Her boots already soaked in snow, 16-year-old Lujayn Hamad watched Saturday as more than 200 people filed past her.
“Rain, sleet or snow,” they chanted, “The NRA has got to go.”
Moments earlier, Hamad had urged the Iowa City crowd to get loud during its march through a snowstorm from College Green Park to the downtown Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus.
“Fight for me, fight for us,” Hamad said. “Fight for every single child that’s going to school.”
Hamad was one of several students who organized the Iowa City march, one of more than 800 national demonstrations Saturday that called for gun control to curb school shootings in the wake of the Feb. 14 rampage that left 17 dead in Parkland, Fla.
Besides Iowa City, events were planned in 13 other Iowa communities, including outside the Capitol in Des Moines, where an estimated 4,000 gathered.
Some students in Iowa City said they expected the latest shooting to fade from national conversation, as have the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine High School and others. Since 1999, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school, according to a Washington Post analysis.
But the reaction to the Parkland shooting — which largely has been led by students — has given young people hope, they said.
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“Parents are affected by this, teachers are affected by this, but it’s mostly students who are affected by gun violence in schools,” said Poseybelle Stoeffer, 14, a member of the recently-formed Students Against School Shootings Iowa group. “So it’s only right that we stand up.”
Saturday’s march was one of several recent demonstrations in the Iowa City area. Some of the same students walked out of classes in the Iowa City school district last month, as did students in Cedar Rapids and across the country.
“My kids have marched more than I have in my whole life,” said Lindsay Spencer, who marched with her 9-year-old son, Will, and her 5-year-old daughter, Margo.
The march ended on the snow-covered UI campus, where kids built snowmen as adolescent children took turns at a microphone.
“Unless we get reasonable gun control, these shootings will continue,” Margalit Frank, 12, told the crowd. “More children will never get to come home from school, more children will never get to see their parents’ faces again or their siblings’. ... I don’t want to think about who could be next. My 8-year-old brother? My 5-year-old brother? I don’t want to imagine my little brothers hiding under a desk, scared and suffering.”
In Des Moines, thousands of students, parents and concerned Iowans stormed the Capitol grounds as did the weather to chant, cheer and declare support for the student-led March for Our Lives movement.
Messages like “arm teachers with books, not bullets” and “the only thing easier to buy than a gun is a GOP candidate” were brandished in a sea of homemade signs and placards.
Jaime Izaguirre, a student at Drake University, was 12 when the deadly Sandy Hook shooting took place in Connecticut. He said he’s seen nothing change in more than six years to deal with the problem of school shootings.
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“We can no longer be silent on one of the biggest issues of our generation,” Izaguirre told the crowd. “I’m tired of the NRA and special interests stopping real change from happening.
“I’m tired of weeping. My tears have been replaced by anger. Anger over inaction, anger over indifference to American lives, children’s lives,” he said over a loud speaker system that cracked at times in the blowing snow flurries. “I’m going to use this anger to make sure that my voice is heard, I’m going to use this anger to drive change and I’m going to use this anger to vote, and you should do the same.”
Olivia Van Hook, a student at Dallas Center-Grimes High School, said “this isn’t about left or right, this is about life and death.”
Melissa Zapata, a student at Des Moines University who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, choked back tears as she described the past 38 days since the shooting. “How many more parents will have to bury their children before we draw the line?” she asked.
Olivia Boulting, a student at Van Meter High School, said she no longer feels safe at school and expressed concern that she “should not have to tell my mother what to bury me in if I’m a victim of gun violence. Enough is enough.
“We need to put aside our political parties for a second to realize our people are dying, our kids are dying,” she said. “We are the generation to make the change and together we can make a difference. We can make history.”
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