The weekend heat wave didn’t stop Coliseum College Prep Academy students from calling on the Oakland community to join them Saturday in a “March for Our Lives,” part of a nationwide movement for stricter gun laws sparked by outrage over several recent mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, an elementary school in Texas and a hospital in Oklahoma.
Their inspiration? Local shootings in their own community, and resonance with the victims in the Uvalde, Texas, shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead at the hands of an 18-year-old mass shooter on May 24.
On Saturday morning, Alexander Ibarra, 13, and three of his schoolmates inspired a crowd of several hundred at Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall to think differently about gun violence in Oakland, and illuminated their feelings of unease in their schools and distrust in US politicians to pass what they call much-needed gun regulations nationwide.
“The kids who died were around the same age as me,” Ibarra said in an interview a day before the rally. “I really just want these guns control laws. We need them. We really do. We need these laws to get to a vote.”
Young people held similar rallies across the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Mountain View to Redwood City.
Oakland residents joined Alex and his group with signs sending a clear message to the US Senate and local voters from California: “Vote out gun lobby politicians!” “Regulate Guns, not my body!” and “Over 300,000 students have experienced gun violence since 1999. This is not OK.”
Brianna Gonzalez, 13, one of Ibarra’s classmates, brought the national story home in an emotional testimony .
“Oakland has always had a problem with gun violence. In my 13 years of living, I have experienced a lot of things no other child should experience,” she said. “At the age of three, I witnessed my uncle being shot and carried away in the ambulance. At the age of 7, my grandfather had a gun put to his head his while being robbed of his hard-earned money his. Most recently on the 4th of July, 2020, my aunt’s husband was the victim of a drive-by shooting along with many of the neighbors who were celebrating the Fourth of July.”
She continued, “This month prior has had a lot of mass shootings, including the Robb Elementary School shooting, where 19 students and two teachers were murdered. And I am here to say: Enough! Enough gun violence. Enough living in fear. Enough mass shootings! We gather here today because we have had enough. Enough dead children!”
California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. But it’s not enough, the speakers said, emphasizing how someone can get access to a gun illegally, or legally in another state and bring it over with violent intention to California. Nationwide laws are the only way forward, Ibarra and the speakers said.
“Today the job of an educator can quickly shift from preparing students for the future to becoming first responders in a moment of deadly crisis,” Gladys Marquez, an educator and member of the National Education Association’s executive committee, said at the rally. “The lens from which students see their schools and communities has also shifted because of gun violence. A 15-year-old high school student from Texas had this to say about his new reality Her : When I first go into a classroom I think about hiding places. If I’m in a hallway I think, if something happened, what bathroom would I run to? And there are these weird moral questions like, ‘Would I throw myself in front of someone? Or would I hide behind them?’”
Some students at Ibarra and his soccer teammate Enemisio Ayala’s school were immune to the news, they said in an interview on Friday.
And they want to wake them up.
“They say ‘Oh, it’s not our problem,’” Ibarra said. “Well it would be our problem.”