In one of the nation’s largest student-led events, tens of thousands of teens protested and demanded safer schools in cities across New Mexico and the country, including the U.S. capital. March for Our Lives meant something extra special to those students who have grown up in an age of mass shootings.
While some adults have normalized it, the New Mexico contingent of students who marched on Pennsylvania Avenue refuses to. In the sea of marchers, a Zia symbol created by Aztec High School students stood out.
The iconic symbol was fashioned into a wreath memorializing Paco Fernandez and Casey Jordan Marquez – the Aztec students who were gunned down in their own school in December.
"This is amazing," Aztec High student Bastian Paschal. "All of these communities and groups all around the world are coming together and speaking this message."
Homemade signs held above heads as far as the eye could see stated the same message – these kids want leaders in Washington to care more about protecting their lives than protecting guns.
"I think it’s very powerful, and it’s very beautiful to see all these people here," said Santa Fe High School student Rachel Doolittle.
Tori McKinney, another student from Santa Fe HS, said unity is essential to change – the kind of unity that was on display Saturday.
"One voice isn’t going to do it, but if we all get together maybe we can actually get somewhere with this," McKinney said. "This isn’t something that we should get used to. This is something that needs to stop."
Some have asserted they believe the youth involved in this movement were pressured to participate in order to advance an agenda, but Santa Fe High’s Ramona Park said that notion would be a wrong one.
"Absolutely not. I’m here because I’ve had self-initiated development," she said. "I’m involved in my town because I want to be. No one has forced me."
The world these kids have grown up in has forced them to think about some very adult subjects.
"We are here to stay safe in schools, please don’t take other routes – do not arm teachers, do not increase security," said Ramona Park, who attends Santa Fe HS. "Change the gun control laws, make legislation. Don’t just ignore it."
With mass shooting after mass shooting in their communities and on the news, they want change.
"If we don’t get change," Harvey McGuiness said, "we can’t progress as a society."