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In D.C., hundreds from Philly protest gun violence: 'It gets to where it just hurts your heart'

For Ashanae Jackson, 19, the March for Our Lives in Washington felt personal. "A few weeks ago, someone texted my little brother, 'Do you want to buy a gun for $40?" said Jackson. "He's 15."

Students from Pennsylvania march in protest, during the march for Our Lives rally along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. Saturday, March 24, 2018. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Students from Pennsylvania march in protest, during the march for Our Lives rally along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. Saturday, March 24, 2018. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff PhotographerRead moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON — Maeve Ramsey begged her mom to go so she could make a difference.

Bonnie Simon, a teacher, wanted to go to make a statement: She won't carry a weapon as part of her job.

George Manigault wanted to march for justice, as he had so many years ago behind Martin Luther King Jr.

Joined by hundreds of others, the three boarded buses in Philadelphia just after dawn broke Saturday, making their way to the nation's capital, where hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, parents, and others converged to demand Congress enact stricter gun-control laws.

The March for Our Lives in Washington was led by young people, most notably students from Parkland, Fla., who saw 17 classmates and teachers gunned down in a February school massacre.

"To the leaders, skeptics, and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent, and wait your turn: Welcome to the revolution," Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor Cameron Kasky told the crowd.  "Either represent the people, or get out. Stand for us, or beware. The voters are coming."

Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old from Alexandria, Va., electrified the assembled, too.

"I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential," said Wadler, who said her activism was motivated by the stories of black women whose deaths do not make headlines.

Maeve Ramsey, 14, stood elbow-to-elbow with a crowd that stretched for miles.

Ramsey, whose family lives in Dauphin County, leaned hard on her mother, Kate Ramsey, to drive two hours to Philadelphia. There, Maeve, Kate and Wulfgar Ramsey, 17, met up with a CeaseFire PA group bound for D.C. and the largest of hundreds of Saturday marches happening worldwide.

Maeve had participated in the small walkout at her largely conservative high school, and a friend challenged her to make a difference.

"I'm just so mad. We have to do something,"  she said.

Manigault, 76, of North Philadelphia, is no stranger to marches: His first came when he was just 14 and his family took him to Washington to stand with King.

"We fought for justice then," said Manigault. "We're fighting for justice now."

Participating in the March for Our Lives meant he had to walk a long way, and Manigault had a boot on his foot from an injury. But that was a minor detail, he said.

"All these guns in the street — it gets to where it just bothers your heart," Manigault said. "It's time to say to the legislators, 'What's more important, the NRA or our lives?' "

Simon, 65, of Ambler, brought craft supplies on the bus from Philadelphia, neatly printing signs: "Let Teachers Teach. No Guns!" and "Just Say No to the NRA."

Simon now works as a tutor but has taught emotionally troubled children in the city, and, years ago, worked at Clymer Elementary in North Philadelphia and Smith Elementary in South Philadelphia, where lockdowns were routine when violence broke out in the neighborhood.

She was disgusted at President Trump's idea that some teachers should be armed as a way to ward off school shootings.

"I would never carry a gun," she said. "Teachers carrying guns? That's the most absurd idea. They should give us bulletproof vests."

The crowd was diverse and enormous — so large that it was less of a march and more of a rally, by virtue of the fact that anywhere close to the action, people couldn't move. There were earnest signs and profane ones, people making a buck hawking T-shirts and soft pretzels and people registering new voters. A group of students from Parkway Center City Middle College who connected with Stoneman Douglas students were in the crowd, wearing T-shirts that gave sobering statistics about their own experiences with gun violence; a number of men and women from Project HOME were there, too.

For Ashanae Jackson, 19, a student at YouthBuild Charter School, it felt personal; gun violence is common in her South Philadelphia neighborhood. A friend was recently murdered on his doorstep, and a cousin survived a shooting but was left blind.

Guns are everywhere, and way too easy to get, Jackson said.

"A few weeks ago, someone texted my little brother, 'Do you want to buy a gun for $40?' " said Jackson. "He's 15."

Keith Q. Schenck of Germantown snapped pictures as he wandered among the vast sea of people. He wanted to remember the day. Schenck, founder of One Love Philly Guns Down, got involved in the fight against guns when his cousin was killed by someone who emptied an assault weapon into his car.

"This is a crisis that can be prevented," said Schenck.

Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, also took a CeaseFire bus from the city to D.C. As the bus rumbled along I-95, Arkoosh, a doctor, called gun violence "a public health problem. This is not about repealing the Second Amendment. This is about keeping the people in our country safe."

When he travels the world for his work as a multimedia producer, Carl Woodin said he now feels embarrassed to admit he's an American. The state of U.S. politics and the lack of strict gun laws are dangerous, he said. He looks at his children, now 24 and 21, and is grateful they're out of public schools, which no longer feel safe, Woodin said.

"And I live in Upper Dublin – a really nice, affluent suburb, but it doesn't matter," said Woodin, who traveled to the march with a group from Temple Beth Or in Ambler. "As human beings, we need to stand up for each other. I just can't stand by and watch it anymore."

Carolyn Schultz, a special-education teacher at Pennsauken High School, rode with a group of students and educators to the Washington event because she wanted to be a witness to history, she said

"This is a movement, and it's different because the kids are leading the way," said Schultz, 55. "If you're going to be an activist, you need to show up."

That's what Maeve Ramsey thought, too. She was completely overwhelmed – and completely motivated – by what she had seen, heard, and felt Saturday, she said.

"I feel like I have a voice," she said, "and it should be heard."