Hundreds of people, possibly 1000 or more, turned out in Colorado Springs Saturday to protest gun violence and call for legislative action on the issue. The downtown rally was part of a nationwide action, dubbed #MarchForOurLives, organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida.
In Colorado Springs, people began to assemble at Acacia Park around 11:30 a.m., carrying signs with messages like, "Thoughts & Prayers Are NOT Enough" and "Gun Reform Now." By noon, hundreds had gathered around the park bandshell, where activists, candidates, and local teens addressed the crowd. Speaking through a small PA system, they weighed in on everything from their own experiences with gun violence and school shootings to the need for Colorado residents to get involved in politics and support candidates pushing for gun policy changes.
Among them was 14-year-old Alexis Baca, a student at Harrison High School. She questioned why "anybody with enough money to buy one" should be able to purchase an assault-style rifle like the AR-15, which was used in the Parkland shooting. That message was echoed by many of the speakers at the rally, several of whom voiced support for an outright ban of so-called "assault rifles."
"People die each day because we don't have the proper gun laws to keep our people safe, our children safe," Baca continued. "So me, a 14-year-old student who has pretty much no business trying to make a change... has to come out to a march like this and speak out and make my voice heard, so that I cannot feel afraid to go to school and get the education I need to be successful in life."
Mark Snyder, Andrew Smith, Terry Martinez, Lori Furstenburg, and Pete Lee, all of whom are running for elected office in 2018, were also among those who spoke.
In the crowd were people of all ages, including many parents with their school-aged children. Carrie Young, a teacher in Colorado Springs District 11, attended with her 13-year-old daughter, Madeline. Young said she chose to attend the rally out of a passion for school safety and a desire for her students to feel safe in school. As a teacher, she explained, the threat of gun violence has become a fact of daily life in her school.
"I think about it literally every single day," she said. "When I get to work, I unlock my door, then I relock it and put this 'lock block' thing on so that my classroom door can be locked within seconds... We do the shelter in place drills -- active shooter drills -- four times a year, and it's horrible. I see all their faces, like 20 seven-year-olds shoved behind my desk, looking at me in the dark, and it's horrifying."
"Something needs to be changed," added Madeline, "we should not have to be scared to go to school."
After a round of speeches, the crowd mobilized for a short march through downtown from Acacia Park. Chanting "Enough is Enough" and "Not One More," marchers walked north on Nevada Ave to Boulder St, then west on Boulder St, and back to the park on Tejon St. The line of marchers was long enough that the front of the pack returned to the park before those at the back had embarked.
Following the march, the crowd heard from several more political hopefuls, including gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis, state attorney general candidate Amy Padden, Colorado House District 17 Rep. Tony Exum, US House District 5 candidate Betty Field, and Colorado House District 21 candidate Mike Goldsborough.
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As the rally wound down around 1:30 p.m., organizer Linda Cantu said she was amazed at the turnout and level of enthusiasm among attendees.
"I'm shocked, honestly. I didn't think that we would have this many people come out, and I'm thrilled that we did," she said. "It was a lot of work, but it was worth it."
Cantu founded the group Mothers Against School Shootings and decided to organize the local rally out of a desire to do more than "yell at the T.V."
"I think a lot of people are tired of the killing. They're tired of seeing kids killed -- they should be tired of seeing anybody killed," she added. "We're going to start talking about guns now, and talking about it seriously.