On Saturday, March 24, Parkland survivors and families of victims are leading a mass march on Washington, D.C. to demand action to prevent future school shootings. The event is called March for Our Lives, and organizers across the country are joining in.
Leading the sister march to the state capitol in Phoenix is Jordan Harb, a junior at Mountain View High School in Mesa, along with his co-chair, Samantha Lekberg of Surprise. At least three other March four Our Lives events are planned across the state. Moms Demand Action — a non-partisan grassroots movement to mobilize moms, families and everyday Americans to advocate for stronger gun laws — is also participating in the 10 a.m. event.
Harb says preventing more school shootings — a cause he took up after the recent events at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida — has basically taken over his life. He says he spends about ten hours daily on the cause and admits his grades have been falling because of it.
“I know I should be focusing on my grades, but unfortunately I have to do this, because our legislators are not doing it for us,” he says.
Harb is not alone. On March 14, hundreds of Arizona students participated in National Walkout Day — leaving their classrooms to observe 17 minutes of silence, one minute for each victim killed in the school shooting in Parkland.
Since Harb didn’t have school that week, he led a group of students to the state capitol. About 45 of them ended up in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, although they were unable to persuade the governor to speak with them.
Harb admits that prior to the Feb. 14 Parkland tragedy, he had become desensitized to the school shootings he saw on television. What was different about Parkland?
“Seeing the students stand up. Suddenly, the conversation turned from ‘thoughts and prayers’ to action,” he says. Harb explains that students his age have grown up under the threat of school shootings: “We’ve become used to being afraid.”
He describes an experience from his freshman year that still haunts him: “Our school was on lock down for four hours. A swat team was brought in. Kids had to go to the bathroom in a bucket, because we couldn’t use the bathroom. Everyone was texting their parents to tell them they loved them. They didn’t know if they would ever see them again.”
“It’s the first time I remember being genuinely scared,” Harb says.
Harb says he was inspired by the bravery of the Parkland survivors and felt compelled to speak out.
The March for Our Lives movement faces significant challenges in Arizona, a state where gun regulation traditionally receives strong opposition. Harb says the students know they have to make their requests reasonable. They are asking for universal background checks, a ban on bump stocks and more funding for counselors in schools.
Harb says they also support the call for limits on types of weapons, waiting periods, registration of fire arms and age limits — but right now they are trying to focus their efforts on initiatives Arizona lawmakers could support.
Harb says he’s actually encountered overwhelming support even in unexpected places, “like classmates who are super conservative.” Teachers and parents have also stood by his side.
“The only pushback we get is from people in office,” says Harb, adding he’s been disappointed in how he and his fellow student activists have been treated by lawmakers. “They have said we are paid protesters and have called our protests a charade.”
Harb says that even though this is a student-led movement, he would like to see more parents getting involved.
“Parents and students have the same perspective. We, as kids, are scared and we are dying. We are dying and the parents are suffering.”
March for Our Lives wants both students and parents to get civically involved by registering to vote, volunteering for candidates, contributing to causes and participating in protests and marches.
If you go: The march will begin at the Arizona State Capitol Building, 1700 W. Washington St. in Phoenix. Guest speakers will begin at 10 a.m.; the march will start by 11 a.m. The route will not be disclosed until the day of the event, to ensure the safety of marchers. Families, students, and those of all ages are welcome.