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March For Our Lives wants to take student activism to another level

Inspired by the activism of the Parkland survivors, high school students across the country and in Tampa Bay are gearing up for Saturday's marches to end gun violence.
Plant High School students Macie Lavender and Brooke Shapiro address reporters to promote Saturday's March For Our Lives [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Plant High School students Macie Lavender and Brooke Shapiro address reporters to promote Saturday's March For Our Lives [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Published Mar. 21, 2018|Updated Mar. 22, 2018

TAMPA — Their objective, as these teens prepare to march in cities around the nation this Saturday, is straightforward: Continue the drive to end gun violence that ignited when 17 lives were lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.

"It's deeply personal for us, because Parkland is just a few hours away," said Plant High School senior Macie Lavender, 17, who is helping to organize Tampa's local March For Our Lives.

"Gun violence is intersectional. No human being is bullet-proof."

Much activism has taken place in the five weeks since the Feb. 14 Parkland school shootings. Inspired by Stoneman Douglas students such as 17-year-old Emma Gonzalez, a generation of high schoolers are pushing for gun control measures to help bring an end to mass shootings — and pushing back against the political might of the National Rifle Association.

The March For Our Lives is being planned in communities across the country and in the Tampa Bay region, where marches are set to take place in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

But where earlier local demonstrations attracted rag-tag groups with vulgar banners about the NRA, the students who held a news conference at Plant High on Wednesday were measured in their statements.

They said they're not against the Second Amendment right to bear arms, or anyone's right to own a weapon for self-defense.

But they want to see reasonable restrictions enacted, such as a ban on "bump stocks," devices that can speed up the rate at which semiautomatic rifles can be fired. Such a device was used by the gunman who killed 58 people and injured more than 500 in the Oct. 1 Las Vegas attack, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Plant City High School journalist Alexis Perno interviews senior Adam Gersholowitz at Plant High School. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Plant City High School journalist Alexis Perno interviews senior Adam Gersholowitz at Plant High School. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

Student leader Brooke Shapiro asked that participants "refrain from using profanity" in their signs to the Tampa march in anticipation that families and young children will be in attendance.

More than a dozen students attended the Plant High news conference and had permission to hold it during school hours. Students attended from  other schools as well, as the effort is pulling together more than 50 schools in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Parisa Akbarpour, Sickles High School; and Madison Ramberac, Tampa Catholic High School, were at Plant High on Wednesday to promote March For Our Lives. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Parisa Akbarpour, Sickles High School; and Madison Ramberac, Tampa Catholic High School, were at Plant High on Wednesday to promote March For Our Lives. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

Lavender and Shapiro said that, like many of their generation, they were inspired by the Parkland survivors who started speaking out in public against gun violence before they had even attended their classmates' funerals.

For the Tampa students, the school shooting hit home.

"Macie and I felt compelled to add our voices to the national conversation, because we have quickly discovered that our lives depend on it," Shapiro said.

Added Lavender: "We, as students, have come of age in an era when gun violence is a constant threat."

They commended Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature for taking gun safety measures, such as raising the minimum age of purchase to 21 and banning bump stocks.

But, they said, they want to see such laws implemented on a national scale. They are also adamantly against one of the Legislature's new measures: arming school employees.

Shapiro and Lavender both said they're graduating from Plant High this year and waiting to hear from colleges.

Lavender, the child of political conservatives, said she founded the high school's Democratic club and wants to major in international studies. Shapiro said she plans to major in women's studies. She has a female empowerment blog and is president of the school chorus.

The students don't know how many will participate in the Tampa march on Saturday. More than 5,000 people have responded on Facebook, but that's not an accurate measure.

And, just like the Feb. 23 march from Blake High School, this weekend's march will also feature a voter registration drive aimed at young people.

"Many of these legislators doubt our strength," Steinbrenner High School senior Isabella Cruz-O'Grady said. "Prove them wrong. Vote."

IF YOU GO: SATURDAY’S MARCH FOR OUR LIVES

TAMPA: The march will be from 10 a.m. to noon starting at Kiley Garden, the elevated section of downtown's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 400 N Ashley Drive. After an hour of entertainment and speeches, the march will run along Ashley to the University of Tampa, then circle back across the river toward the Straz Center and end at the William F. Poe Parking Garage, 800 N Ashley Drive. For more information visit Facebook.

ST. PETERSBURG: The march will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Poynter Park, 1000 Third St. S. There will be speakers, then the march will start at 1 p.m. It will go north on Third Street S, turn east on First Avenue S, go south on First Street S, go west on Sixth Avenue S, then return to Poynter Park. Those ages 16 and 17 can pre-register to vote when they turn 18. They must have their driver's license and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. Anyone 18 and up can also register to vote on-site.

For more information visit pinellas4parkland.org.

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