Kiley Gardens was drowning in a sea of signs Saturday as protesters gathered to demand gun reform. The Tampa March for Our Lives protest brought nearly 15,000 people to downtown Tampa as part of a nationwide movement after 17 students were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
Several students took the stage before the march to share poetry, make speeches and perform music.
“We’ve studied history enough to know when history is being made. This is history being made,” Brooke Shapiro, a student from Henry B. Plant High School, said. Shapiro helped to coordinate Saturday’s march.
Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa, said he was impressed at the turnout. He told the crowd that today was the day their voices were going to change the country.
Susana Matta Valdivies, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, then took the stage.
“No parent should ever have to go through that,” Valdivies said. She remembers walking out of school in a single-file line with her hands up in the air and seeing the police there alongside parents. Parents waiting for their children to come out of the school alive.
Her account of what happened in Parkland left the crowd silent.
“To everyone who said it was too early for us to talk about politics: It was never too early,” Valdivies said. “Seven thousand children’s lives have been lost due to gun violence. We are not too early. We are 7,000 lives too late.”
Resident Solana Priestley came to demand change. “I was hurt and surprised, honestly, that we are still having these problems and that officials aren’t willing to face it,” Priestley said. Her sign showed a child’s fist holding a pencil with the words “Never Again” surrounding it. After hearing about the shooting in Parkland, she recognized that something had to be done.
Ashley Boling, a student at Flagler College in St. Augustine boarded a Greyhound bus to come home a day early so she could be able to march.
“I knew that I needed to be here,” Boling said. “I needed to march and represent all the people we’ve lost to gun violence.”
Once the crowd began to flood the streets of downtown Tampa, chants of “not one more” and “books not bullets” rang loud. Friends walked hand in hand and children sat on their parents’ shoulders. At the end of the loop, the march was led through the parking garage of Glazer’s Children Museum, amplifying the volume of the voices of the crowd.
As the crowd came out the other side of the garage and back into the park, cheers sounded throughout the gardens. Some stayed to thank the police officers present. The huge blue “March for Our Lives” sign swayed in the breeze on the stage.
Sitting in the shade in Kiley Gardens, Boling finally set down her “The Future Belongs to the Children” sign. She didn’t regret the six-hour bus ride from St. Augustine to Tampa. She said there wasn’t any way she would have missed the march.
“It was momentous for all the right reasons,” Boling said.
Related to Tampa March For Our Lives:
The first sentence of this article was corrected on March 26, 2018.