They can’t buy a beer or rent a car and most aren’t even old enough to vote, yet the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have spearheaded what could become one of the largest marches in history with nearly 1 million people expected in Washington and more than 800 sister marches from California to Japan.
In the wake of a Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17, the teens have pulled all-nighters, scheduling speakers, petitioning city councils, renting stages and walking march routes with police in a grass-roots movement that has raised more than $4 million. Students will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during March for Our Lives on Saturday alongside pop stars Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato.
They have requested 14 Jumbotrons, 2,000 chairs and 2,000 public restrooms.
“People don’t think about all these little things, but they add up,” said Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Ryan Deitsch, who is 18.
Several student organizers have become mainstays on national TV, promoting the marches, and they landed on the cover of Time magazine. In the first two weeks after the shooting, Deitsch worked 22-hour days, often sleeping in his clothes.
“I’d basically keep going until I shut down, like I’d just collapse, sometimes I’d be on the floor,” Deitsch said.
Seasoned activists have marveled at what the students accomplished so far, including a sweeping gun bill in Florida and school walkouts attended by over a million students last week, according to organizers Women’s March. Oprah Winfrey and George and Amal Clooney have each donated $500,000. The cast of “Modern Family” did a public service announcement, and Broadway stars Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt recorded a song for the march.
The Women’s March, Everytown for Gun Safety and the gun violence prevention group founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords provided heavy support for the march, opening the youths up to criticism that they are just pawns of left-wing organizations that have been fighting guns for years.
The students said, however, they are calling the shots, and have refused money and turned down support that doesn’t align with their vision.
“They like to believe we’re puppets, they like to believe that we’re being controlled by someone else because ... they don’t want to believe that human beings have this power because if they have this power then they might not need a gun,” Deitsch said.