Thousands of men, women and children gathered in First Ward Park in uptown Charlotte today to demand stronger gun control measures saying it is time to elect leaders who will value children over guns.
Organized by area high school students, Charlotte’s March For Our Lives event featured teenage speakers who talked about a life filled with school lockdowns, active shooter drills and worry over whether a beloved teacher might one day be shot protecting his or her class.
Twin sisters Criss and Ella Berke, freshmen at Marvin Ridge High School in Union County, talked about being fourth graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. Criss hid in a closet in her music room while Ella was in the gym during the rampage. Criss called the current attitude toward gun control and the growing number of school shootings “disgraceful.”
“I cannot and will not be quiet,” Ella said. “Our lives are worth more than the NRA and getting re-elected. …Vote them out of office if they fail to put children first. We need your vote to be our voice.”
The Charlotte event is estimated to have drawn 2,500 people, according to Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department. The event was one of more than 800 demonstrations nationwide planned for the day. The largest march was scheduled for Washington, D.C., which was organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and drew thousands of people.
In Charlotte, gray skies threatened but mostly stayed dry. People came prepared for bad weather wearing ponchos and donning shirts and held handmade posters with slogans including: “I’m a teacher, not a shooter,” “How many more?” and “I can’t study if I am dead.”
Nine-year-old Kiera Moffitt, who was wearing a Wonder Woman headband, was asked why she wanted to attend the march. She said because “arms are for hugging.” Her 10-year-old brother Oliver gave a more somber answer.
“I’m marching today for safety for all people here in America and at schools,” said Oliver, who was holding a sign that said, “my life is worth more than your gun.” “You don’t need any guns that can mow down people. They belong in the military.”
The siblings had come to the march with friends, their teachers and their mother, Jackie Moffitt of Denver, a former high school teacher.
The crowd often erupted in cheers and broke into chants of “Vote them out” and “No more” during the hour of speeches. Mention of arming teachers with guns elicited a chorus of boos.
Volunteers provided security and helped direct people. During the speeches, Charlotte psychologist John Simpson, 67, stood in front of the speakers, facing the crowd, acting as security.
“They said they needed large people to provide security and I said yes,” said Simpson, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall. “There are times where you have to stand up and say enough.”
Following the speeches, the crowd marched to Marshall Park. Near the end of the crowd was Consuella Harge, who was on her way to a prayer meeting this morning when she decided to attend the demonstration instead.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” said Harge, a mother who is studying mathematics at UNC Charlotte. “I was crying. I want to support them. I’m doing this for my children. I’m doing this for these children, and I’m doing this for children around the country who need to be safe, whose lives matter.”
Irene Lewis of Huntersville marched to advocate for stricter gun laws and increased funding for mental health issues. Her 19-year-old son, who had a history of depression and suicide attempts, bought a gun without his parents’ knowledge and used it to kill himself. She’s advocated for increasing the legal age to buy a gun for a few years, and she said Saturday’s march gave her hope.
“I think things are turning,” she said.
Once marchers reached Marshall Park, they cheered and chanted for less than a half hour before the crowd dwindled.
Among the last to leave the park was Hough High School senior Rosemary Colen, a march organizer and speaker, and her dad, Terry, a wealth manager who also had volunteered to help with security.
“This is a chance for adults to step back and let the next generation express their desires,” Terry Colen said.
Rosemary Colen chimed in: “The most stubborn generation will show you just how stubborn we can be.”