March co-organizer, and college student, Hamdia Ahmed shouts through a bullhorn while leading a march of at least two thousand down Congress Street in Portland on Saturday. The student-led protest called for stricter gun control laws. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Summoned by student survivors of the Florida school massacre, tens of thousands of people poured into the nation’s capital, cities and towns across America on Saturday to march for gun control and ignite political activism among the young.

In Maine, 15 events from Presque Isle to Portland were planned. Organizers said that more than 700 events were taking place in the United States, with dozens of solidarity marches planned across the world, on every continent except Antarctica.

In Portland, several thousand people marched from Congress Square to City Hall, where students spoke on the steps of the building.

“We are the generation of mass shootings,” said event co-organizer Hamdia Ahmed, a student at the University of Southern Maine. “I’ve been scared since Sandy Hook. I refuse to normalize this.”

Two hours north, about 100 people gathered at the Universalist Church in Orono before marching to a rally on the mall at the University of Maine.

Elijah McGill and Emily Innis, both Orono High School students, said that marchers are seeking three things from Congress: a ban on assault rifles; a ban on high-capacity magazines; and universal background checks on gun sales. Petitions asking for Maine’s congressional delegation to support such measures circulated at events around the state.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Thirteen-year-old Jasper McGill, who helped organize the Orono march, said that a goal of March for Our Lives movement is to put lawmakers on notice that students are serious about gun control.

“We may not be able to vote now, but we will be able to vote in the future and we won’t forget if they fail to protect us now,” he said. “The gun lobby may be strong, but kids are stronger. We are stubborn and we are determined. We will never give up until every kid feels safe in school every day.”

A speaker in Portland agreed.

“The question can no longer be, ‘Should we do something?’” said Kasper Wilder, a junior at Portland High School. “It must be, ‘What can we do?’”

Several hundred people marched in Bangor from the Abbot Square parking lot to the Hammond Street Congregational Church.

Lauren Turcotte Seavey, a junior at Bangor High School, told three generations of people crowded into the sanctuary of the United Church of Christ building that she hoped to use her voice “for the better” after hearing news reports about gun violence in schools for much of her life.

“The students and adults who have lost their lives to gun violence should be more than a statistic,” she said. “They’re the kids who took dance classes, played the cello, was a star basketball player or the teacher who has family at home but still risked their life so that their students could go home to their families.”

Turcotte Seavey called for schools to have active shooter drills rather than just the lock down drills she has experienced in Bangor.

“Schools and people need to lose the mentality that ‘this is never going to happen to us, no one would want to do that to our school’ and step up to make sure that if something were to happen, everyone would be safe,” she said.

After the sun set Saturday and all the marches were over, two alternating projections appeared on the state office building attached to the Capitol in Augusta. One said, “Property of the NRA.” The said, “Sold to the NRA.”

The projections were the work of LumenARRT! a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team. Members work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive nonprofits in Maine.

“Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice,” the group’s website said.

Anita Clearfield, a member of the group, said the group created the projections to support students’ efforts in the March for Our Lives movement to tighten gun control laws. She said that bills to raise the age a teen can buy a gun in Maine and ban assault-style weapons have failed due to lobbying by the National Rifle Association and its members in Maine.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

By all appearances — there were no official numbers — Washington’s March for Our Lives rally rivaled the women’s march last year that drew far more than the predicted 300,000, the Associated Press reported.

Bearing signs reading “We Are the Change,” ”No More Silence” and “Keep NRA Money Out of Politics,” protesters lined Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol, stretching back toward the White House.

The route also took marchers by the Trump International Hotel.

President Donald Trump was in Florida for the weekend. A motorcade took him to his West Palm Beach golf club in the morning.

A rally also was held in Parkland, Florida, the site of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead and wounded 14.

Jasper McGill in Orono called the mass shooting “an extremely tragic event” that became a rallying cry for students around the country to demand tighter gun laws.

“As horrible as the Parkland shooting was, it has given us a platform to stand on a way to fight back,” he said. “Since Columbine there have been dozens of shootings in schools each of which has ended with our leaders giving us their thoughts and prayers. How much more will it take before they realize that no one wants their thoughts and prayers. We want our lives.”

In Washington, D.C., protesters claim that the youth leadership of this initiative is what will set it apart from previous attempts to enact stronger gun-control legislation.

Polls indicate that public opinion nationwide may be shifting on an issue that has simmered for generations, and through dozens of mass shootings.

A new poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 69 percent of Americans think gun laws in the U.S. should be tightened. That’s up from 61 percent who said the same in October 2016 and 55 percent when the AP first asked the question in October 2013. Overall, 90 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of gun owners now favor stricter gun control laws.

The Associated Press and BDN photographer Troy R. Bennett contributed to this report.

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