On the floor of an empty classroom on the fourth floor of the Lerner building at Columbia University on Thursday afternoon, a dozen youth huddled to write anti-gun slogans on posters. The event was one of many organized in schools and colleges around the city in the run up to Saturday’s planned anti-gun demonstration that has become known as the “March for our Lives.
Last-minute posts on the New York ‘March for Our Lives’ Facebook group – which now counts more than 10,000 members – called for students to show up at one of a handful of locations and help out with the posters.
Ankit Jain, a 25-year-old from Columbia’s Law School, coordinated the poster-making efforts while taking questions from reporters and posing for cameras, his cell phone constantly buzzing in his hand. He is one of the nine students in charge of the core organization of the march planned for New York City.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said Jain. “None of us has organized anything like this before. But it seems like we’re going to be ready for it.”
Sparked by students who demanded gun control after last February’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, a wave of anti-gun activism has animated school campuses around the county. And the public debate over the last month will now culminate in a day of general mobilization.
Even though tens of thousands of people and students from at least 20 colleges are expected to participate in Saturday’s march, Jain and eight others remained in charge of the bulk of it. They contacted the NYPD and summoned around 400 volunteers from schools and the public to assist along the march.
“People really want to get involved. We put out a call for volunteers and we were flooded with requests,” Jain said.
Jain took issue with recent comments by Jack Kingston, a congressman from Georgia and CNN commentator who expressed skepticism and feared that student protesters might be “hijacked by left-wing groups.” Jain also dismissed criticism that students would not be able to pull together a nationwide protest.
“I’m seeing what we’re doing and I say, obviously students can do it!” he said.
The Parkland school shooting has triggered a ripple effect, prompting many states to talk about different kinds of gun legislation, sometimes challenging views that seemed established.
Avalon Hoek Spaans, a science graduate student at Columbia and campus organizer for the march, is from Florida. The recent shooting shook her deeply, and what ensued challenged all that she knew from living in a state with lax gun laws, she said.
“In my life time there have been so many school shootings, and I’ve been through school shooting drills, and it was a normalized part of the culture. But then I heard those [Parkland] kids and I said wait, ‘Why does this have to be part of my reality?’ I don’t have to accept this,” Spaans said
The March for Our Lives is expected to set off from Central Park West and 72 Street at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 24. It’s one of the sister marches of the national march which will take place in Washington, D.C. on the same day.