Nick Nyein marched down Spring Street as the LA March for Our Lives drew to a close at City Hall on Saturday, sweat streaming down his forehead, neck and back.
The 18-year-old knew the day would be hot – as one of three co-organizers of the Los Angeles march, it was his job to know – but that didn’t make it more bearable .
But when he returned to the stage and surveyed the crowd, he saw how many people showed up after a slow start to the day. There were hundreds of noisy walkers.
Passing cars honked their horns and drivers raised their fists in support. People waiting at a nearby bus stop shouted and joined the crowd, chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
“That,” Nyein said, his voice cracking, “that’s worth it now.”
More than 1,000 people gathered around downtown City Hall for the student-led march against gun violence sparked by recent mass shootings, including one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas , and another in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which together killed 31 people. .
The LA March for Our Lives rally was one of hundreds that took place across Southern California and across the country on Saturday in solidarity with a flagship march in Washington, D.C. The movement emerged after the 2018 shooting at Marjory High School Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people.
Just hours before the march in Los Angeles, thousands turned out to the National Mall for the highest-profile protest marking a new push for gun control. Cities like New York, Atlanta and Chicago have followed suit.
In Los Angeles, organizers, gun violence survivors and gun control advocates gathered crowds ahead of the march to City Hall.
March co-organizer Shaadi Ahmadzadeh, 19, has called for universal background checks, an increase in the legal age of gun ownership from 18 to 21 and a ban on guns. assault rifle and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“I remind you,” she said, “this movement here is led by students – not by politicians – by students like me.”
Twitch streamer Hasan Piker told the crowd that he shoots guns but doesn’t think anyone needs an AR-15. And, he says, he’s tired of Congressional inaction.
Mia Tretta, 17, who survived the 2019 Saugus High School shooting, has opened up about losing her best friend, Dominic Blackwell. She said loopholes in the law allowed a minor to get a ready-to-assemble gun and kill her friend.
“Our generation grew up watching these horrific shootings unfold,” said 21-year-old Cameron Kasky. “And we see the same cycle repeating itself: mass murder, especially with an AR-15. Public outrage, thoughts and prayers, rinse and repeat.
Kasky is a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and helped organize the first national March for Our Lives protest.
There was a sense of desperation in his voice, however – an acknowledgment that there are fewer protesters in the country than there were in 2018, and a fear that people believe nothing will change.
Kasky said he doesn’t blame anyone; he just wants the anger to always be there, and he wants politicians to be as uncomfortable going out in public as kids are going to school.
“Don’t walk because you think the Senate is going to pass anything,” he said, his voice rising. “Walk to show them how angry we are. Mars to show them that we are not going to stop until they do what we demand.
The US House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would enact some of the reforms protesters want – raising the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 and banning the sale of magazines ammunition with a capacity of more than 15 rounds. But the measure has almost no chance of passing the Senate and becoming law.
Lawmakers took action after a House committee heard testimony from survivors of recent shootings and their family members, including an 11-year-old girl who covered herself in the blood of a classmate to play dead and avoid being shot at Uvalde Primary School. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the May 24 attack, which also left 17 injured.
March for Our Lives LA organizers said they wanted the march to be specific to the region and the gun violence experienced here. Although California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, gun violence still affects more than 1,400 people a year.
That’s the number of people who survived shootings in Los Angeles in 2021 – the second straight year in which gun violence has increased in the city. There were 400 people killed in Los Angeles last year, marking a more than 50% increase in homicides since 2019.
Marchers shouted, “Whose streets are they? Our streets,” holding up signs with messages such as “A well-regulated militia don’t kill children” and “We’re done taking bullets for Congress.”
Erin Barker, 23, said she lost a family member in a drive-by shooting and another relative survived a mass shooting at Northern Illinois University. She’s been going out to protest since she was 18.
“I grew up watching and hearing about these mass shootings. It hit closer to home when Sandy Hook happened; it hit closer to home when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened, as a gay man,” Barker said. “The problem is you’re not listening. The problem is people are still dying on your watch.
Bree Pavey’s shirt commemorated the victims of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. She said she’s met many shooting survivors since 2009 as a performer in “The Columbine Project” theater production. The work left an imprint on her heart, she said, and she sees Columbine as a turning point for gun violence in this country.
As the protest drew to a close, co-organizer Anna Pham said that while the day was a success, she fears that if people don’t go home after the march and continue to reach out to politicians, this momentum will run out of steam.
“This situation itself is so helpless that if we hang back and look and feel helpless, we’ll feel even worse.” Pham said.
“But if we try to do something about it,” she said, “we channel our energy, or we channel our desperation into something so that we feel like we’re doing something. And sometimes we do, and those times when we have those wins, whether big or small, it’s worth it.
Times writer Alex Wigglesworth and The Associated Press contributed to this report.