Photos by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines
Thousands of demonstrators protested for gun control and increased firearm regulations on the Nashville Public Square Saturday as a part of the national “March for Our Lives” movement.
The movement began in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, in which 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz brought an AR-15 assault weapon to the school and killed 17 people.
The March for Our Lives Nashville event was organized by Abby Brafman, a freshman at Vanderbilt University and a 2017 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She spoke to demonstrators before the march commenced.
“You might recognize me as ‘the Facebook girl’ or the ‘the one with the neck tattoo’ or ‘the one with the red hair,’ but I am not a celebrity,” Brafman said. “I’m not even a full-on activist. I’m not a lawyer nor a politician. I am a student. I am a product of the American public education system. I am a school lunch-eating, torn library book-reading, afterschool-attending student. And because of this, I am also a survivor.”
Brafman explained that, because she continues to come home from school every day, she is a survivor. She said that she realized this upon hearing news of the shooting at her old high school.
“I lost myself in the mania produced by a murderous animal,” Brafman said. “And, for the rest of my life, every single yearbook, every single address label (and) every single high school sweatshirt will be a reminder that I am no longer Abby. I am a survivor.”
She said that her situation was not unique, citing other victims of similar “survivorship.”
“Every minute, children from forgotten and ignored communities lose their identities, only to become victim by relation,” Brafman said. “They become a dead person’s brother, friend, lab partner or classmate. Before even considering the unfathomable pain of losing a loved one, let us consider this loss of identity. Let us consider this stripping away of identities (and) this weapon of warfare used in concentration camps and in torturous situations, used to strip people of their claims to humanity. Let us imagine our lives destroyed by the grudge and the gun owned by one individual. Let us look around and realize that this is the reality for millions of American youth.”
Brafman then took a moment to address the many children attending the march. She encouraged them to let their voices be heard.
“Age does not equate to expertise,” Brafman said. “Hell, expertise doesn’t even equate to expertise. The world is changing, (and) the adults don’t understand how to use social media like us. They know how to design the apps and make the commercials and make the online ads, but they cannot and will not understand the online language that we have used to unify and to all become connected in one big, large organization, fighting for our lives.”
After her speech, Brafman gave the podium to Nashville Mayor David Briley. He referenced the early protests for desegregation in Nashville that took place on the same public square.
“Today, as I look at the thousands of young people here, the question is, ‘Is it right for our students to go to school in fear?'” Briley said. “Is it right for a small group of expensive lobbyists and powerful interests to deny us the right to live in a free and safe city?”
Briley asked what the crowd was going to do about it, and they shouted back, “Vote.” Briley encouraged members of the audience that were not already registered to vote to register at a booth at the event.
“Being here is not enough,” Briley said. “Being here is not going to change it. Each and every one of you needs to be registered to vote. Each and every one of you needs to express your desire to live in a free and safe city every single time there is an election.”
Bishop Marcus Campbell, the pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Nashville, was the last speaker before the march started.
“I remember being in high school, before I graduated back in ‘92,” Campbell said. “I remember that was a place where you would make friends (and a) place (where you would make) memories that you would never lose throughout life … But today, our kids are not able to enjoy high school like we once did.”
Campbell explained that kids in high school today have to worry about “being safe, being able to fit in and not being talked about.” He also made a point that the rally was about all gun violence, not just high school-related violence.
“It’s a shame that people can’t go and enjoy a concert and enjoy themselves without having to worry about being sniped out by somebody that doesn’t love themselves, nor their own life,” Campbell said. “It’s a shame that families cannot go to the movies to watch a movie together without worrying about somebody coming inside the theater (and) gunning down them and their children while they’re trying to enjoy family time.”
Campbell expressed hope for change.
“I believe today is a beginning,” Campbell said. “If we stick together, we will see some great results. And know that we’ll never lose our voice. Our voice is to vote. Our voice is to stand. Our voice is to march. Our voice is to walk, and united we stand. But divided we fall.”
After the speakers, the march began in several blocked off streets around the park. Protesters carried homemade signs and chanted phrases, such as, “Hey-hey, oh-oh, NRA has got to go,” “This is what democracy looks like,” “Four, three, two, one, protect our children not our guns” and “Vote them out.”
One demonstrator, Tommy Bugg, carried a sign that read, “A gun killed my son.”
“My son, back in 1981, killed himself with a handgun,” Bugg said. “He was a civil war reenactor, and at 17, he was just mixed up (and) messed up at that particular age. He shot himself in the head, and I found him. I’ve had PTSD off and on ever since ‘81.”
Bugg talked about some potential solutions he would like to see for gun legislation.
“You gotta get a background check,” Bugg said. “So, it costs 26 bucks from a gun dealer. So what? You add that price to the guns. Secondly, obviously, any long rifles and automatic weapons should be outlawed.”
Bugg had a message for the young people who were demonstrating.
“Never give up, share the love and try to vote intelligently,” Bugg said.
Another demonstrator, Libby Glover, carried a sign that read, “26 years ago, I survived a school shooting. Been fighting for change ever since.” Glover attended Bard’s College at Simon’s Rock in Western Massachusetts. In 1992, there was a shooting on her campus.
“When I was a freshman in college, a co-student of mine perpetrated a shooting on our campus,” Glover said. “He killed two people and injured several others. This was in 1992, so (it was) quite a while ago. At this point, only two killed is pretty small in comparison, which is, I think, tragic.”
Glover related her experience of being an activist back then to Saturday’s March for Our Lives event.
“After Parkland, and after these kids (became vocal), it felt like a lot of what I went through and how much we got out there and yelled,” Glover said. “It felt also like (this) could finally push over that middle point that we just haven’t been able to get past.”
The other side of Glover’s sign read, “They give me hope,” referring to the Parkland students.
Also attending the event was Alex Soffer, a teacher from Brooklyn, New York. She was in Tennessee visiting with family when she decided to attend the event.
“I teach fifth grade, and we teach the civil rights movement,” Soffer said. “We also teach the government unit at the beginning of the year. Policy-makers want our children to grow in an environment where their voice is heard. What I’ve noticed, though, since Trump has taken office … if the voice doesn’t fall in line with their monetary goals, they don’t want us to talk anymore.”
Soffer explained the importance of having a voice and enacting change.
“We need to instill in our children that the only way to make a change is to continue to have a voice,” Soffer said.
Soffer expressed hope for a change in gun control.
“This is the movement,” Soffer said. “These kids are not going to stop. They’re never going to stop, (and) they’re never going to sit down because their lives are in danger. Teachers’ lives are in danger. Children’s lives are in danger, and this is the population that is going to make a change.”
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