Emotional speeches and chants filled Courthouse Square Saturday for the Dayton March For Our Lives protest. People in other Ohio cities, including Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, also gathered for anti-gun-violence demonstrations.
The rallies were timed to coincide with the national March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. That student-led march drew hundreds of thousands of protesters to the nation's capital, the Associated Press reports, numbers that make it one of the largest youth protest marches in decades.
Nearly 800 people stood together in downtown Dayton throughout the early afternoon, holding homemade signs and listening to speeches. Speakers included Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and many students and teachers from schools around the Dayton area.
Among them was Kaleb Barlow, a junior at Stivers School for the Arts. He called on lawmakers to take action to curb school shootings. He says he feels afraid to be inside his school building.
“It drives fear to me that we could be next. You know, Stivers High School could be next and I have a little sister that has eight more years of schooling to go through, and she doesn’t deserve to feel scared to go to school,” Barlow says.
Stivers sophomore and Dayton march organizer Clara Bement urged march attendees to push for stronger gun control legislation in their communities before this fall’s midterm congressional elections.
“I hope the students and teachers that spoke today can influence the decisions of voters and anyone that showed up, that they can vote for the correct people to come into office and make the correct decisions to ban assault weapons," she says, "to have more thorough background checks universally and overall just get these guns out of the hands of civilians.”
Dozens of Miami Valley high-school students, teachers and parents also planned to travel to Washington, D.C. for the national protest.
Oakwood High School sophomore Samuel Caruso helped organize a bus delegation to the march from Dayton. The group also planned to meet with Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in Washington, D.C.
“We have see these school shootings time after time and we haven’t seen a lot of action,” he says. “And we want action. Whether you’re Republican, whether you’re a Democrat, this is a nonpartisan issue and we want to see legislation passed to help stop these school shootings and prevent this unnecessary gun violence.”
Caruso says the bus was open to all Greater Dayton students and more than 40 people had reserved a space. Several parents and teachers also planned to travel with the group.
In a statement on Caruso’s event page, he thanked his fellow students for participating in Saturday’s march. “With your activism and passion, this group will make history. We have so many young leaders in our Dayton community, when we join together, our voice will be loud and our call for justice even louder.”
It’s unclear how many people planned to travel to Washington, D.C. from the Dayton area on Saturday.
Caruso’s bus was one of at least two organized trips advertising rides on social media over the last week, including one from the Dayton International Peace Museum.
The weekend's Washington, D.C. march is the second major student-organized gun-related protest event since the Parkland shooting.
Thousands of students across the country also participated in the National School Walkout against gun violence on March 14, walking out of school for at least 17 minutes at around 10 a.m. in every time zone.
Other Miami Valley students chose not to walk out of school. Some held separate memorials to the Parkland victims or observed a moment of silence or prayer inside their schools.
Student activists are planning another national school walkout on April 20 to mark the anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999 in Colorado.
The March for Our Lives website includes a mission statement calling for legislation to address gun violence.
“Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a firing assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.”
Organizers expected more than 800 solidarity marches in countries worldwide on Saturday.