School Climate & Safety

Student Activists and Celebrity Donors: Who’s Behind the ‘March for Our Lives’

Washington, satellite events aim to keep sights trained on gun violence, school safety
By Mark Walsh — March 20, 2018 5 min read
Emma Fitzsimmons, 14, of Somerville, Mass., cheers a speaker during a symposium with state legislators at the statehouse in Boston, the day of the national walkout.

Last week’s huge, nationwide participation in the student walkouts to protest gun violence in schools should provide a boost of energy for the turnout of young people for this week’s March for Our Lives in Washington and at more than 700 satellite marches against gun violence and school shootings, experts say.

The main March 24 event is on Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, where organizers have estimated that 500,000 students and others will attend.

“I think there is going to be a lot of energy and a lot of carryover from the walkouts” lifting participation in the marches, said Jeremy Pressman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut and a leading expert on counting the size of protests.

The march in Washington, as well as one planned for south Florida, are being planned in part by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people on Feb. 14.

Last week, Stoneman Douglas senior David Hogg, a survivor of the shootings who has become a national leader for the march and for stronger gun control measures, announced that four singers—Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, and Demi Lovato—would be participating in the Washington event, though he didn’t say they’d be singing from the stage.

“We’re going to have four major, independent women standing up and walking beside us,” Hogg told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “They’re going to be standing with us, and marching with us. I think that is part of the huge support we’re starting to see.”

Some Large Donations

The announcement underscored that while students are the face of the movement, the March for Our Lives is no mere high school event. Early last week, march organizers took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to appeal for donations from businesses.

“We’ve had an extraordinary outpouring of generosity and have raised just over $3 million on our GoFundMe campaign,” the March 11 ad said. “But it turns out marches are really expensive, and we want this march to be a seismic moment of change in this country.”

The ad, signed by Hogg and 17 other Stoneman Douglas students, urged businesses to adopt schools in their communities and pay for students to be able to attend the march in Washington.

Students rally outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington March 14 to protest gun violence as part of the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged in response to last month’s massacre of 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The march has attracted support and donations from the likes of Oprah Winfrey ($500,000); George and Amal Clooney (also, $500,000); Miami Heat basketball player Dwayne Wade, who visited Stoneman Douglas after the shootings, and his wife, Gabrielle Union ($200,000); Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff ($1 million); and Josh Kushner, the brother of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who the online news site Axios reported has donated $50,000.

March for Our Lives organizers did not respond to a request for comment by deadline time regarding the march’s overall budget and related matters.

The prominent place for the students in the lead-up to the march shows a balance between the desire to keep the focus on the age group that has been leading the debate after the Parkland shootings and the need for adults and adult organizations to be involved in something as complicated and expensive as a nationwide series of marches.

“It’s pretty clear these young people are speaking for themselves,” said Gretchen Brion-Meisels, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert on protest movements. “It is also pretty clear they have been supported by adults in all the ways we would hope adults would help young people. I think there is a delicate balance between adults and youth partners to try to create change.”

A Second-Choice Space

March for Our Lives organizers had hoped to use the National Mall, the wide, park-like space that stretches from the U.S. Capitol west to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, for their main event.

But the National Park Service had already issued a permit for March 24 to a film crew. The Washington Post has reported that the Park Service provided a heavily redacted copy of that permit, which was issued to an unspecified educational institution, and that it involves filming of a “talent show” on the Mall.

So the March for Our Lives turned to another site that would include a backdrop of the U.S. Capitol—the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue traveled by presidents during their Inauguration Day parade on the way to the White House.

The space is narrower and more constrained by office buildings and museums than the Mall, and it may make it difficult for organizers to carry out their goal of conducting an actual march of people roughly from the Capitol to the White House to demonstrate for stronger gun control measures.

At the initial Women’s March in Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Trump’s inauguration, the crowd was so large that a planned movement of participants toward the White House was all but scuttled.

Pressman, of the University of Connecticut, is co-director of the Crowd Counting Consortium, a public interest project that seeks to count participation in protests across the United States.

The consortium’s estimated range for the crowd at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington was 500,000 to 1 million, which is below the high estimates of organizers of as many as 4 million participants.

High Interest Level

Pressman said he could not hazard a guess as to how many students and others would turn out for the March for Our Lives. But he says that the energy level of protests against President Donald Trump has remained high.

The 2017 Women’s Marches nationally drew a range of 3.3 million to 5.2 million, while the anniversary Women’s Marches across the country this past January drew a smaller but still robust 1.8 million to 2.6 million nationally, he said.

“I was struck by the fact that for the 2018 Women’s March, people were not predicting a low estimate of 1.8 million nationally,” Pressman said. “The fact that a year later that much energy is carrying over was remarkable.”

Pressman said that with more than 700 satellite events listed for the March for Our Lives, the total participation on March 24 could exceed 1 million.

“This is going to be another one of those really big, multi-location kind of days,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2018 edition of Education Week as Upcoming March Could Draw on Walkout’s Momentum

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