This is what democracy looks like.”
This was the chant heard from the crowd at the Pinellas County March for Our Lives Saturday, March 24 in downtown St. Petersburg. The marchers, a mix of young and old, marched north on 3rd Street South in protest of gun violence in American schools. Chanting in unison and waving signs with messages like “NRA: Not Representing America” and “Never Again,” the group numbered more than 1500 along the mile-and-a-half march.
Tennessee snowbirds Shirley McGuire and husband Richard Licht were at the event, their second political march in St. Petersburg.
“We marched last year too because I think we need sensible gun laws in this country,” said McGuire. “I cannot believe what it’s like for young people going to school and worrying about being killed.” Licht nodded in agreement, clutching his protest sign.
A small group of student volunteers from Palm Harbor University High School passed out signs before the march on Saturday.
“I wanted to be involved in some way, and this seemed like a good way to be involved and make sure that I was actively participating in the event,” said Katherine Sagiune, reflecting on her decision to volunteer with March for Our Lives.
“I think these events show that people really do care,” said Meagan Simmon, another student volunteer. “I think putting pressure on our politicians forces them to change.” Sanguine agreed, adding, “It forces students to take action too and take action for their rights.”
March for Our Lives Pinellas is just one sister march to the one held in Washington, D.C., which was initiated by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, following the school shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead on February 14. According to the March for Our Lives website, however, each sister march is an “independent, student-led initiative.”
According to the Pinellas County group’s Facebook page, the nonpartisan local event was created to advocate for “common sense gun control and awareness for the movement to prevent gun abuse,” and also to “demand that our lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today.”
Student leaders Madison Vogel, Carolyn-Claire Bridges, Emery Horvath, Katie Hart, Emily Handsdel, Sophia Landa, Jared Hampton, and more came together from multiple Pinellas County schools to organize the event, along with help from USF St. Petersburg.
Social media sparked the initial interest in creating a sister march.
“I saw a tweet saying ‘if there’s anyone from the Pinellas County area, I’d love to start a march,’” said Keeza Vo of St. Pete Collegiate High School.
The students, all from different high schools in the Pinellas County area, met weekly and sometimes bi-weekly to plan the march. With help from the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, the team raised $4,053 and planned and executed March for Our Lives Pinellas in just one month.
“A lot of our donations came from the people and we’re very blessed to have them here,” said Vo, 17.
At the rally in Poynter Park, speeches from students as well as politicians drew applause from the crowd. Florida Democratic Senator Darryl Rouson took the stage with three of his high school-aged sons, and later St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman made a big announcement.
In his address to the crowd on Saturday, Kriseman said he will be proposing changes to the city’s investment policy, asking city council to approve divesting in companies that sell or manufacture assault style weapons.
“This step allows us to hit them in their stomach where it hurts, which is their pocketbook,” said St. Petersburg Councilmember Darden Rice, who is in favor of the proposal.
The proposal is set to go to council within the next two weeks, according to Kriseman.