Thousands protest with March for Our Lives in Philadelphia, nationwide

Students around the region gathered to protest Saturday as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives, organized by survivors of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Organizers of the flagship march hoped to draw 500,000 protesters to Washington, D.C. That would match the women’s march and make it one of the largest protests in history.

The March for Our Lives protests are slated to be defining moments in the gun violence and ownership debates—spurring some 800 other sister marches to materialize throughout the U.S., including in Philadelphia.

Here’s what the day looked like in Philly and D.C.

The march in Philly

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For Sarah Levin at the Germantown Friends School, the protest was more than just about school shootings. It’s about safety — and not just in her own community.

“Even though we are in the suburbs, we want to support everyone else with their struggle,” Levin said. “While we have the attention, I think we should focus on gun violence in every community, not just ours.”

Levin joined hundreds of people who marched Saturday morning from Fifth and Market streets through Old City to Lombard Circle along the Delaware waterfront.

One teacher, Mary Kelly a South Jersey Spanish teacher said she worries about active shooters inside her classroom.

“I keep thinking ‘Where would I put my kids?’” she said. ”My classroom is just off the main hall.”

Polls indicate public opinion may be shifting on the issues surrounding the march this weekend — an opportunity for activists who are hopeful for concrete change.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 73 percent of teachers are opposed to carrying firearms during school hours, as the Trump administration as proposed, and 58 percent of teachers say this would make schools less safe.

One of the organizers of the Philadelphia march, Ethan Block, of Pennington, New Jersey, feels the same. He called arming teachers “an ignorant and destructive proposal.”

“There is no need to own a weapon of war and the presence of such a weapon only causes devastation and pain,” Block said.

Jessica Knapp, a senior at Cheltenham High School, brought a sign counting down the last days of the school year.

“My school had a couple of gun scares and I remember getting off the bus and just thinking ‘I made it home,'” she said. “And I was like, ‘I should be counting down ’til summer, ’til college, but no, I’m counting down to say that I survived.'”

Knapp said she’s looking forward to voting in her first midterm elections to make sure fewer kids feel like she did.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro made an appearance at the rally at Lombard Circle with his son and daughter supporting background checks and banning assault rifles.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was also at the rally, talking bans on assault rifles, and pointed to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the person who can open gun issues for bipartisan debate on a national level.

Two students from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County agreed that the answer isn’t doing more drills at schools, but engaging in more conversations to make change.

“Schools, the best way for them to respond isn’t forcing using to do more drills, to feel scared of our own classmates. I think it’s more about community building and realizing that we have impact and we can change things,” junior Kendra Tse said.

“In school, kids aren’t worrying about their tests for the day,” junior Paige Scott. “They’re worrying about when the alarm goes off, ‘Is this actually a drill or am I going to get hurt in school today?’”

The march in D.C.

Students from Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs also boarded buses to join the flagship protest in Washington, D.C.

One car of kids from Science Leadership Academy Beeber campus in South Philly wrote letters to their senators for tighter gun-control laws on their way to the march.

The students are all writing notes to Pa. Senators on their way to the rally. Here’s one from 15-year-old Kyla Pritchett from SLA Berber (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

Protesters started off the day by taking to Pennsylvania Avenue with signs directed toward President Trump, lawmakers, and others to rally behind the cause.

“We will continue to fight for our dead friends,” Delaney Tarr, a survivor of the Florida tragedy, declared from the stage in Washington during the mid-afternoon rally. The crowd roared with approval as she laid down the students’ central demand: a ban on “weapons of war” for all but warriors.

Kyrie Greenberg, Avi Wolfman-Arent and The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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