“Eat my ass!” a teenage boy yelled at the U.S. Capitol rotunda on Wednesday morning.
He was joined by thousands of fellow students from the Washington area, who had all walked out of school at 10 a.m. to demand a solution to gun violence.
After sitting outside the White House in silence for 17 minutes—one minute for each victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that took place on February 14—the students marched to the Capitol.
The mass of teenagers walked with their friends, held signs, and chanted: “Enough is enough!” “Fuck Trump!” “Hey hey! Ho ho! The NRA has got to go!” “This is what democracy looks like!” and even “I don’t want to die!”
Rachel Zeidenberg, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, was marching past the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue but didn’t seem to notice. She explained her sign, which read, “Actually, guns really do kill people.”
“Like Emmy Gonzalez, the Parkland survivor, said, [the gunman] wouldn’t have killed that many students with a knife. This is a gun issue,” she said. “Obviously, we need to work on mental illness awareness and things like that, but this is about guns. And to say anything else, you’re just lying to yourself.”
She added that she was missing a math test because of the walkout.
“I’m going to get a 0/30 for that math test, so that’s not going to be fun,” Zeidenberg said. “But I think it’s absolutely worth it.”
Jataya Johnson and Synia Cherry—both students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in D.C.—walked past the Newseum, a building that features the words of the First Amendment blown up in huge letters on the side of the building. Some adults cheered on the students from the Newseum’s upper balcony, and the students cheered back.
I asked Jataya about the conservative politicians and pundits who’ve said teenagers’ opinions on gun control shouldn’t be taken seriously.
“In the Constitution, everyone has a right to protest and has a voice. So them saying that we should sit down, it’s disobeying our human rights,” she said. “I’m not going to sit down, and I don’t think anyone I know is going to sit down.”
While the tone of the protest was appropriately serious at times, the students also found time to goof around, as teens are wont to do.
Some students climbed up on their friends’ shoulders for a better view of the speakers.
A girl rummaged around her backpack. “We ran out of Samoas and Thin Mints,” she reported to her friends.
Another boy yelled into his phone at a friend: “Get your bitch ass out of class and come protest with us!”
Cindy Marquez, a sophomore at John F. Kennedy High School—and a friend of the girl with the Girl Scout cookies—held up a sign with cutout photographs of the victims of the Parkland shooting. What did she think of the Trump administration’s idea of arming teachers?
“No. Nuh uh. Mm-mm. No,” she said.
“Teachers are people too. They have emotions, and sometimes they don’t control them,” Stephanie Garcia, also a sophomore, added. “They could easily hurt us too. So it really is just increasing the possibilities of having another school shooting.”
Then the politicians started to arrive. First, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke. It was nearly impossible to hear anything the speakers said, but the female student who introduced Pelosi made this pronouncement: “If you can speak, speak. If you can march, march. And when you can vote, vote!”
Then, out of nowhere, people started running in the direction of two Capitol Police officers flanking a tuft of white hair.
“Oh my God!”
“It’s Bernie FUCKING Sanders!”
“I shook his hand!”
“He has really soft hands.”
“We got to touch God,” Alia Berry-Drobnich, a freshman at Bethesda Chevy Chase, said.
Sam Blank, her classmate, offered up an impromptu ranking: “It’s like Beyonce, Bernie, Jay Z and then Elizabeth [Warren].”
Earl Yates was one of a handful of adult protesters gathered at the Capitol. He’s the father of two high school students, a son and a daughter, who were participating in the protest.
“I was in tears walking down the avenue with them,” Yates said. “All of these kids, they are out here. It’s not just a playdate for them. They are sending a serious message, and I think it will be sustained.”
He’s also involved in two local church-run efforts to combat gun violence and promote gun control, and denounced the “gun empire” supported by groups like the NRA.
“It’s very encouraging to see this generation react not just out of some sense of political motivation, but for them, it is indeed a life and death matter,” Yates said.
Alpha Keita is in middle school in Bethesda, but his parents let him come to the protest anyway—with his mom in tow. He said he has friends from camp who are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Asked about critics who say students should stay in class and keep their political opinions to themselves, Alpha grinned.
“To be honest, I think they’re scared,” he said. “They’re scared of us because they know if we all come together, that we’re powerful.”