The 11 students read from speeches typed on their phones or scrawled on folded sheets of paper.
One by one, the students from the Omaha Students Union stepped onto a small stage, leaned close to the microphone and raised their voices. Omaha police estimated that a crowd of 2,500 people gathered at Lewis & Clark Landing for March for Our Lives on Saturday. No counterprotesters were observed. Police said the event was peaceful, with no arrests.
Before leading the crowd across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, the students read aloud statistics on gun violence and called for changes to gun laws. And they repeated, over and over again, echoing the words written on many signs held by the marchers: “Enough is enough.”
The march in Omaha was one of more than 800 sibling events worldwide, set for the same day that hundreds of thousands congregated on Pennsylvania Avenue for the national March for Our Lives. That movement began last month, when 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Similar marches were held in Lincoln, Kearney, Hastings, Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa.
After her daughter, 18-year-old Hannah Oeltjen, spoke at the Omaha march, Ginny Fallon gave her a big hug. Holding back her emotions, Fallon said that young people are “really the only ones who are going to make a change.”
Moriah Draper, a senior at Millard West High School, said in her speech that “thoughts and prayers” expressed after school shootings need to be followed up with legislative action.
“We’re tired of hearing that now is not the time to politicize this,” she said. “When will it not be too soon to talk about reform?”
Those in the crowd echoed many of the students’ concerns, including Michaela Wash, 31. As a school paraprofessional, she said she often thinks about what she’d have to do to protect her students with special needs in a school shooting.
“We shouldn’t have to think about that,” she said. “Our kids shouldn’t have to think about this.”
Her nephew, 9-year-old Jaxon Carlson, brought two signs to the march, one that said, “Protect our future with ballots not bullets.”
He said he hears about school shootings on the news, and when there’s a lockdown at his school he tries not to worry. “I know it’s not happening for real,” he said. “Not yet.”
Sister Nancy Marsh, 78, of Servants of Mercy came out on the chilly Saturday afternoon for what she said was her first march. “This (issue) brought me out,” she said. “I’m so proud of these kids.”
In Lincoln, about 1,400 people attended a rally outside the State Capitol.
Isabel Bousson, a Lincoln East High School junior and a member of the board of organizers for the march, said she sees school safety as an “everybody issue” that should involve both sides of the political aisle.
“I am in no way saying, ‘Let’s scrap the Second Amendment,’ ” she said. “I am instead saying, ‘Let’s talk about this. Let’s figure out ways to help people affected by this tragic gun violence. Let’s figure out ways to prevent this from ever happening again.’ ”