difference. “When we speak up, it drives it home for older people. Hopefully it will change the way they think or change our laws.”
While some have applauded students for joining the debate on gun control, others have questioned whether they are leading the movement themselves or simply being taken advantage of.
The National Rifle Association posted a video to Facebook Saturday morning, with the following message: “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”
Despite this, many of the students at the march in D.C. stated that they were the ones who pushed their parents to get involved.
Howard Ochs, who attended the march with his wife and three daughters, said he always supported gun control but had never engaged in any sort of activism before Saturday.
“It was my eldest daughter Rachel wanting to be there that caused me to go,” he said. “It felt like a special moment and it also seemed like a good kind of family bonding moment for us to all participate in that together.”
Rachel Ochs, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, said that above all else, she was happy that her youngest sister Abby was able to join her. “This movement especially is about young voter turnout, so being able to experience this with her and see her share it with her friends felt really important.”
For 15-year-old Abby Ochs, hearing the kids from Parkland speak was what resonated most with her. “The fact that millions of people were all listening to them speak completely changed my perspective on the voice that our generation does have and will continue to have.”
Jenny Futters said her youngest daughter inspired her family to attend the march.
“Most of the kids in my class are against gun control,” said 13-year-old Charlotte Futters. “It’s really hard to speak up for it but I still do. I think it’s important to let them know that guns aren’t safe.”
“It takes a tremendous amount of courage for her to stand up and engage in a gun control debate in a catholic religious class having 22 kids against her,” said her mother. “That’s a lot of bravery there and I want to do everything I can to encourage that.”