Chicago (AFP) – A boisterous Chicago rally and march kicked off a national gun-reform tour on Friday by students from Parkland, Florida, site of one of the worst US school shootings.
The students-turned-activists have become powerful national voices with their “March For Our Lives” campaign pushing for reform of gun laws, following the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School which killed 17 students and school staff.
The students began what they promise will be a 50-stop summer bus tour across more than 20 states, with the goal of registering young people to vote and advocating for tougher gun control measures.
The students chose Chicago for their first stop because of its runaway gun violence. There were 950 shootings in the Midwestern city so far this year and more than 220 murders.
The Parkland students said they wanted to highlight not just headline-grabbing mass shootings but daily violence that contributes to 33,000 gun deaths in the US annually.
“Our voices, your voices united are stronger than anything else,” Parkland student Kyrah Simon told the crowd of more than 1,000 gathered for the rally, many of them young people.
The Parkland students have become a potent political force, reinvigorating the US gun control debate which had stalled between entrenched sides.
They have inspired demonstrations around the globe and pressured companies to stop supporting candidates and causes aligned with the powerful National Rifle Association.
They also pressured Florida state lawmakers to tighten gun laws by, among other things, raising the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21.
But the Parkland students kept a low profile at the Chicago rally, allowing the city’s own youth to speak out.
“People lose their lives every day in Chicago, and it’s not because they are doing anything wrong,” said Trevon Bosley, whose brother was killed at a church parking lot.
Celebrities joined in, as well.
Chicago-born Chance The Rapper, along with Jennifer Hudson, led the march following the rally, and Will.I.Am of The Black Eyed Peas called for “proper gun laws so psychos don’t walk around with military weapons.”
The annual end-of-school-year rally to highlight gun violence in Chicago was a friendly stop for the Parkland students.
They will head on Saturday to the conservative Chicago suburb of Naperville, where gun control is a less welcomed topic. Future stops are planned in Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin, among other states.