Rebekah McLean held a sign that read: “Bullets are not school supplies.”
She’s 16, a junior at Lincoln High School in Portland where, just last week, students marked the one month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that left 17 people dead by walking out of class and sitting in silence for 17 minutes.
It’s not quiet where McLean was now, squeezed among a crowd sprawled across the greenery of North Park Blocks in downtown Portland for the student-organized March For Our Lives. Organizers say the purpose of the march is to protest gun violence and advocate for school safety.
Hundreds more marches like this were organized across the country and the Pacific Northwest, including in Eugene, Vancouver and Olympia.
McLean said she attended the march in Portland because she feels empowered by the activism of the survivors in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.
On top of that, she wants to be a teacher.
“I want to spend my entire life in schools,” she said. “I don’t want to have to spend my life scared … I want to be teaching and I want to be taught. I don’t want to be scared that that’s the last place that I’m ever going to be.”
About 12,000 people attended the march in Portland, according to a rough estimate from the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division. The bureau says proper permits were obtained for the march, which brought out people of all ages chanting “vote them out” and “protect kids not guns.”
Laura Ross, a Spanish teacher at Alliance High School at Meek in the Portland Public Schools district, held a sign reading “Teacher not target.” She’s been an educator for 27 years.
“On a daily basis when I go to school I should not worry about giving my life instead of my knowledge,” she said.
But Ross worries about it, and she’s thought about it enough to know that she wouldn’t run away if an active shooter were to enter her school.
“I would put myself between that assailant and my students, which would leave my own children without a mom,” she said. “That shouldn’t be a choice that I have to make.”
The March For Our Lives was Megan Reid’s first rally. Reid, who is 14 and attends Springville K-8 in Bethany, said fear drove her to the protest.
“I was just really scared to go to school for the longest time because there were threats at local high schools,” she said. “I was like, I don’t want to go to school because I don’t want this to happen to my classmates or me.”
She said every time there was news of another mass shooting in America, the fear would resurface. At the march, she carried a presentation poster board, the kind you see at school science fairs. It was about the effectiveness of gun bans following the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Australia.
For marchers like Phia Halleen, an 18-year-old senior at Roosevelt High School, the march was about demanding changes in gun policy in the United States.
“This [protest] is saying that too many people have died at the hands of people who should not have access to guns, and with that, students are saying enough and that we need to take control of our guns,” Halleen said. “Enough is enough.”