March for Our Lives brings thousands out in Tampa, St. Pete

Attendees hoped to send a strong message about gun violence.

click to enlarge A boy holds a sign at Tampa March for our Lives. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
A boy holds a sign at Tampa March for our Lives.

It was the perfect day for a massive protest march: sunny and warm, but chilly enough in the shade to keep you moving.

Activists packed waterfront parks on both sides of the bay for the March for Our Lives, the culmination of just weeks of organizing following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In all, an estimated 15,000 gathered in Tampa and St. Pete. Hundreds of thousands more gathered in cities across the world.

click to enlarge The Tampa March for our Lives parades through downtown Tampa. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
The Tampa March for our Lives parades through downtown Tampa.

They called for stronger gun laws, namely limits to the availability of high-caliber rifles capable of killing dozens of people in minutes.

click to enlarge Tampa March for our Lives attendees at the Saturday rally.. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Tampa March for our Lives attendees at the Saturday rally..

In Tampa, they marched from Kiley Garden to Joe Chillura Courthouse Park. Later, many marchers joined up with Tampa Pride in nearby Ybor City to honor victims of the Parkland shooting as well as the Pulse nightclub shooting. Both shootings were carried out using the same style of rifle.

click to enlarge Poynter Park in downtown St. Petersburg was packed Saturday morning ahead of the march. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Poynter Park in downtown St. Petersburg was packed Saturday morning ahead of the march.

In St. Petersburg, thousands snaked through downtown to call for action on guns. At a rally preceding the march at Poynter Park, they decried Florida's current gun policies and vowed to make change.

click to enlarge A girl holds a sign at Tampa March for our Lives. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
A girl holds a sign at Tampa March for our Lives.

Speaker Riley Walker, a high school student, said his family scoffed at him when he said he was going to speak at the event, and told him he was doing it to hear himself talk. But he spoke anyway.

"We are at a turning point in history where it is easier than ever to go out and make a difference," Walker said. "All of you are making a difference and being part of history just by being here today."

click to enlarge A sign at the Tampa March for our Lives. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
A sign at the Tampa March for our Lives.

He added that the movement is bound to continue beyond Saturday's rally and march despite efforts from the gun lobby and its allies to kill the momentum.

"The opposition will work harder and harder to bring us down," he said. "As support for our cause of ending gun violence increases, people like the NRA and state senators who take millions of dollars in order to push pro-gun agendas to stop us, will try their hardest to stop us. We cannot let people who oppose our cause get into our heads and convince us that what we're doing is meaningless. You must never be fearful of what you're doing when it is right."

click to enlarge Speakers addressed the large crowd from beneath a large sculpture in St. Pete's Poynter Park. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Speakers addressed the large crowd from beneath a large sculpture in St. Pete's Poynter Park.

Ashley Green of the group Dream Defenders said the conversation about gun violence absolutely has to include people of color, given how they're disproportionately targeted by police and other authorities that carry guns.

click to enlarge Protesters in St. Pete hold a sign comparing some of the best-known NRA figures to Disney villainesses. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Protesters in St. Pete hold a sign comparing some of the best-known NRA figures to Disney villainesses.

She said in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting, she knew Florida lawmakers wouldn't pass legislation that would get to the heart of the gun violence epidemic.

“I said what they were going to do was, in order to protect your kids, they need to turn your school into a war zone. They need to make it more like a prison. They're going to talk about 'fortifying' schools, building more gates, investing more in the police," she said. "And now we have a sheriff in our county who wants us to come up with 24 million extra dollars to put police officers in [our schools] instead of addressing the lack of accountability from the state for actually stopping Nikolaus Cruz at the many opportunities it had to intervene in his life.”

click to enlarge Participants created a large "quilt" to send  message about gun law reform. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Participants created a large "quilt" to send message about gun law reform.

She said that despite that skepticism, the passion she sees at rallies like Saturday's makes her optimistic.

“I don't want to say I'm cynical, because seeing you all here today gives me so much hope that maybe we can actually invest ourselves in the right solutions,” Green said. 

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was the last speaker before the march launched, said on Twitter he will ask St. Petersburg City Council to divest from companies that manufacture or sell guns.