As I followed the masses of people on Saturday morning toward the Center for Civil Rights, where the march was to kick off, the streets of Downtown Atlanta bigger than I’d ever seen them. Hundreds of people flooded toward the museum, filling any open space accessible. Standing there waiting, surrounded by people, I realized all of this seemed very familiar to me: This was how it felt last January at the Atlanta Women’s March taking the same route through downtown to the capitol.
Any demonstration I go to, I have a similar feeling of empowerment, and excitement at being a part of history. The March For Our Lives felt different, though—like I was finally being heard this time. I recognized it as soon as each speaker came out to introduce the march. School-shooting survivors shared their stories, teaching the crowd what real fear was. Kids from high schools near my own performed songs and poems that brought the broad, teeming streets to silence. I stood around people of all ages, captivated by the stage where teenagers, kids my age, demanded Atlanta’s attention.
The masses in the streets began to move; the march was beginning. Colorful posters and loud voices were everywhere, almost overwhelming me. To my right, a 10-year-old boy began chanting: “This is what democracy looks like!” The hope in his words, in his voice, coursed through me.
I was 11 when Sandy Hook happened; it was the first school shooting that I remember hearing about. Gun legislation wasn’t a topic of conversation topic for me then—but today, I saw children even younger who faced the fear of dying in their own schools. And yet, the middle of the streets became a safety net for them, and for us all. I felt nothing but love and unity as we swept downtown, thousands of people lifting one another.
I’ve never seen so many young people join together in a movement like this, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this generation. We are change. We are electricity. We will fuel the powers of the future.
I’m sixteen years old, and standing up for issues is all I know. I can’t yet vote for what I want or don’t want. I’m not heard. I’m barely a member of this democracy at all. But in movements like this, marching, determined for lawmakers and representatives to see me, I am. Because when they see me—me and every other student, mother, father, grandparent, every person fighting for our lives—I count. We all count. And together, we make things change.
Esme Rice, 16, was one of an estimated 30,000 demonstrators, many of them teens, who took place in Atlanta’s March For Our Lives yesterday.