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Students and community members march against gun violence

Activists in Tampa and around the world protested in the first ever March for Our Lives event to take a stand against gun violence. ORACLE PHOTO/SAMANTHA MOFFETT

In light of the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), activists around the world, including those in the Tampa area, aligned with one another for the first ever March for Our Lives event to take a stand against gun violence. 

March for Our Lives took place in nearly every major U.S. city, including New York, Boston and perhaps most notably, Washington. Events also took place in countries abroad such as France, Japan and Colombia. In all, 843 marches took place on a single day filled with activism and unification behind a single cause that hits home for many. 

Amy Weintraub served as one of the adult advisers to help the student organizers with the process of putting on such a big event. 

In a message to The Oracle, Weintraub said safety measures were a primary concern for event organizers. 

“The Tampa Police Department has been an amazing partner to the student organizers … Tampa Police (were) fully prepared for the event,” Weintraub said. 

Weintraub also said the event was fully funded by private donors, with donations ranging both large and small.

“Private funders have come forward in support of the event,” Weintraub said. “Donations have ranged from $5 to $5,000 (which was the biggest contribution — a grant from EveryTown for Gun Safety).”

According to Plant High School student and event co-lead, Macie Lavender, March for Our Lives Tampa Bay had approximately 13,000 people in attendance. The event started and finished at Kiley Garden in Downtown Tampa on Saturday morning.

“I love that I was able to contribute to the national movement, as well as give local Tampa teenagers a platform to speak their mind and be heard,” Lavender said in a message to The Oracle. “We wanted to show the unity of our community in support of national gun reform and legislation, as well as raise awareness and I think we accomplished that, which is amazing! This is the first step of a long journey of activism as a young adult, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to join my voice with the millions of other students nationwide protesting yesterday.”

Of those in attendance were a number of USF students, including the USF representative for the March, Karen Logsdon. According to Logsdon, her role in helping to plan the event ranged from organizing meetings with interested USF students, serving as a liaison between students and organizers, and serving as the co-chair for the outreach committee for the March. 

Logdon said events such as the March for Our Lives are important for students to participate in.

“It is necessary for myself and for all students to participate in this event because we are students and we are the change we want to see,” Logsdon said. “The state of gun violence in America is completely unnecessary and preventable. By federally enacting common sense gun laws, countless lives will be saved and students won’t have to be scared to go to school.”

Logsdon is not the only one who feels this way, as she was also joined by Liam Filipowski, a junior majoring in business management. 

“We as students are tired of seeing innocent children’s lives being taken by crazed individuals who are able to purchase these assault weapons with as much ammunition as they please,” Filipowski said. “It’s not only schools that are the issue: it’s movie theaters, it’s concerts. We should not have to fear for our lives every time we go outside. Sensible gun control will go a long way in preventing these horrific tragedies.”

Filipowski has also experienced something unique post-MSD tragedy, as his mother, Barbara Cady (D), is running for Florida House of Representatives for the 42nd District. According to Filipowski, he has been able to tag along with her to some discussions regarding gun violence at the state capitol building.

“My mom is running for Florida House of Representatives in Kissimmee and I had the privilege to travel to our state’s capital with her to hear a number of the surviving students from Parkland outside the capitol building,” Filipowski said. “To say it was a life changing experience would be an understatement. 

“These were some of the most inspiring young individuals I have ever heard speak. I went in the capitol building and sat outside a number of representatives’ offices demanding action with dozens of students from Parkland and all around Florida. I have always been passionate about this cause, but after experiencing this I knew I wanted to get involved and help spread this movement in the Tampa Bay Area.”

However, students such as Casey Gutwein, a sophomore majoring in criminology, are marching for more personal ties to the events at MSD.

“The main reason that I am marching is because my family is good friends with the family of one of the victims,” Gutwein said. “I’ve never really let myself get too upset over school shootings before, but it is a completely different experience when you know someone who was involved. It definitely made me want to be more active in the fight.”

Logsdon said that helping to organize and marching in this event is something she felt passionate about from the time she heard the news of the shooting at MSD.

“As a student myself, I feel connected to this March because I believe that the time for change is now and that if anyone can achieve it, it’s these students,” Logsdon said. “As an activist in my community, it is inspiring to see these young kids doing so much for their fallen classmates and putting everything they have into this movement to create a future where something like this never happens again.”

Students, such as Rumour Piepenbrink, a senior majoring in health sciences, said the March for Our Lives events happening all around the world are a visible representation for activism and change.

“This shows that we will not be silenced,” Piepenbrink said. “We don’t want their thoughts and prayers. We demand to be heard. We refuse to be overlooked. How many more lives have to be lost before real action is taken?”

Logsdon said that she is not sure what the next move is as far as her activism is concerned, but she knows that it will not stop at the end of the March.

“I know I am not going to stop pushing for these issues until I see change happening and I urge other USF students to do the same,” Logsdon said. “There are plenty of organizations around the Tampa Bay area that anyone can get involved in to remain politically active. 

“I think the most important thing is to keep yourself educated on the issues whether it be from watching the news, listening to the radio or podcasts, following journalists on social media or signing up for a news report email. Staying up to date on the issues and keeping yourself informed is important.”

Lavender said she is aware that activism does not stop after a single event is complete and that she will continue to work diligently to bring about change.

“I hope to continue my advocacy and mobilize my fellow students to create real change in the future, and the best way to do that is through using our voice in the electoral process,” Lavender said. “We, as students, are woefully undereducated about how the electoral process works, which I feel discourages many young people from voting and has contributed to low voter turnout in this demographic in the past.”

Filipowski echoed Lavender’s points and said this March is just the start of more change to come. The real change will happen at the ballot box. 

“We have already seen the mark this movement has made on the nation as countless businesses have cut ties with the NRA as well as agreed to no longer sell assault rifles and bump stocks,” Filipowski said.  “Our message is loud and clear: If the current politicians won’t hear us, we will vote them out. They work for us, and that’s something they forget when they’re getting their big donations from the NRA. More guns is not the answer.”