CARBONDALE -- Two high school students stepped up to organize a local March For Our Lives on Saturday in Carbondale. Maria Maring, 18, and Alexis Jones, 17, seniors at Carbondale Community High School, welcomed a crowd of several hundred people - from all over southern Illinois - to the Carbondale Town Square Pavilion on a very cold and rainy Saturday afternoon.
High school students from across the nation and their supporters around the globe took to the streets Saturday for the March for Our Lives, a rally against gun violence that was announced just days after the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17.
"We're here because 187,000 kids have been exposed to gun violence in their schools since Columbine," Jones said, referring to the 1999 mass shooting at the Colorado high school where 15 died. "We're here because enough is enough!"
Maring and Jones, "with lots of help from lots of people," worked with Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, a local group, to prepare a program preceding the march. It included volunteer musical performances and several short speeches and readings.
"I'm terrified sitting in a theater or church, or sending my 15-year-old to high school. I'm terrified," said Sage Banks of Carbondale, one of the speakers. "But these young people standing up give me hope."
Dennis and Julieta Leitner read the names of the victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, along with some descriptions and tributes gleaned from news accounts and social media in what they called an "Empty Desk Tribute."
Suzy Shepard, a member of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, said that she had just lost her daughter to cancer, which made the shooting at Parkland that much more real to her.
"In just a few minutes we lost all of these wonderful young people," she said. "It has to stop."
Jennifer Donow of Johnston City and Spencer Crotser of Carterville grabbed poster board, markers and stencils and went to work on the pavilion deck, making extra signs for marchers. Donow said she came to the march "to support the cause." Crotser, an elementary student, said he came with his mom.
Jillian Meredith, 18, of Makanda said she came to help force legislators to do what's right.
"It's not OK for our legislators to do nothing," she said. "They have to make guns harder to get."
Rhea Bhaumik, 17, of Carbondale said she came because there should be stricter gun laws. "We should not have to come to school scared," she said.
Bushrah Abughazaleh, a Carbondale High School student, said she came to march for safety. "Violence isn't the answer to anything," she said.
Jones and Maring helped the crowd rehearse a few chants. "Not one more!" and "Never again!" resounded across the town square.
At a signal from the organizers, the crowd gathered their signs and companions and lined up outside the pavilion for the march around several city blocks.
"We must work together to reduce gun violence in every community, all of us," Jones said. "I really believe that together, we will make history."
For more information, visit www.MarchforOutLives.com, marchforourlives on Facebook.