T-minus 5 days
Hunched over my laptop, I made the last rounds before bed Sunday night. I sifted through the emails stacked in my Syracuse University inbox. Amidst second-hand notifications and routine campus updates, one subject line caught my eye: March for Our Lives.
With the help of SU’s Alphi Phi Alpha chapter and neighboring SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, SU’s Student Association would be sponsoring buses to Washington, D.C. I sat up a bit straighter. 150 seats, $5 a pop, one ticket per person, please, with valid SU ID. Blood rushed into my ears as I weighed the pros and cons.
I wasn’t so much worried about buses gliding across black ice or throngs of outraged teenagers descending on D.C. I was anxious about counter-protesters and those who cling on to their Second Amendment rights too tightly. And I wasn’t worried about numb hands and frosted eyelashes, or the toll marching would take on my creaking knees. I was, though, about the mountain of second-semester senior work that would be waiting on me when I retuned.
I clicked on my dock’s iCal icon as a tie-breaker, but I had already made up my mind. Nothing I was doing the next weekend would be more important than being in D.C. for March for Our Lives.
Waking my girlfriend Genna out of a dead sleep, I ran the impulse by her. I texted my best friend Danielle that March for Our Lives was the move this weekend. After posting the fresh ticket on my Instagram story, I soaked up support and fielded questions. I gave answers as best I could. For example, I directed Sharde to SU’s box office and gave her the numbers she needed to make her decision.
But as the adrenaline wore off, I realized that I, too, was full of questions. We’d leave Syracuse, NY at 2 a.m. and leave D.C. at 7 p.m., but what would happen in between? All I knew was to dress for warmth and block out Friday for napping.
Being a keen individual and a resourceful Gemini, my friend Devin aggregated as much information as he could. Days before our pre-departure meeting — where Office of Student Activities staff would point us to the March for Our Lives app and the WMATA (D.C.’s Metro system) app, an old flame — Devin had a game plan.
Take the orange / blue / silver line form Robert F. Kennedy Stadium via Stadium-Armory station. Go to Capitol South. Or, we could walk: it’s like the trek from SU’s Brewster-Boland-Brockway residence hall to Westcott St. And we could stop to rest and eat!
Danielle, Devin, his friend Alex and I put our heads together at the pre-departure meeting. We also were prepped for the worst: long stretches of bus rides with no stopping and therefore no food, heavy traffic, tough crowds, limited cellphone service.
I figured I’d spend Friday “hunting and gathering,” as my friend Alex would later put it, instead of napping. As we were getting ready to leave, Danielle turned to me and told me that she was nervous. What with the attacks in Austin…
This was my first big protest. Yes, I had covered the Women’s March in Syracuse, which was, historically speaking, a big deal. But the March for Our Lives would far transcend that — both in prominence and in scale as well as risk. But showing up for the Parkland, FL survivors was the priority. And we just had to hope for the best.
Me being me, I had gotten to reading. Knowledge is power, right?
Although riot grrrl veteran Claire Rudy Foster didn’t make me feel much better when she let me in on how teargas can trap between an eye and a contact lens, and reminded me my signature “Feminist” hoop earrings were likely to get pulled past my lobes in rowdy protest.
Sue Basko also talked about teargas, and also advised foregoing makeup and jewelry. I damn sure hoped a demonstration against gun violence wouldn’t turn violent, so I opted for a quick beat and un-snag-able earrings. At the very least, because of her infographic, I decided on my low-top, grey Timberlands to prevent crushed toes.
Aside from researching logistics and practicalities, who would I be if I wasn’t chest-deep in March for Our Lives discourse?
Even before the think-pieces and coverage started rolling in, I glimpsed Roxane Gay’s musings on the differing responses to Black Lives Matter and this new anti-gun violence wave.
In many respects, too, I look up to Patrisse Cullors: a poppin’ queer black woman who organized the most powerful and contentious movement of this generation. Naturally, I paid attention to what she had to say. Cullors’ words to TIME Magazine (ahead of the release of her memoir, “When They Call You a Terrorrist”) made me feel heavy.
“Young, white students have been able to be seen as victims — which they are — and heroes — which they also are,” Cullors said. “But we — instead of seeing us as victims and heroes, we were seen as a group of people that were aimless, that didn’t have a plan, that were too angry, [that] were not doing it right.”
She had hit the nail on the head: there was a double standard. She was also right when she went on to say the kids walking out and protesting the proliferation of guns in America wouldn’t be doing so without the work of Black Lives Matter.
