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Torontonians join anti-gun protesters at Washington rally

Last Updated Mar 24, 2018 at 11:17 am EDT

Summoned by high school students swept up in school violence, thousands swarmed into the nation’s capital and cities across America on Saturday to march for gun control and ignite political activism among the young.

Organizers of the #MarchForOurLives rally in Washington hoped their protest would match in numbers and spirit last year’s women’s march, one of the largest Washington protests since the Vietnam era and one that far exceeded predictions of 300,000 demonstrators.

Bearing signs reading “We Are the Change,” “No More Silence,” “Keep NRA Money Out of Politics,” protesters lined Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol, stretching back toward the White House. The route also takes in the Trump International Hotel. President Donald Trump was in Florida for the weekend; a motorcade took him to his West Palm Beach golf club on Saturday morning.

A group of Torontonians boarded buses Friday night headed for Washington, D.C.

“I was aware about this about a month ago and I’ve been thinking about the reasons why I want to attend and show my support,” said Dash Nelson, a high school student who boarded a charter bus at Toronto’s Union Station.

Dewitt Lee of Democrats Abroad is one of the organizers of a sister rally in Toronto, which departed from city hall shortly after 10 a.m towards the U.S. Consulate. It is scheduled to end with a rally at Queen’s Park.

“We are all vulnerable and this has gone beyond school massacres,” said Lee. “We’re focused on children and what happens after school … I think a lot of healing can happen and we can come together.”

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in London in solidarity with the “March for Our Lives” protest against gun violence.

Students, families with children and other protesters raised placards reading “Protect kids not guns,” “Never again,” and “Enough is enough” Saturday outside the new embassy building in south London.

Amnesty International U.K.’s director Kate Allen referred to the 1996 school killings at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, in which 16 students and a teacher were killed.

She said: “After our own school shooting at Dunblane, new gun ownership laws were introduced in Britain and that’s exactly what’s needed in the United States, where gun deaths are a national tragedy.”

After the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students have tapped into a current of pro-gun control sentiment that has been building for years – yet still faces a powerful counterpoint from supporters of gun rights. Organizers hope the passions of the crowds and the under-18 roster of speakers will translate into a tipping point starting in the midterm elections this year.

People flocked, too, to a “March for Our Lives” event near the Parkland school where the massacre happened. Police presence was heavy as organizers set up and demonstrators streamed in. Eden Kinlock, 17, came from 20 miles away to pass out water, “a small thing but it helps in the bigger picture.” Many Parkland students came to the Washington rally.

Washington is generally nonchalant about protests, but Saturday’s gathering prompted more attention and speculation than usual. The protesters, many of them high school students, claim that the youth leadership of this initiative is what will set it apart from previous attempts to enact stronger gun-control legislation.

Polls indicate that public opinion nationwide may indeed be shifting on an issue that has simmered for generations, and through dozens of mass shootings.

A new poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 69 per cent of Americans think gun laws in the United States should be tightened. That’s up from 61 per cent who said the same in October of 2016 and 55 per cent when the AP first asked the question in October of 2013. Overall, 90 per cent of Democrats, 50 per cent of Republicans and 54 per cent of gun owners now favour stricter gun control laws.

But even with claims of historic social momentum on the issue of gun control, the AP poll also found that nearly half of Americans do not expect elected officials to take action. Among the questions facing march organizers and participants will be how to translate this one-day event, regardless of turnout, into meaningful legislative change.

One way is by channeling the current energy into the midterm congressional elections this fall. Students in Florida have focused on youth voter registration and there will be a registration booth at the Saturday rally.