Promises of change made at 'March for Our Lives'
Confronting a nationwide epidemic of school violence and decades of inaction from lawmakers, the Vernon Elementary School choir made a prediction — or maybe a promise.
"The times they are a-changin," they sang.
Facing the stage in Pioneer Courthouse Square, the crowd of thousands raised their hands in the v-shaped peace sign, their heads bobbing along to the old Bob Dylan tune.
"The students here are going to take over the world," said retiree Colin Persichetti of Southwest Portland. "I'm looking to them to get this country out of the hole it's in."
On social media, some 9,000 people indicated their attendance at the student-led "March for Our Lives" on Saturday, March 24 in downtown Portland. Media reports and the Tribune's own aerial photography suggest it was likely the best-attended protest in the area since the Women's March in January, 2017.
Students led the charge from a staging point at the North Park Blocks to Pioneer Square. Some seemed somber or angry, though just as many appeared optimistic and inspired by an atmosphere that mixed a rock concert with a political rally.
Adults and young activists delivered a common refrain, calling for real changes in the wake of a horrific school shooting that killed 17 students and educators at a Florida high school in February.
"Last month was Parkland. This week was Maryland. Tomorrow, it could be us," warned Beaverton student-organizer Calum Nguyen, 18, referring to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and another recent deadly shooting.
"We will no longer stand for the way our legislators are treating gun control," voiced another organizer, Zoe Dumm of Roosevelt High School in Portland.
After an hour of speeches, the punctuated Portland musical act Portugal. The Man took the stage, performing their hit singles "So American" and "Feel It Still" as a culmination to the protest.
"This is really in your face," lead singer John Gormley said from backstage as the crowd chanted "Vote Them Out" and "Never Again."
The pop musician argued that the day's events shouldn't been seen as a Democratic or Republican issue.
"The idea that politics should be involved in any of this, kids feeling safe — it's ridiculous," he commented.
"Let's come together in some common ground. Everybody wants kids to feel safe in school, right?" added bassist Zach Carothers. "Let's start there, and start spreading it out."
Earlier that day, undeterred by an accurate forecast calling for cold and wet, the multitude churned through the mud to reach the march's rallying point at the North Park Blocks by 10:30 a.m. Marchers and a handful of counter-protesters tossed out taunts at each other as the mob formed.
"They want to stop the NRA," counter-protester Jacob Natzel told the Tribune. "Hitler wanted gun control. Look what happened! Six million Jews died."
The senior at Heritage High School in Vancouver was joined by a friend with a bullhorn. While volunteer organizers called for participants to ignore the counter-protesters, one older man approached Natzel to poke fun of his busted horn rims.
"You can't even take care of a pair of glasses," the man cried.
Before things could escalate, the Unpresidented Brass Band tromped over, the sound of their horns and trumpets drowning out the angry shouts coming from both sides.
Others in the crowd struck a different tune.
"I'm tired of being seen as weak, and I'm tired of seeing gun violence in schools," 18-year-old Tova Broadbent said from the sidewalk next to the staging area at 235 N.W. Park Avenue.
The senior at Century High School in Hillsboro said she hoped the day's event become a showcase for unity.
"Our deaths are political, but it's not about left or right," she continued. "It's about finding a solution."