I woke up on Friday night just fine. My bag (1) was packed and Danielle didn’t have to come pull me out of bed. I co-ordinated a group message and we were a-go.
The long haul to D.C.
… was off to a rough start. I sat at the bus stop obliviously for a few minutes before I realized I had left my ticket in my apartment.
By the time Danielle met me on Marshall St., it turned out Jimmy John’s, our plan for dinner, was closed. We stepped into the line at Acropolis, but with 15 minutes ’til roll call, there was no way were beating the woozy, boozy mass of post-“Sweet Sixteen” partiers looking to dry up their liquor-lined stomachs.
Feeling a bit worse for wear, everyone snuggled in for the morning. I ate 2/3 granola bars and hydrated. We did end up stopping right outside of Harrisburg, PA, so everybody could stretch their legs and grab food if they wanted.
When we touched down at RFK Stadium, the rules and timelines were re-iterated to us. Then, we were unleashed onto D.C.
With votes from Sharde and Danielle — D.C. living was old hat to Kate and I, with twin summer experiences living in its Foggy Bottom neighborhood — we went looking for a Smithsonian to check out. Last spring break, I visited the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. I trusted the quick-and-easy-ness of the outdoor exhibits and knew it would be a good place to rest. I fueled up at the Hirshhorn’s new Dolcezza café, which was apart of the lobby’s redesign by Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Taking steps to March for Our Lives
Once Danielle and I were caffeined up, the four of us walked off of the Mall, but still toward the Capitol building. That’s where all the action was happening.
By the time we reached 6th and Pennsylvania three blocks down from the Capitol, we had come to a full stop. There were people as far as you could see in both directions. Interspersed through the crowd were speakers and screens — in our case, perched on the steps of the Newseum. A few ingenious minds watched from the museum’s balcony.
And a bit after noon, that’s when March for Our Lives kicked into gear. As promised, renowned musicians came out to do their thing. Andra Day started us off with “Rise Up.” Common joined her for “Stand Up for Something.”
When Lin-Manuel Miranda was announced to us at the pre-departure meeting, we had perked right up. There isn’t a bad choice in the “Hamilton” soundtrack, but I’m glad he sang “The Story of Tonight.”
Ariana Grande was cause for concern for me. I don’t have any beef: to the contrary, I absolutely adore her. I was just scratching my head as to which sultry, satin-robed, rosé-glass-clinking song would fit the bill if she wasn’t doing a cover. “Be Alright” was a surprisingly appropriate bop.
Fun fact: I took a comprehensive Instagram story that was uploading out of order (cellphone service was limited to a worrisome level, where I couldn’t even text or call other SU March-goers). But for an IG story? No big deal: I hit “Save Video” and deleted my story. Turns out that the video didn’t save and I don’t have any videos from Saturday — except, about 30 seconds of “Be Alright” that I took with my phone camera. And I’m not too mad about that.
I was happy to see fellow pop queen Demi Lovato come through with “Skyscraper.”
And just how I had my reservations about the thematic content of “Dangerous Woman,” I wasn’t sure if Miley Cyrus’ energy would match March for Our Lives.
But Miley Cyrus snatched us down memory lane with “The Climb.” Some members of our group, who will remain nameless, were disdainful. But “The Climb” is one of a few ballads whose lyrics are tattooed behind Millennial’s eyelids and in the pores of Generation Z’s skin. It’s just science.
And Vic Mensa went all the way off with his soulful call-outs.
Next to all of the cool and fitting celebrity performances, a few key speakers come to mind. Of course, kids such as David Hogg did a fantastic job. Ryan Deitsch had the crowd shook when he said that we needed to arm teachers… with pencils. But I want to highlight the kids and teenagers of color that spoke their truths on Saturday.
Edna Chavez, 17, spoke on behalf of south Los Angeles’ Community Coalition. One particularly haunting moment was when she asked us to say “Ricardo,” her late brother’s name — a gesture borrowed from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Likewise, Trevon Bosley, 19, spoke on behalf of Brave Youth Leaders. Bosley ripped Chicago. The refrain of “Every day shootings are every day problems” still rings in my ears.
Zion Kelly, 17, recounted the events leading up to discovering his brother’s death at the hands of gun violence. The death of Zaire Kelly was well known in D.C.
Just as there were appeals to pathos, there were appeals to ethos. That duality was clear listening to Jaclyn Corrin, 17, who roused the crowd with her calls for political action.
