Thousands march downtown to protest gun violence in nationwide March for Our Lives

Chad Lyle

One month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, roughly 20,000Austinites marched from City Hall to the State Capitol for the Austin March for Our Lives to protest lax gun laws in Texas and across the country.

More than 800 sister “March for Our Lives” events occurred simultaneously around the world on Saturday, with the flagship being held in Washington D.C. by the survivors of the Parkland shooting.

After brief remarks at City Hall from march organizer Kari Siegenthaler, one of three Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy students who planned the event, marchers walked down Congress Avenue to the Capitol.

Journalism freshman Alyssa Villarreal, who attended the march, said recent events at UT brought the gun issue close to home.

“You never feel safe anymore,” Villarreal said. “Even at UT, those guns that were found in the bathroom — that was not okay, that was scary as hell. Stuff like this has a way of being prevented.”

The first speaker of the afternoon was Austin Mayor Steve Adler, followed by Parkland survivor Jack Haimowitz, who will be attending UT next year. Haimowitz said national unity in the face of gun violence was the ultimate goal of the movement.

Siegenthaler, who led the march and introduced Haimowitz, said her introductory speech came together relatively quickly.

“I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say at a place like this for a long time,” Siegenthaler said. “So when I sat down (to) write my introductory statements, it flowed in probably an hour.”

Selina Eshraghi, chemical engineering freshman, was the volunteer coordinator and social media manager for the march. Eshraghi, who later introduced State Representative Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said in her speech that it should not be so easy for minors to gain access to firearms, recounting her own experience with gun violence.

“I might not be the survivor of a school shooting, but in October of last year, my childhood best friend took her life on her college campus,” Eshraghi said during her remarks. “Next to her dead body they found the gun that she used to commit suicide, and she was only 17.”

Jack Kappelman, another of the three founding organizers, said 20,000 people attended the march on Saturday.

Among the packed speaking roster of students and politicians was actor and UT alumnus Matthew McConaughey, who endorsed the core tenets of the March for Our Lives movement, including an assault
weapons ban.

At the conclusion of the march, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White greeted marchers in front of the Capitol. White, who will face incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott in the general election if he wins his primary, said things can be done to prevent gun violence that don’t infringe upon the rights of gun owners.

“Right now we’re standing in front of the Capitol, and on the second floor, over to the right around the corner, is the governor’s office,” White said. “And the guy who sits behind that desk doesn’t give a darn anything about what we’re talking about right here, right now. You can support the Second Amendment and also believe in common sense gun legislation.”