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Thousands Expected To Demonstrate At Charlotte March For Our Lives Event

Country Day senior Carly Lerner, left, and Myers Park senior Maddie Syfert are two of the organizers of the March For Our Lives event in Charlotte.
Nick de la Canal
Country Day senior Carly Lerner, left, and Myers Park senior Maddie Syfert are two of the organizers of the March For Our Lives event in Charlotte.

Tens of thousands of people nationwide are expected to demonstrate Saturday as part of March for Our Lives, the latest in a string of student-led demonstrations calling for greater gun control since a 19-year-old walked onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus in Parkland, Fla., in February and shot 17 people dead. In Charlotte, more than 5,000 residents have indicated on social media that they plan to march Saturday in support of ending gun violence.

Credit March For Our Lives

Maddie Syfert, a senior at Myers Park High School who responded to a Facebook message asking about Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Charlotte, is scrambling to prepare for the estimated 5,000-plus people who have said they will attend the demonstration. But she is happy to take time to talk about the event.

“We’re trying to get everything done. There’s just so much to do,” she said speaking from Panera Bread, where she was working on her laptop, reviewing the speech she plans to give Saturday.

March for Our Lives was created and organized by #NeverAgain, a group of students who survived the mass shooting in Florida. According to its website, March for Our Lives is “created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.”  The group has drawn praise and financial support from celebrities including George and Amal Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber.  It’s also backed by groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control. Everytown was founded in 2014 by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and includes the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

The national demonstration planned for Washington, D.C. has spawned “sibling marches” in more than 800 cities, according to the March For Our Lives website. Syfert says she’s never been politically or civically active but now she’s fielding calls from the media, coordinating fellow volunteers, arranging for permits, and talking with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department about security.

A competitive equestrian and self-described “barn rat,” Syfert says she has spent most of her time away from school on her horse focused on training and competing in horse jumping. But as with many other students, she couldn’t erase thoughts of the Parkland shooting from her mind.

“This is something that just got my attention. I’m really passionate about it,” she says.

After reading about the Washington D.C. March for Our Lives demonstration and searching online for details about any local events, Syfert realized there wasn’t anything local scheduled. So she decided late one February night to organize a Charlotte demonstration. She created a Facebook page and posted a Facebook event and went to bed.  She awoke the next morning to find 50 people saying they planned to attend her march. By the afternoon, the number had grown to 300 people, and by that evening 500 people had RSVP’d saying they would come.

Syfert, who is the granddaughter of former Charlotte City Manager Pam Syfert, said around 200 people also signed up to volunteer. She met with and is working closely with four other student volunteers from area high schools, including Carly Lerner, a senior at Charlotte Country Day School. She says adults have offered their services, including a graphic designer, a retired security officer, and a professional fundraiser who helped raise money. T-shirts and sweatshirts were designed with the demonstration’s name and date and the phrase “never again” and sold online for $19.99.  

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles also helped out, advising Syfert on what she needed to do. Syfert also created a GoFundMe campaign to support the march, raising $4,360 of a $10,000 goal as of Friday morning. Money raised will go toward costs associated with organizing the Charlotte march. Extra proceeds will be donated to the national March for Our Lives Action Fund, which will cover expenses associated with the march taking place in Washington, D.C. and pay for lobbying expenses, including fighting for gun safety legislation and voter education.

“When I first got into it, I thought we’d just join together at the park and march down the sidewalk,” Syfert said. “But now we’re expecting as many as 10,000 people and it’s a little bit stressful.”  

The Charlotte march is listed on the national organization’s sister march webpage, but Syfert says she hasn’t talked with anyone with the national group. She has, however, received help from local organizers with Women’s March, which organized the recent National School Walkout, and the Charlotte regional chapter of Moms Demand Action, which advocates for stricter gun control.

“This is the first activist thing I’ve ever done,” Syfert said. “But there’s been a lot of support. It’s really inspiring to see I wasn’t out here by myself.”

Carol Anne Lawler, a local leader with Moms Demand Action, has been working with Syfert. Lawler says she has been impressed by the teen’s efforts.

“It shows commitment. It shows desire. It shows incredible maturity and bravery and courage with a little chutzpah thrown in,” Lawler said. “She is just running with the whole thing and needs very little assistance.”