WASHINGTON (AFP) – More than a million Americans flooded the streets of cities nationwide for emotional protests demanding tighter gun control on Saturday, marches spearheaded by teenagers from a Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead last month.
“Politicians, either represent the people or get out,” Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, told the crowd at a huge rally in Washington.
“Stand for us or beware – the voters are coming,” said Mr Kasky, one of the leaders of a dynamic and passionate student movement which has emerged following the February 14 shooting at his school.
Large crowds also turned out for demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Seattle and other cities – more than 800 in all according to the organisers of the “March For Our Lives.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said 175,000 people took part at the New York rally, tweeting: “These students WILL change America.”
But the largest protest was in Washington, where organisers said the crowd was estimated at more than 800,000 people, the largest gun control rally in the US since the Million Mom March in 2000.
The main stage for the event in Washington was set up near the US Capitol and lawmakers were the target audience as speakers delivered blistering warnings that the time has come for stricter gun laws. Signs carried by protesters lambasted lawmakers who oppose tougher laws and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The Washington rally kicked off with Andra Day singing “Rise Up” and also featured a performances by Jennifer Hudson, whose mother, brother and seven-year-old nephew were shot dead in 2008.
But the most riveting appearances were by the Stoneman Douglas students.
Emma Gonzalez, 17, took the stage wearing a green military-style jacket and ripped jeans and delivered a eulogy for the 14 students and three adults slain by 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz.
Tears rolling down her face, she then stood in silence at the podium for a full four and half minutes as the crowd cried out. “Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds,” she finally said – the exact amount of time Mr Cruz spent spraying bullets inside her school before fleeing. “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job. Get out there and vote.”
Demonstrations of solidarity also took place around the world, including across cities in Canada. In Scotland, some relatives of those killed in a school shooting in the town of Dunblane in 1996 attended a protest in Edinburgh.
Trump was in Florida as marchers gathered in Washington but the White House issued a statement.
“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” it said. “Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President.”