Student activists and family members from all over Florida met at Willams Park Thursday to participate at a rally hosted by the anti-gun violence group March for our Lives.
Many of the student-activists, survivors of the Parkland school shooting last February, inspired a crowd of about 150 people as they delivered speeches about safety solutions and gun reforms.
After a town hall in Clearwater Tuesday, the St. Petersburg rally became the second of three Tampa Bay-area March for our Lives events this week. The group will be in Tampa Saturday to lead a panel discussion.
Brena Duke, a St. Petersburg high school junior who recently joined We the Students organization, expressed the significance of assisting Thursday’s rally. “We had a really good turnout on our town hall meet up,” she said. “I think it’s important to be here because we have voter registration. We say we want change, but the only thing that’s going to change is in the polls.”
Despite the blazing sunlight and humidity, attendees cheered for every student who delivered a message. The atmosphere was emotional as well as political.
Amit Dadon, a graduate student of Stoneman Douglass High School concluded his speech by calling out Marco Rubio, Florida’s Republican U.S. senator, for accepting donations from the National Rifle Association. “To Rubio, a senator who has let endless blood money make him forget who he actually works for, we’ll vote you out soon enough,” Dadon said.
“We want people aware, and we want people to listen to each other and we just need to work together so we finally can get that safety that we all want.”
Two teary-eyed women hugged and thanked Dadon for his speech after he left the stage. “Thank you for being our future change,” one said. “No, thank you for being our most important present change,” replied Dadon.
Geanne Maiks, a retired secretary for All Children’s Hospital from St. Petersburg, held a sign next to them that read, “Moms demand action for gun sense in America.”
“My children are already grown and have children of their own and my children never had this fear in school. I want my 4-year-old grandson to have the same safety my kids had,” Maiks expressed.
Carmel Alshbibi, a junior from Melbourne High School who has toured alongside March for Our Lives students across the states, expressed optimism for the movement to grow in Florida. “For every second in every city we grow stronger, gradually building a staircase to success,” he said.
“In the last couple of months, I’ve met three types of people. Those who resist change, those who accept change but are too scared to make it, and those who create change. In order to reach the top of the staircase to success, you must be willing to take action.”
Democratic candidates and elected officials addressed the crowd, including four of five current Democratic candidates for governor, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, state Sen. Darryl Rouson; and state Rep. Wengay Newton. Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala addressed his concern with lawmakers’ inaction on the gun violence issue.