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Kanawha City Elementary school student Derrick Johnson, 5, and his brother David Johnson, 3 stand with others gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 24, 2018, during a rally in solidity for the "March for Our Lives" rally in Washington.Craig Hudson/The Associated Press

At age 13, Sydney Lane-Ryer is already well acquainted with the threat of gun violence. Her Baltimore school was locked down twice in a single week earlier this month, she said, including for a grade nine student caught with a firearm in his backpack.

“It’s pretty terrifying,” she said. “All of us face walking into school wondering ‘Am I going to get shot?’”

So after the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead on Feb. 14, Ms. Lane-Ryer organized her fellow students in a walkout that put them among the youth-led uprising for tougher gun control laws that has swept the country.

And on Saturday, the movement had its largest mobilization to date, with hundreds of thousands – including Ms. Lane-Ryer – descending on the U.S. capital in a bid to jolt a political establishment that has repeatedly failed to act on one of the deadliest and most pervasive problems gripping the world’s most powerful country.

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The March For Our Lives, organized by the Stoneman Douglas survivors who have become the faces of the fight for gun control, packed Pennsylvania Avenue, the main thoroughfare between Capitol Hill and the White House.

The day of action – which included more than eight hundred satellite protests unfolding in cities around the world, including at least a dozen in Canada – rivalled the anti-Vietnam war movement in scale. Organizers estimated over half a million took to the streets in Washington, with New York City seeing tens of thousands.

Hundreds of protesters in Montreal marched on the U.S. Consulate and called on the Canadian federal government to ban assault rifles.

“Our children should never fear going to school, and they should never jump at the sound of a book falling on the floor,” Ellen Gonzansky Malka, a Montrealer who lives in Parkland and has two children at Stoneman Douglas, told the protest.

  • Daisy Hernandez, 22, of Stafford, Va., wrote "Don't Shoot," on her hands during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington.Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

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The Washington march attracted the backing of a slew of celebrities, with funding from George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, and a performance from Demi Lovato. President Donald Trump, who has vacillated between promises to do more for gun control and declarations that it would instead be better to give teachers guns to do battle with mass shooters, was at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, for the weekend.

Previous mass shootings have spurred outcries for gun control in the U.S. But after each one, efforts to tighten federal laws have either been voted down or fizzled. And the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, has proven more politically effective than gun control groups. A tally by the Center for Responsive Politics found that pro-gun organizations have poured nearly $13-million into the campaign funds of current members of Congress.

“Mr. Trump, Congress, the Senate, and all the elected leaders in America, you have failed us,” one survivor of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School told the crowd from the stage. “We have had enough of your NRA agenda.”

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A woman holds a sign with an American flag dripping red and its stars replaced by bullets while protesting at the "March for our Lives" gathering on March 24, 2018 in Berlin, Germany.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Demonstrators insisted things will be different this time around.

“These kids are amazing. They’re not going to stand for it anymore,” said Deanna Ferello, a 26-year-old elementary teacher whose school is a 20-minute drive from Stoneman Douglas.

When Ms. Ferello was a child at the same school, she said, she never had to worry about the sort of “code red” drills for shootings that she now has to run with her students. Growing up with those drills is making younger generations more determined to act than previous ones.

“There has been a whole generation coming of age in code reds. And they’re now just getting old enough to vote,” said her friend Angelina Moscatello, a teacher at the same school.

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A bus from Newtown, Connecticut makes a breakfast stop during trip to attend the March for our Lives in Washington, D.C.. Saturday March 24, 2018.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Aaron Miller, an 18-year-old high school student who drove down from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania with three buddies for the march, is one of those. He will be voting for the first time in this year’s midterm elections, in which the Democrats – more amenable to gun control than Donald Trump’s Republicans – will try to wrest control of Congress.

The rise of Mr. Trump has spurred his opponents to action, he said, and would sustain the movement.

“It’s not going to go away this time,” Mr. Miller vowed of the demonstration around him. “Ever since Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March, there’s an uprising.”

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People hold banners during the "March For Our Lives" event in Paris, France, Saturday, March 24, 2018.Michel Euler/The Associated Press

As a series of Stoneman Douglas students and survivors of other school shootings took the stage at the rally, the crowd periodically erupted into chants of “vote them out!” – in reference to pro-gun legislators.

The rally’s climax came when Emma Gonzalez, one of the most vocal of the Parkland shooting’s survivors, took the stage. After reading out the names of each of her murdered classmates, her voice rising with emotion, she abruptly fell silent.

The crowd seemed to hold its breath for several minutes, as she stood wordlessly staring straight ahead from the stage.

Ms. Gonzalez waited until exactly six minutes and 20 seconds – the amount of time it took for the Stoneman Douglas shooting to unfold – had elapsed since the start of her speech, before breaking her silence.

“Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job,” she concluded. Now, the chant was different: “Vote her in!” the crowd demanded.

Bridgette Harrison, 23, was friends with two women gunned down in the 2014 Isla Vista killings near the University of California Santa Barbara campus. Every subsequent massacre has made her relive the trauma, she said. But the Parkland killings had led to “more concrete” activism than earlier mass shootings, even if it was still unclear where the movement will go.

“Maybe it won’t change anything. Maybe people will just forget again,” she said as she stood with a group of friends holding signs bearing the names of the Isla Vista victims. “But what else are you going to do?”

With a file from Canadian Press

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School say they will keep fighting until change happens. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

Reuters

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