‘I’m 12 years old, and I don’t want to be murdered’: Iowa City’s March for Our Lives protests political inaction on school shootings

Students lead the March For Our Lives to the Pentacrest. Saturday, March 24, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Freezing temperatures and several inches of newly fallen snow weren’t enough to stop Students Against School Shootings Iowa (SASS) from leading a protest march from College Green Park to the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest on Saturday. And the NRA won’t be able to stop them either, members of SASS told the marchers.

“Our voices are too loud to be drowned out by the blood money of the NRA lobbyists,” Nick Pryor, a SASS member from Iowa City West High School, told the crowd gathered at College Green Park before the march began.

The Iowa City March for Our Lives was one of more than 800 hundred marches and rallies held around the world in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. That march was led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The mass shooting at the Parkland school last month that killed 17 people is what mobilized Iowa City students to take action. They are pressing for what speakers at the march called “common sense gun control” and seek to hold political leaders accountable for decades of inaction on gun safety.

According to an analysis by The Washington Post, there have been shootings at 193 primary and secondary schools since 1999.

Maya Durham, a SASS organizer from City High School, told Little Village the group grew out of discussions among students after the Parkland shooting. Even before the group had a name, it had helped in organizing the Feb. 10 walk-out of students from City High and Southeast Junior High School to protest the lack of political action after school shootings. Since then, the group has organized a letter writing campaign and even drove two hours to be able to confront Sen. Chuck Grassley at a town hall event in Manchester, Iowa.

“We’re just getting going,” Durham said.

She said there had been discussions within the group as to whether to reschedule the march because of the weather.

“Ultimately, we decided that rain, sleet or snow, the NRA has got to go,” Durham said. “We had to do something, and nothing was going to get in the way of us organizing around such an important issue.”

Despite the weather, a crowd of approximately 400 was gathered on the Pentacrest to listen to a series of speakers. The most powerful speaker was also the youngest.

“I’m 12 years old, and I don’t want to be murdered,” Margalit Frank, a sixth grader from Longfellow Elementary School, told the crowd.

I don’t want to wake up every day and wonder if today will be the day someone shoots up my school. I don’t want to fear for my life, if a car circles around my school. And if I am able to grow up and have kids, I want to be able to truthfully tell them school is a safe place.

I don’t want to have to say the same things our parents say. Like, ‘The chances are low,’ or ‘It probably won’t happen here.’ Our parents can’t even promise us a safe day at school. They can’t promise us that we will come home.

Margalit Frank speaks during The March For Our Lives on the Pentacrest. Saturday, March 24, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

“Whenever children try to make a point, we’re shushed and told we don’t understand. But we understand too well,” Frank continued. “We understand that our parents love us and want to protect us, but unless we get reasonable gun control, these shootings will continue.”

Standing in the crowd, Helene Lubaroff watched Frank speak. Lubaroff wasn’t connected to any of the organizers of March for Our Lives, but it was obvious she was a veteran of other protests — she brought a drum to the march to bang out a rhythm for the chants of the marchers.

Lubaroff’s first organized protest was as a UI student in 1985. She and other students were arrested for protesting U.S. support for apartheid in South Africa. Beyond supporting the student’s call for gun control, Lubaroff had a special reason for attending the protest on Saturday.

“I have a son who is a teacher — he’s just starting as a teacher — so it hits me really hard to think about my child in this potentially dangerous situation,” Lubaroff said.

Asked if anything about the March for Our Lives and SASS struck her as being different than other protests she’s seen over the years, Lubaroff said the leadership shown by people still too young to vote is what stood out to her as being unique.

“This new generation of kids, they are doing it themselves,” Lubaroff said. “They aren’t waiting for anyone else to lead the way, and I am so unbelievably proud of them.”

“It gives me hope that we are finally going to see some real change.”

Students and supporters gather on the Pentacrest during the March For Our Lives. Saturday, March 24, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann