Students from Colorado, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Parkland, Florida joined together on the eve of the Columbine anniversary to rally against gun violence and encourage young people to vote.
The Thursday night “Vote For Our Lives” rally was held at Clement Park in Littleton, just across the street from Columbine High School. It was part three of a student-led movement for stricter gun control. In March, students across the country participated in walkouts and marches. Now they’re encouraging young people to register to vote.
Registration tables dotted the event and speakers urged students to vote out politicians who take money from gun groups.
Twenty students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — the Florida school where 17 people were killed in February — attended the rally. Two of the students spoke, one was Carlos Rodriguez.
“I didn’t know that 17 years into my life I would lose 17 friends in one day,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t know that moving to the United States for a better future meant that my school was going to be terrorized by an AR-15.”
Rodriguez also echoed the calls for action in the polls this November.
“Be careful who you vote for,” he said. “And a politician only fears one thing… And that’s your vote. Because you, your voice, it matters. And you have the power and it’s all in your hands this November.”
The rally also included four students from Pittsburgh who are members of the social justice movement Youth Power Collective. Student Nia Arrington focused on gun deaths outside of schools.
“What makes you a victim of gun violence?” she asked the crowd of hundreds. “If your answer is someone who has been killed by a gun or survived a situation of gun violence, then I ask you if you recognize the victims of police brutality as victims of gun violence.”
The night came full circle with Columbine teacher Paula Reed. Nineteen years ago she found herself in the middle of the worst mass school shooting at that time. Reed read a letter of appreciation from Rachel Scott, the first victim of the shooting, about a week before April 20, 1999.
Reed also described how things have changed at Columbine since the shooting.
“Nineteen years ago we only had fire drills,” she said. “Today, we have active shooter drills. And they always happen while I am teaching in the same room I was teaching in 19 years ago tomorrow when the fire alarm went off and the girl who wrote me that letter was already dead. I just didn’t know it.”
Another Columbine survivor who was not at the rally is Republican state Rep. Patrick Neville. He said the student protesters don’t represent the majority.
"I think they're getting more attention than the general public feels in support of them," he said. "It's just sad to see it become super political, especially that day specifically."
Rep. Neville has been a longtime advocate for arming teachers in schools.
The Littleton rally was meant to kick off more Vote For Our Lives events across the country leading up to the midterm election. The group is encouraging students in other states to organize similar rallies on dates that are significant to their communities.
Editor's note: In a previous version of this story, a quote was inaccurately attributed to state Rep. Neville. The mistake has been corrected.