MARCH FOR OUR LIVES: ‘Ask Australia what to do’
CLOSE to one million protesters swamped Washington DC for one of the biggest rallies the city has seen, spearheaded by teenagers who lost their classmates in the recent Florida shooting.
Millions more joined the March For Our Lives gun control demonstration across the United States and the world, backed by serious star power from the likes of Paul McCartney, George and Amal Clooney, Jennifer Hudson, Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus.
The most poignant moments came from the many survivors of mass shootings and families of people killed in of gun violence in the United States.
"I'm here for my daughter Britthney Ryen, who was killed 20 years ago today in the Westside school shooting on March 24, 1998," Suzanne Wilson told news.com.au.
Choking back tears, she said she was "totally in awe"? of what was happening today after the death of her daughter in Jonesboro, Arkansas, at just 12 years old. "I'm ready to see change, and hopefully these children will bring the change that we need.
"It's time. If they (the US government) don't do it now then we're going to vote them out."
Susan McCarthy, from Washington State, was holding a sign that read: "Ask Australia what to do."
She told news.com.au: "You guys have got it right. You had serious issue in 1996 I believe and you changed all your laws and you haven't had another one since. So why aren't we doing that?
"It only took you guys one event, and we're just going to lose people. So come over and make it happen.
"I was here at the women's march, this is more moving, because it's the kids."
It was the students' day, but the world's most famous faces were there to back them. McCartney marched in New York to honour bandmate and gun violence victim John Lennon.
The former Beatle was joined by his wife Nancy Shevell at the rally blocks away from the Dakota Building, where John Lennon was shot in 1980.
"One of my best friends was killed by gun violence right around here, so it's important to me not just to march today but to take action tomorrow and to have these people to have their voices heard,"? McCartney told CNN's Jason Caroll.
An emotional Jennifer Hudson, who lost her mother, brother and nephew to gun violence, embraced student figurehead Emma Gonzalez after her speech in Washington and gave a spine-tingling performance of The Times They Are A-Changing.
Around the world, 800 simultaneous events took place on every continent, from Sydney to Belfast to Port Louis in Mauritius.
The streets of DC began filling up from early in the morning as protesters poured into the city by train, car and plane.
Donald Trump left the White House yesterday evening to spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Most protesters were clearly not supporters of the US President, regularly chanting: "Vote him out!"?
A group of young men joked that he would probably say "there were only a few hundred people there"? at the march.
There was a brief scuffle when a pro-life activist stormed through the crowd with a megaphone, shouting that "Planned Parenthood kills children"? as the crowd booed loudly and shouted, "Go away!"?
Another man was seen wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt, while a loud bang over a speaker made everyone jump.
The march, which ran from 12pm to 3pm EST, headed down Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the White House and Capitol Hill.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where Nikolas Cruz shot dead 17 children and staff members in February, arrived at the stage to chants of "thank you"? from the crowd this morning.
The Parkland students have become world-famous since they began their campaign to stamp out gun violence following the tragedy at their school, with Emma Gonzalez turning figurehead for the anti-gun violence movement after a deeply powerful speech, as well as a target for pro-gun advocates.
"Most of us knew at least one or two that were killed," Stoneman Douglas student Sofie Whitney, 18, told news.com.au.
"I think it's just our way of grieving. Everyone does it differently and we couldn't just sit back while we let everyone forget about us. We need to make sure this never had to happen again, because no kid, no person of any age should go through what we had to go through."
Kyra Parrow, whose friend Nick was killed in the shooting, tweeted: "Happy birthday to this sweet angel. Today I march for you."?
Students displayed signs reading, "Hope to have as many rights as a gun someday,"? and "Guns should be dying, not kids."
As students arrived in Washington last night, one teenager standing outside the White House with fellow protesters shouted: "We're not going anywhere. One bullet costs 28 cents. Are we worth 28 cents?"
The young people are demanding their "lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings."
Last week an estimated one million students walked out of schools across the US in 17-minute protests against government inaction on gun control and school safety.
If 500,000 show up in Washington today, the turnout would match last year's women's march and make it one of the largest protests in the city since the Vietnam era. Washington officials are prepared for huge crowds this year after the size of the women's march took them by surprise.
The protesters are hoping the unprecedented action by young people will build on a growing movement for gun control propelled by a stream of horrific mass shootings. They want to see age limits raised for gun purchases, rigorous background checks and the ability to remove firearms from people considered to be a risk. At present, the laws vary wildly across the nation and there have been at least 17 school shootings this year.
A poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research, found that 69 per cent of Americans think gun laws in the United States should be tightened, up from 61 per cent who said the same in October of 2016 and 55 per cent when the AP first asked the question in October of 2013.
Protesters outside the US embassy in London raised placards reading "Protect kids not guns,"? "Never again,"? and "Enough is enough".
In Geneva, students held up signs reading, "NRA, sashay away"?, and in Belfast, young people had placards reading, "Education, not assassination."
"VOTE THEM OUT"
The atmosphere was electric in Washington today, with people packed together like sardines on Pennsylvania Avenue close to the White House.
Parents with young children, high school students, teachers and adults came together to call for stronger laws around firearms, many of them school shooting survivors or people who had lost loved-ones to gun violence.
Jen, a teacher from just outside Washington, told news.com.au: "It's really important that we keep guns out of our schools and that there is increased gun laws that keep guns off our streets and out of our communities."?
Erin, a university freshman from Connecticut, told news.com.au: "There's just been so many school shootings in the US that when there's news about a school shooting, it's not even a surprise anymore and that's really not OK.
"I can't even differentiate between which one is which because there's been so many and that's not OK, that's why we're here, to make a difference.
"Seeing this many people come together and seeing how much of a change we can make, and not taking no for an answer and making something positive out of something so tragic, I'm sure that's really powerful for the families as well."
People carried placards reading, "Books not guns", "Make America Safe Again" and "We call BS", referencing Emma Gonzalez's powerful speech.
As they marched, students and performers took to the stage, calling for an end to gun violence, with one 11-year-old survivor from a Chicago telling the crowd that guns "took away my childhood."
Cameron Kasky from Marjory Stoneman Douglas told the crowd that young people had "spent our entire lives living through mass shooting after mass shooting."
To huge cheers, he continued: "We hereby promise to fix the broken system we've been forced into and fix the world for generations to come. Don't worry, we got this.
"Politicians, either represent the people or get out ... there the voters are coming."