Students at a gun control rally held in D.C. earlier this month.
Students at a gun control rally held in D.C. earlier this month. Credit: Matt Cohen

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As many as 500,000 people are set to attend this weekend’s March For Our Lives, all united in a common message: Gun control now. The massive rally, which was planned in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month, is uniting people across the country to oppose gun violence.

D.C. students and activists have plans to bring a local message the events this weekend.

Prior to Saturday’s March the D.C. chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national gun reform nonprofit organization founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, will hold a rally that will focus on the gun violence students in D.C. face every day. “When they announced this rally was going to happen, we had to make sure that D.C. students felt like they’re included and represented,” says Sarah Dachos, the D.C. chapter leader of Moms Demand Action. Mayor Muriel Bowser along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Charles Allen are scheduled to speak at Saturday’s pre-rally, which kicks off at 9 a.m. at Brent Elementary School in Southeast.

The stories that Dachos says they want to make sure people to hear are from students themselves. DeVontae Gliss, a student at Bishop McNamara High School in Prince George’s County, lost his mother to gunfire on Memorial Day in 2015. Thirty-one-year-old Tamara Gliss was shot and killed outside of her apartment building on 6th Street NW, and D.C. police still haven’t arrested or identified a suspect. “Looking at your mom slumped over from a fatal shot to the head while the two of us were attending a community BBQ just isn’t right,” DeVontae wrote in a GoFundMe campaign he launched last year to help pay his tuition at the private high school. “That day would be the last time that she could cheer for me at my games, get on me about homework, enjoy our times shopping or just living and enjoying life in our community.”

“We didn’t want the D.C. message to get lost in the national message,” Dachos says.So we wrote a letter that we spread far and wide … we wanted to make sure that [local] communities that were disproportionately affected by gun violence were included and embraced.”

Dachos adds that, when she reached out to the organizers of the March For Our Lives to talk about being inclusive of students in D.C., they were nothing but understanding and accommodating. The March organizers, she says, are even paying for students to be bussed to the rally from different schools in the District.

“One of the biggest messages I’ve been telling people is that, when we reached out to the March organizers saying ‘You have to make this a D.C. event’ … and they followed through.”

As a result, one of the speakers at the March For Our Lives is Thurgood Marshall Academy senior Zion Kelly, whose twin brother Zaire was shot and killed defending himself from a robbery in a park in the Brentwood neighborhood of Northeast last fall, just a few hundred feet from his home. Yesterday, Zion was joined by survivors of the Parkland shooting at a rally at his school. He was the first to speak, WAMU reports: “Though we personally have not experienced a school shooting, we know the destruction of guns all so well,” Kelly said. “This past year alone, we’ve lost two of our warriors to gun violence—Paris Brown and my brother, Zaire Kelly.”

In the lead-up to tomorrow’s rally, Moms Demand Action’s D.C. chapter has been working overtime to ensure students and parents from all around D.C. feel included. They’ve organized sign-making parties at various locations in Wards 7 and 5, fundraising for the cost of supplies. Dachos says its important to her and the rest of the D.C. chapter that this march is inclusive and intersectional. “Mom Demands Action, for the most part, is a white, female organization,” she says. “We are mostly white women from middle class backgrounds, and we’ve been working really hard over the past year-and-a-half to not be that. Without that work, we would not have been able to do what we’ve been doing the past two weeks.”

Moms Demand Action D.C.’s March For Our Lives pre-rally will take place tomorrow at 9 a.m. at Folger Park, 401 3rd St. NE.