Students took to the streets of Washington, D.C., and other cities across the country on March 24 to support the March for Our Lives movement and protest the epidemic of school shootings across the United States. Following the lead of the Parkland High School shooting survivors who organized the MFOL movement, more than 800,000 people joined them in Washington, D.C., to show support for the victims of gun violence and push legislators to make a change in the gun laws. In Indianapolis, people from across the state gathered at the statehouse to show their support and call for change.
Warren Central High School senior Brandon Warren organized the protest in Indianapolis with the help of many high school and college students in the area. Schools such as Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Lawrence North and Carmel, among others, showed their support and reached out to Warren to assist with the rally, or came to march to show their support for victims of gun violence and advocate for change.
Other citizens from across the state also attended the march. Elizabeth Herrington participated with her daughter, Kiara Hafen, to celebrate Hafen’s 18th birthday and to show their support.
“I came because it breaks my heart seeing the parents that don’t get to go home with their children tonight, that don’t get to have their children in their arms,” Herrington said. “…Just realizing, in the U.S. that that is a gift that some parents don’t get. They don’t get to see their child’s next birthday.”
Warren said that he founded We LIVE, an anti-violence movement centered at Warren Central, after a recent tragedy involving a shooting when his friend and teammate Dijon Anderson’s life was taken. As the director of the Indy MFOL, Warren said that he was in constant contact with students from other schools to set up the event.
“My work never stopped. I was constantly in contact with every town, every day,” Warren said. “[I was] organizing meetings, and meetings with other organizations, and creating relationships with politicians and inviting them.”
Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly (D), Indiana Representative Andre Carson (D) IN-7 and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick (R) attended the protest. McCormick said that she attended because it was an event involving school safety and included the voices of students and educators.
“I’m not a big one to attend rallies, to be honest with you. But with this one, the message is strong,” McCormick said. “The purpose is strong. The organization and the people behind it—it’s very bipartisan, which I think is extremely important to get anything done. So it’s nice to see that. But it’s really just the whole point of student safety and security that is so extremely important.”
University of Indianapolis junior psychology and religion major Natalie Benson said that she and others organized a bus to take a group of UIndy and high school students to the rally. Benson said that she feels passionate about the subject of gun violence, which was why she jumped at the opportunity to join an active group involved in making a difference.
Benson said that her personal experience with an active shooter in her school happened when she was a student at Normal Community High School in Illinois inspired her to take action against gun violence. According to Benson, the student was stopped by a teacher who tackled him and knocked the gun out of his hand.
“It was definitely a heroic moment [for the teacher], and the day could have gone very differently. We were on lockdown for a while,” Benson said “I just remember the unity that my school showed afterward and the courage that everybody had to be able to speak up and support each other.”
According to Benson, the MFOL took place on what would have been Parkland High School student and future UIndy swimmer Nick Dworet’s 18th birthday. Benson had been on the swim team for two years, and though she did not get the opportunity to meet Dworet, she said that many of her friends and teammates knew him.
“Being a voice for him [Dworet] and his family [was important]….” Benson said. “The Parkland students are doing a really good job of making sure that the conversation isn’t stopping here. They have a checklist of action plans. So they had the walkout on the 14th [of March], which was awesome, and that was a good first step. But then they got back together, and we had the march. They’re talking about making sure that every elected official hosts a town hall on the 7th [of April] to talk specifically about gun violence. So I think they’re doing a really good job of making sure that everybody’s voices are encompassed in this conversation.”
Though the MFOL movement is focused on universal background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and funding research into gun violence according to the MFOL website, some individuals feel that their rights are being violated or that the legislation will begin to infringe on their Second Amendment rights. Outside the statehouse in Indianapolis, a group of citizens protested the MFOL with signs and flags.
An Indianapolis resident, who identified himself only as Tim, was one of the individuals protesting the march. He said that he protested because he felt it was important to show the legislature that there are people who do not want gun control laws passed.
“I believe that my right to bear arms and my opposition to gun control and everything, my side of the issue, is being threatened by these people,” Tim said. “When they show up, I’m going to show up. So when somebody shows up to attack gun rights, whether they know they’re doing that or not, I’m going to show up to protect gun rights.”
In the weeks after the MFOL, Benson is promoting campus conversations to discuss what can be done to continue the fight against gun violence and push for more gun legislation. According to Benson, to get the laws changed systematically is sometimes a long and difficult process, so it is important to continue the discussion about how to prevent school shootings and general gun violence.
“The conversation cannot stop after the march,” Benson said. “It has to keep going.”