March for Our Lives — Pittsburgh draws 30,000 from city, around region
Adults, including several politicians, joined thousands of student demonstrators Saturday in Downtown Pittsburgh to rally for school safety and an end to gun violence, but the day clearly belonged to the younger generation.
"They are the voices of the future and tomorrow, and they going to be the ones to bring about gun reform," said Nina Persi, a seventh-grade art teacher at Independence Middle School in Bethel Park. "And I'm here to support them and all the students across America."
She carried a homemade sign as she prepared to march on Grant Street that read, "I am an art teacher. This is the only gun I will 'draw' " — an illustration of a handgun crossed out by a red circle and slash.
While several busloads of Pittsburgh-area students joined hundreds of thousands of people who gathered in Washington, D.C., city officials estimated about 30,000 people marched in the Pittsburgh event. They originally expected 3,000.
One of the rally's local organizers, Erin Simard, of March For Our Lives — Pittsburgh, was thrilled with the turnout.
"We were really graciously overwhelmed and very happily surprised," said Simard, 16, of Shaler, a junior at Shady Side Academy.
The simultaneous movement across the country and world rose from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.
"I'm here because if it happened in Parkland and it happened in Maryland and it happened in Georgia, it can happen anywhere," said Madelyne Moore, 18, of Johnstown. "And it's been enough."
She held high a multi-colored sign reading "Guns Down Not Gunned Down" moments before Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto addressed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at noon in front of the City-County Building.
"I've worked in this building for almost a quarter of a century. This is the first time that we have ever been gathered by teenagers," Peduto said to a loud cheer.
Cory Stinedurf, 28, of Youngwood attended the rally with about 15 Westmoreland County residents ranging in age from 14 to 70.
"There were so many strong future leaders there speaking for the change that we need that my generation and the generation above me failed to bring them," he said. "The level of enthusiasm that we are seeing from these high school-age students is unprecedented. This tragedy has almost lit a spark in their interest in activism."
Stinedurf, president of the Young Democrats of Westmoreland County, said the national youth movement is nonpartisan.
"You are seeing kids uniting to bring change and make it safe for them to go school every day," he said.
The crowd marched through Downtown to Market Square clutching signs and chanting, "Gun control is a must. We want leaders we can trust."
Latrobe resident Chris Baldonieri joined them with a two-sided anti-NRA sign.
"I just think it's fantastic," she said. "I really think that the kids are going to push our representatives. If they don't take any NRA money, we could absolutely get them out of office."
Savanna Blanchard, 16, of Munhall, who attends Steel Valley Senior High School, never expected such a large turnout.
"I feel like this is going to show that we're not gonna back down just because they want us to," she said, "that we're the generation that's gonna change something."
Mara Van Thiel, 17, of West Deer missed the march because she had to attend a funeral Saturday. But she followed it closely on social media.
"I can honestly say I have never been prouder of a group of my peers," said Van Thiel, who attends Deer Lakes High School. "The level of maturity that the Parkland students have had over the past five weeks have left, not only myself, but hundreds of thousands of others inspired to stand up for what we believe in and challenge the status quo. I think (Saturday) is very truly just the beginning of something much, much bigger than anything anyone believed to be possible."
Besides Peduto, other politicians on hand included Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; City Councilman Corey O'Connor; State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill; U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills; State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline; State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty; and Congressman-elect Conor Lamb.
"This is inspiring," Frankel said from a stage set up in Market Square. "You should all be inspired by these young people."
"We're seeing gun violence all across the country, and I think people have just had enough," O'Connor said. "I think it's great that thousands of people are showing up in Pittsburgh today along with millions across the country."
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.