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Why they marched, in their own words, again

Left photo: Carmen Cuweti; Right photo: Sole'a Harmon (left) and A.J. Proctor (right) attend the "March for Our Lives" rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, June 11.
Greg Miller for NPR
Left photo: Carmen Cuweti; Right photo: Sole'a Harmon (left) and A.J. Proctor (right) attend the "March for Our Lives" rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, June 11.

Last weekend, hundreds gathered in Washington, D.C., to rally for stricter gun regulation, mourn loved ones lost to gun violence and reflect on the past four years.

Although smaller in comparison to the 2018 "March for Our Lives" rally, Saturday's gathering attracted people from across the country with the same fear, pain and message: This cannot continue.

Christine Martin, a grandmother from Orlando, Florida, said she was haunted to hear about the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers' lives were taken by gun violence, so she traveled to march where she felt she could be heard.

"It was important to me to be in D.C., near the government buildings, and say 'enough is enough,'" Martin said. "It's got to stop."

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Martin firmly held a sign with the names of each child and person killed in the Sandy Hook and Uvalde school shootings, hand-written and listed side by side. She said she worries about her grandchildren's futures.

Recent events such as the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, which killed 10 and wounded three, have urged people to join the "March for Our Lives" movement and advocate for comprehensive gun legislation.

After four years, NPR photographed the second "March for Our Lives" in Washington, D.C., and spoke with devastated and determined attendees.

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Molly and Erin Heston

Molly Heston, who will be a high school freshman in the fall, traveled from Richmond, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., with her parents and brother for the rally.

Like most children her age, she's participated in school shooter drills since kindergarten.

"As a student, I feel like I shouldn't have to be afraid in the classroom and my peers should feel safe in a learning environment," Molly said. "I want more gun safety laws so I shouldn't have to be scared to learn in school."

Molly's mom, Erin Heston, also wants to see Congress act. She said legislators' failure to pass gun control is frustrating.

"Unfortunately, this is something that impacts everybody in America," Erin Heston said. "Everybody knows somebody who's been affected by gun violence."

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Lauren Siegal, Elliott Conklin and Sidney Conklin-Hill

Five-year-old Sidney Conklin-Hill made his own sign for the rally. On one side of a piece of cardboard, he drew a gun crossed out in red. On the other side, his sign read "protect kids."

Sidney's dad, Elliott Conklin, said people are more united on gun control issues than they seem.

"I wanted to be here to be among people who felt the way that I did," Conklin said. "Not because they are Democrats or Republicans, but because they just want to stop the fear."

Conklin said he believes Congress can find consensus and pass gun reform most of the country can get behind — laws such as thorough background checks for gun purchases and a minimum age requirements for certain weapons.

Conklin said he's angry, but he's not angry at the other side.

"We're angry at the systems that continue to propel us into more gun violence," he said. "Everyone is here because we value humanity and we know that the people who aren't here, who don't believe in this, also value humanity. And so we just have to find some way for that to actually come together."

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Mikayla and Mariel Lindsay with Aashi Mendpara

At one point during the rally, groups of people fearfully ran from the stage. Some ducked, hid behind port-a-potties and grabbed their children before a speaker reassured the crowd was safe. Later, another speaker suggested someone came to evoke, "The fear we live with every day in life." Many left the event after the scare — some in tears as they walked off the field. Sisters Mikayla and Mariel Lindsay walked away from the stage with their friend Aashi Mendpara, noticeably shocked and confused as they spoke with NPR.

"There was like a blur of people and the only thing I could think of is, first, where is Mariel, and, second, I need to text my mom," Mendpara said. "Even after we all stopped, I sat there for a second and I was, like, 'What just happened?' I genuinely felt like I was going to die and nothing could have prepared me for that moment."

The girls did not plan to leave the event, but wanted to stand farther away from the stage and the large crowd. Panic guided Mikayla's eyes, as she continued to check her surroundings, analyzing each person who walked by.

"The idea of getting hit with a bullet is the scariest thing — and even somebody defeating what we're trying to do by causing violence. It made it real," Mikayla said. "When you think you could be a victim of gun violence, it's sobering."

The girls reflected on the active shooter drills they had done growing up in school.

"Instead of making a law that would make it harder for these things to happen, they're showing us what to do in response to it happening," Mariel said. "It's like we're waiting for the next one to happen."

Still shaken by the day's events, Mendpara shared her fear for her and her family's future.

"I actually marched for Pulse — I marched the first year," Mendpara said. "Legislators and congressmen, they're not listening to the cries of thousands and thousands of children, adults, parents and teachers who are concerned. There is a concern that my brother is going to go into a high school one day and he's going to be shot and I'm going to have to fly home and I'm going to have to bury my own brother."

Left: Stacey-Ann Minlo; Right: Tiffany-Ann Osong
/ Greg Miller for NPR
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Greg Miller for NPR
Left: Stacey-Ann Minlo; Right: Tiffany-Ann Osong

The Rev. Paula Toland, Libby Clarke and Jody Cadwell

Left: The Rev. Paula Toland; Right: Jody Cadwell
/ Greg Miller for NPR
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Greg Miller for NPR
Left: The Rev. Paula Toland; Right: Jody Cadwell

Three Christian women — the Rev. Paula Toland, Libby Clarke and Jody Cadwell — took an early morning train from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., to attend the rally.

"I can't wrap my head around why it has been so incredibly difficult for us to take the action that needs to be taken so that people of all ages, all shapes and sizes are not brutally gunned down," Toland said. "This is a, I hope, an even-keeled expression of my deep anger about what's going along — and also an outward expression of my hope that we can become the world that I believe God created us to be."

To deal with recent news, Toland said community and church involvement have allowed her to work through tough emotions, while Clarke took a more personal and artistic approach.

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"For the last six years, I actually started making protest posters every day to keep myself sane in a sketchbook," Clarke said. "I call it 'Go high,' and it's my chance to go high. There's got to be a way out of this. There is a way out. It's so simple."

Clarke has a stack of protest signs at home that sits as high as her hips. She said it is difficult for her to cope with mass shootings because she was taught how to handle a gun at a young age.

"I'm originally from rural Virginia. I was raised around guns. I was a member of the NRA," Clarke said. "Those people taught me how to handle a weapon in the '80s. The people who taught me that would be horrified — horrified at the armor-piercing bullets and the obscenity. When I was growing up, guns were tools for killing — they were killing animals, and you hunted to eat. There was no disguising what else they were."

Photographer Greg Miller carried his 8x10 large format camera across Washington, D.C., to document the second "March for Our Lives" rally.

Follow Miller on Instagram and Twitter at @gregmillerfoto.

Design and development: Alyson Hurt/NPR

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Greg Miller
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