Speakers and activists took part in the March for Our Lives protest over the weekend in Des Moines, despite inclement weather.
The Des Moines rally was just one of the several protests held across the state and country in response to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February.
Before the main speakers walked on stage, protesters, mainly high school and college age, were organizing chants in support of gun control legislation. The youngest of these students was a third grader from Des Moines named Savannah, who led a chant saying “books not bullets.”
There were many Iowa State students taking part in the various chants including Alexander Criswell, senior in physics, and Lindsay Koehler, senior in journalism and mass communication, who came to the march in support of the cause.
“It is time for our voice to be heard, this has gone on for so long one after another and it keeps getting worse. The only way we can stop this sickening violence is to stand up,” Criswell said when asked why they felt compelled to march.
Koehler said despite the intense snow and weather, she showed up to march because of the organizing and preparing done on campus.
“We are both a part of the ISU theatre community and we all made signs together, so if one of us is going to show up, we should all show up,” Koehler said.
Another Iowa State student, Rachel Espinosa, junior in psychology, was there as a volunteer for the event.
“We are here and we are saying enough is enough; the people here showed up through the snow because they care about this issue and it shows lawmakers that they have to listen,” Espinosa said.
As the event continued, activists, youth leaders, representatives and victims of gun violence took the stage to speak.
Melissa Zapata, graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and current student at Des Moines University, gave an emotional speech about the effects of tragedy and outlined the purpose of the march.
“When people used to ask me where I was from I would tell them southern Florida or an hour from Miami. Now those days of anonymity are gone,” Zapata said. “I used to get frustrated when people would have no clue about where I was from, and now I get frustrated when people associate where I live with the shooting that just happened.”
Zapata continued to explain how Parkland is where she learned to swim and drive, found her passion for medicine and had learned many life lessons.
“What truly upsets me more than anything is that those kids will never live the future they had planned and set for them. Those 17 children will never be able to be where I am today,” Zapata said.
She ended her speech saying "we are told to live everyday like its our last but it shouldn’t be that way when we go to school," to which the protesters raised signs saying “never again” and “no more silence, end gun violence.”
Organizers of the march said it was to “march in solidarity with those in Washington D.C. and around the world,” and Zapata’s speech encapsulated this idea.
Between each speech, organizers presented different ways to create change outside of just the day’s march. This included registering to vote and how to get in contact with legislators in congress.
Jaime Izaguirre, a student at Drake University, elaborated on the importance of talking to Iowa Legislators and brought up some of the current gun legislation that could affect Iowa.
“Despite multiple shootings in the past month alone, HJR 2009, a constitutional amendment passed by the house earlier this week, would put future efforts of gun control in a negative light,” Izaguirre said. “I am going to use my anger to vote and you should do the same.”
After a few more speakers and numerous chants of “vote them out,” Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, approached the stage. With a lighthearted tone he said “vote out the right legislators,” after first presenting his position on gun issues.
Rather than giving teachers guns, like some have suggested, Rep. Abdul-Samad said money should go to giving students computers, giving teachers raises and ensuring students can go to college debt free.
His tone changed as he recalled a personal story about the death of his son.
“I lost my baby boy to gun violence,” Abdul-Samad said.
He continued to explain a young man, who should not have had a gun, accidentally shot and killed his only son many years ago. When the young man at the time was facing capital punishment, Abdul-Samad forgave him and took the boy under his wing to make sure his life wouldn’t be taken as well.
Abdul-Samad said “that man has now graduated college and has three kids of his own. Don’t tell me we can’t change the world with love, don’t tell me you don’t have power, don’t tell me you can’t stand up, tell me what you can do.”
Within his speech, Abdul-Samad also addressed policy concerns often brought up by the opposition. He said it isn’t about taking away second amendment rights but rather making it harder for people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting a gun and providing the proper mental care to ensure people don’t resort to violence.
Among other policy changes, leaders at the rally called for stricter background checks, raising the age to purchase a gun, banning high capacity magazine and bump stocks and more training steps for individuals seeking to buy a firearm.
While the protest was organized primarily by and for students, Progress Iowa helped organize and paid for everything that was set up.
Before the last of the 15 speeches, the path the actual march would take was announced to the crowd. As student’s and young people’s lives were the focus of the protest, the leaders of the march were naturally the student speakers and organizers who chanted many of the previous sayings with megaphones.