Over a million people marched in support of gun control across the United States over the weekend, taking part in a movement that appears truly national in scope, stretching across the country and encompassing many of the small towns and rural areas so often held up as stalwart pro-gun strongholds.
According to officials in numerous areas, March for Our Lives rallies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia drew large crowds and hundreds of thousands of protestors on Saturday. The march in Washington, D.C. saw the largest turnout and featured the teenage survivors of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month. Large rallies in areas like New York City and Los Angeles also drew anticipated crowds. But in more traditionally conservative areas, support for the movement also abounded.
Across the South, Midwest, and other regions often held up as pro-gun “Trump country,” students, teachers, and their allies marched, calling for action from lawmakers and a heightened culture of awareness.
Marches across Texas drew tens of thousands in a number of cities, including Houston — the country’s most ethnically and racially diverse city — as well as Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. But smaller hubs, like Waco and Beaumont, also drew crowds. In Marfa, a small town with a population of under 2,000 people, more than 150 protesters from around west Texas marched from the Presidio County Courthouse to the town’s school campus. Guns are a reality of life in rural Texas, but fourth grader Louise Culbertson, a co-organizer of the event, said she “wanted to march here to support [the Parkland survivors].”
Ana Guerra, a high school junior, told Marfa Public Radio she had moved to the state from Mexico and found herself alarmed by U.S. gun culture.
“All the shootings that happened when I was in Mexico were outside school, they never affect their school,” Guerra says. “And here, it’s something that you are fearing everyday.”
That sentiment was mirrored elsewhere. “Our classrooms feel like war zones, and students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” teacher Cecily Riesenberg said, explaining her presence at a rally in Amarillo, located in north Texas. “People that think nothing can be done are complicit in the status quo.”
Texans weren’t the only ones marching. “I’ve never seen such a diverse population turn out for an event like this,” said Kailee Maciulla, a mother who helped students organize a march in Dothan, Alabama. In Mobile, 16-year-old Chloe Duren called for state residents to vote out politicians who stand in the way of gun control.
“I’ve practiced lock downs and active shooter drills for as long as I can remember,” said Duren. “The first thing I think when I walk into a room is ‘Where am I going to hide?'”
In neighboring Mississippi, similar scenes played out as students rallied in Jackson, Oxford, Gulfport, and a number of other cities. That turnout reflected the wider South: while traditionally large, progressive cities like Atlanta saw tens of thousands of marchers, smaller urban centers like Bentonville, Arkansas also drew hundreds. “This is what democracy looks like!” shouted demonstrators in Oklahoma City.
Up north, Western states also greeted large crowds. Some battled severe weather conditions — in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, marchers trekked through sleet, a common theme across the Midwest.
“I’m 12 years old, and I don’t want to be murdered,” said Margalit Frank, a student at Longfellow Elementary School in Iowa City, where protesters grappled with a forecast projecting 10 inches of snow. “I don’t want to wake up every day and wonder if today is the day someone shoots up my school.”
In Laramie, Wyoming, home to fewer than 40,000 people, students organized a march of more than 500, numbers they said exceeded expectations. Wyoming is the state with the most guns per capita and the most heavily-armed state in America. The state also has a firearm death rate significantly higher than the national average. Speakers indicated they did not want to take guns away, but that regulation is important for the safety of students.
One of the organizers in Laramie, 17-year-old Cortney Borer, is a competitive shooter. While Borer told Vice prior to the rally that she had decided not to attend, she indicated that her support for gun rights did not negate her acknowledgement that the issue was a tricky one.
“If there is anything I have learned in life so far, it is that things are more complicated than they appear to be at first glance,” she said.
That attitude held true in many rural areas, where rallies served less as a call to ban firearms across the board and more as a plea for background checks and legislation curtailing the ease with which many Americans can access deadly weapons. BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Peterson, a native of Lewiston, Idaho, rounded up many of the numerous smaller and more under-reported marches across the United States on Twitter. Pointing to Lewiston’s own march, Peterson noted that the town’s county, Nez Perce, has the third-highest rate of gun ownership in the country.
“If you’re not from the Inland Northwest, hard to explain how remarkable it is to see a March for Our Lives in Lewiston, Idaho,” she wrote. “30,000 people. Protest is deeply frowned upon. Kids brought stashed their rifles in their trucks after hunting before school.”
If you’re not from the Inland Northwest, hard to explain how remarkable it is to see a March for Our Lives in Lewiston, Idaho. 30,000 people. Protest is deeply frowned upon. Kids brought stashed their rifles in their trucks after hunting before school. And yet: pic.twitter.com/sxwSCEbdKe
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) March 24, 2018
“I don’t think my hometown is changing,” she added. “I think the ability to ignore this particular problem to fading.”
That growing recognition roared home in Washington, D.C., as Parkland survivors called out their own Southern politicians in Florida.
“This is not a red vs. blue issue,” said Sarah Chadwick, one of several survivors and teenage activists who spoke on Saturday. “This is a moral issue. And to the politicians who believe their right to own a gun comes before our lives, get ready to be voted out by us, the future.”