Corin was one of the main Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who organized the March for Our Lives. And as quickly as she could rile up a crowd, she could lend the stage to my personal favorite out of all of the speakers — Yolanda Renee King, who comes from a strong social justice heritage and is getting started at 9 years old.
By far, Naomi Wadler’s speech about how people underestimate her intellect at 11 left the biggest impression on me. In this moment, the movement is very much about the kids, and so, very much by the kids and for the kids.
Jaded adults scoff about the poor turnout of newly eligible voters or constituents of color. Often, that’s a systemic issue some adults want to change through bolstering registration efforts — shout out to my friend Meredith for doing so during the March! Other times, the criticism glosses over that and unduly blames the demographics in question.
Only the elections themselves will be able to establish a different narrative. But judging from the voices onstage and the faces in the crowd, the mode of thinking that brushes off young voters is officially outdated.
Likewise, I was surprised and delighted to find that the line-up of speakers of color extended beyond Emma González. Who was every bit as poised and brilliant and compelling as you expected.
Maybe the line-up was always this inclusive — of queer issues, too, given the multiple references to the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Maybe a switch-up came after hearing intersectional chatterings on Twitter or reading fiery Instagram posts. Even if the latter was the case, that’s all the more reason to praise the Parkland kids for listening.
Once the event was over, we decided to meet up with Devin and Alex. Again, an ordeal because of strained cellphone towers.
After communicating through multiple platforms and multiple devices, Kate, Sharde, Danielle and I met them on the steps of the National Gallery Art. Steps, flanked by columns, and to use Devin’s words, “look a bit like Carnegie Library.”
We then headed in the Lincoln Park direction for food. At that point, the last real meal I had eaten (discounting the granola bars and the little tart from the museum) was 21 hours prior. And as outlined by the Jimmy John’s incident, not for lack of trying.
Devin and Alex went all the way in the Lincoln Park direction, while the four of us went to Santa Rosa Taqueria.
The high-end and delicious Mexican restaurant is tucked in between an aptly named pizza joint called We the Pizza and a pub. It sits a few blocks down from the Supreme Court of the United States (my one true love this semester, thanks to communications law) and Prêt à Manger (my one true love last semester, thanks to London).
It’s strange how memory works. As soon as we started walking toward the Library of Congress, I remember a trip I took with my best friend Sam to D.C. in 2015. We ate at Firehook Bakery, which is a few doors down from the taqueria. That sunny day of sandals and iced coffee felt like a million years ago.
The ride home was groggy. We stopped once on the way back as well.
I remember dozing in and out of sleep, thinking that I really wanted to go home and shower and watch the supernatural drama “Hemlock Grove.” Being a bit self-critical, I think it was just reflex.
After a long day of harrowing accounts of guns being shoved in kids’ faces, siblings’ blood on your hands, the terrified swing of silence and AR-15 rapid fire, my brain needed to decompress. It’s much easier to worry about corny CW-grade romances and vampire-werewolf spats than it is to worry about when young peoples’ lives will be worth more to pro-gun politicians than their NRA-funded direct deposits.
It really hit me at about 2:26 a.m. Everyone I wanted to process this with had either reached max capacity on emotional labor for the day or was winding down into their own sugar-plum beds.
In my sleep-quiet South Campus apartment, there was no Journalistic Objective™ to drive me on — the way it did when Donald Trump was elected and I had to focus on line-editing instead of the future of queer, brown bodies in America. When I got home to my apartment early on Sunday, there was only the reality of what happened in those six minutes and 30 seconds on February 14, 2018.
During a light-hearted moment out of Stadium-Armory station, the four of us were going around trading quips about zodiac signs. We established how our weaknesses end up being our greatest strengths.
Sharde, being a Sagittarius, is too hard on herself. But it makes for a rewarding work ethic. Kate the Gemini isn’t two-faced, but a chameleon. For better or for worse, Danielle is a take-no-shit Scorpio. Being a Libra, I’m sensitive. In certain situations, one could say too sensitive.
Too caught up in the greater implications, too taken with the cinematography and score, too scrutinizing for an off-hand seven-word text message, too acutely aware of body language. But with sensitivity, I like to think, comes compassion and the sort of empathy that can drive me on — the way it did when Donald Trump was elected and I had to put myself back together for the resistance.
I like to think letting myself finally feel upset about Parkland and immersing myself in March for Our Lives was the first step of putting myself together for the next phase of this resistance.