ST. PETERSBURG — Madison Vogel, a junior at Osceola Fundamental High School, was up until 1:30 a.m. on Saturday sending out last minute emails. She woke up again at 4:30 am. and drove a U-haul truck full of supplies from her mom’s house to her dad’s to take some print outs and then headed to Poynter Park, where she began setting up and waiting for people to arrive to St. Petersburg’s March for Our Lives event.
A few weeks ago, during an initial planning meeting, 20 high school students showed up and she was blown away.
"I thought this was insane," she said.
That was just a hint of what was to come. More than 1,500 people from around Pinellas county, from a sign-toting one-year-old to a 90-year old community organizer, attended Saturday’s event, joining thousands of others across the bay area who marched against gun violence.
Public speaking had never been a strong suit of hers until a few weeks ago, Vogel said, and she was nervous as she took the stage that U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman later addressed the marchers from.
But when you have that many people cheering you on, she said, it gets easier. She had a message for NRA-supported politicians.
"Only half of us showed up to the polls, but that was before," she said. "We will vote you out of office like our lives depend on it."
Kriseman, who marched the loop in downtown St. Petersburg with the crowd, had a similar message for the crowd.
"It is tragic you all have to march for your young lives," he said, before leading the crowd into a chant of "Vote, vote, vote."
Marchers of all ages carried signs and donned shirts condemning the National Rifle Association, and calling for bans on assault weapons.
St. Petersburg Catholic High School teacher Phillip Johnston, 35, carried a sign that read: "I am a teacher not a soldier." Johnston’s sisters and wife are teachers as well, and he has three kids in the school system.
"I want to keep my family safe," he said.
Winnie Foster, a 90-year-old community organizer said she wanted to attend just to see the people who were marching.
"Even in my wheelchair, I had to come out," she said. ""This is a big moment, not just for our city. I have been so impressed by these actions of change across the world."
Anna Maria Little, 23, said it was important to remember Saturday was about standing in solidarity with the high school students who started the national dialogue.
Police chief Anthony Holloway, who attended, said the event went off smoothly with no altercations.
Bob Teets, 56, the only visible opponent stood quietly at the back of a march with a sign saying: "To dumb for guns I’m under 21." He was critical of a state law that raised the age limit to 21 to buy rifles.
""We’re a constitutional republic and adults in America are 18 years old," he said. "So I think what (Gov.) Rick Scott did was unconstitutional… The kids don’t really know what they’re doing. Will they take your rights away at 21? 25? 26? 30? When does it end?"
Vogel was unphased.
"Our voices matter," she said. "We have a lot of adults telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about, but we know this better than they do because this is what’s happening to us… This is only the beginning."
Contact Divya Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @divyadivyadivya.