Close to one million protesters swamped Washington DC for one of the biggest rallies the city has seen, spearheaded by teenagers who lost their classmates in the recent Florida shooting.
Millions more joined the March For Our Lives gun control demonstration across the United States and the world, backed by serious star power from the likes of Paul McCartney, George and Amal Clooney, Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus.
And many wanted Donald Trump to take note of their strength, sharing images of the huge crowd, compared unfavourably to the inauguration he notoriously tried to insist was bigger than it was.
The satellite images show a massive turnout, despite the Mall being closed to protesters, which may have topped the 500,000 at last year’s women’s march, making it one of the largest protests in the city since the Vietnam era.
Mr Trump left the White House yesterday evening to spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Most protesters were clearly not supporters of the US President, regularly chanting: “Vote him out!”
A group of young men joked that he would probably say “there were only a few hundred people there” at the march. He failed to mention the march during his usual barrage of Saturday morning tweets.
The most poignant moments came from the many survivors of mass shootings and families of people killed in of gun violence in the United States.
“I’m here for my daughter Britthney Ryen, who was killed 20 years ago today in the Westside school shooting on March 24, 1998,” Suzanne Wilson told
Choking back tears, she said she was “totally in awe” of what was happening today after the death of her daughter in Jonesboro, Arkansas, at just 12 years old. “I’m ready to see change, and hopefully these children will bring the change that we need.
“It’s time. If they (the US government) don’t do it now then we’re going to vote them out.”
Susan McCarthy, from Washington State, was holding a sign that read: “Ask Australia what to do.”
She told news.com.au: “You guys have got it right. You had serious issue in 1996 I believe and you changed all your laws and you haven’t had another one since. So why aren’t we doing that?
“It only took you guys one event, and we’re just going to lose people. So come over and make it happen.”
She said the protest, thought to have been attended by at least 800,000 people, had been “fabulous” and a historic moment. “I was here at the women’s march, this is more moving, because it’s the kids,” she said.
It was the students’ day, but the world’s most famous faces were there to back them. McCartney marched in New York to honour bandmate and gun violence victim John Lennon.
The former Beatle was joined by his wife Nancy Shevell at the rally blocks away from the Dakota Building, where John Lennon was shot in 1980.
“One of my best friends was killed by gun violence right around here, so it’s important to me not just to march today but to take action tomorrow and to have these people to have their voices heard,” McCartney told CNN’s Jason Caroll.
An emotional Jennifer Hudson — who lost her mother, brother and nephew to gun violence — embraced student figurehead Emma Gonzalez after her speech in Washington and gave a spine-tingling performance of The Times They Are A-Changing.
Around the world, 800 simultaneous events took place in cities on every continent, from Sydney to Belfast to Port Louis in Mauritius.
The streets of DC began filling up from early in the morning as protesters poured into the city by train, car and plane.
There was a brief scuffle when a pro-life activist stormed through the crowd with a megaphone, shouting that “Planned Parenthood kills children” as the crowd booed loudly and shouted, “Go away!”
Another man was seen wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt, while a loud bang over a speaker made everyone jump.
The march, which ran from 12pm to 3pm EST, headed down Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the White House and Capitol Hill.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, where Nikolas Cruz shot dead 17 children and staff members in February, arrived at the stage to chants of “thank you” from the crowd this morning.
Survivor and one of the march’s lead organisers Cameron Kasky told the crowd that young people had “spent our entire lives living through mass shooting after mass shooting.”
To huge cheers, he continued: “We hereby promise to fix the broken system we’ve been forced into and fix the world for generations to come. Don’t worry, we got this.
“Politicians, either represent the people or get out ... the voters are coming.”
The Parkland students have become world-famous since they began their campaign to stamp out gun violence following the tragedy at their school, with Emma Gonzalez turning figurehead for the anti-gun violence movement after a deeply powerful speech — as well as a target for pro-gun advocates. Her “We call BS” refrain was a popular placard today, along with signs reading, “Books not guns”, “Make America Safe Again” and “Arms are for hugging.”
This time, Gonzalez stood silent for six minutes and 20 seconds as the crowd shouted support and some started crying. She explained that was the amount of time it took Cruz to shoot dead her teachers and peers last month.
“One final plug,” she concluded. “Get out there and vote.”
Sisters Bea and Frankie Clark, from New York State and Los Angeles, told news.com.au they had just ensured the 17-year-old younger sibling was registered. “There is a startling lack of momentum and regard for human life in this country,” said older sister Bea, 25.
The nine-year-old granddaughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr was one of the most popular speakers of the day, telling the crowd she too had a dream, as she held the hand of Parkland survivor Jaclyn Corin.
“I have a dream that enough is enough,” said Yolanda Renee King, referencing her grandfather’s famous speech. “That this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
She then led the crowd in shouting together: “Spread the word, have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.”
Erin, a university freshman from Connecticut, told news.com.au: “There’s just been so many school shootings in the US that when there’s news about a school shooting, it’s not even a surprise anymore and that’s really not OK.
“I can’t even differentiate between which one is which because there’s been so many and that’s not OK, that’s why we’re here, to make a difference.
“Seeing this many people come together and seeing how much of a change we can make, and not taking no for an answer and making something positive out of something so tragic, I’m sure that’s really powerful for the families as well.”
Jen, a teacher from just outside Washington, told news.com.au: “It’s really important that we keep guns out of our schools and that there is increased gun laws that keep guns off our streets and out of our communities.”
Students and performers took to the stage, calling for an end to gun violence, with an 11-year-old survivor from Chicago telling the crowd that guns “took away my childhood.”
Meanwhile, protesters outside the US embassy in London raised placards reading “Protect kids not guns,” “Never again,” and “Enough is enough”.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen referred to the 1996 school killings at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, in which 16 students and a teacher were killed.
“After our own school shooting at Dunblane, new gun ownership laws were introduced in Britain and that’s exactly what’s needed in the United States, where gun deaths are a national tragedy,” she said.
In Geneva, students held up signs reading, “NRA, sashay away”, and in Belfast, young people called for, “Education, not assassination.”
Caitlin Waters, co-organiser of the Paris event beside the Eiffel Tower, said it’s important for Americans overseas to let Washington know that they want more gun control.
As students arrived in Washington last night, one teenager standing outside the White House with fellow protesters shouted: “We’re not going anywhere. One bullet costs 28 cents. Are we worth 28 cents?”
The young people are demanding their “lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings.”
Last week, an estimated one million students walked out of schools across the US in 17-minute protests against government inaction on gun control and school safety.
The protesters are hoping the unprecedented action by young people will build on a growing movement for gun control propelled by a stream of horrific mass shootings. They want to see age limits raised for gun purchases, rigorous background checks and the ability to remove firearms from people considered to be a risk. At present, the laws vary wildly across the nation and there have been at least 17 school shootings this year.
A poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research, found that 69 per cent of Americans think gun laws in the United States should be tightened — up from 61 per cent who said the same in October of 2016 and 55 per cent when the AP first asked the question in October of 2013.