Students rallying across the country for gun control were spurred on by President Obama on Saturday. Obama's tweet supporting March for Our Lives credits young people with "leading us forward."
Obama tweeted, "Michelle and I are so inspired by all the young people who made today’s marches happen. Keep at it. You’re leading us forward. Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change."
Obama's many attempts to pass gun control following events like Sandy Hook and the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub shooting met resistance in Congress.
This time may be different, despite the Republican control of Congress and President Trump's inconsistency in supporting gun control legislation. Estimates for the crowd in Washington, D.C., reached 500,000 before the protest began. What was billed as a march ended up as standing room only. Another 845 sibling marches were held across the country and the world. The DC speakers chanted, "Vote them out!" and implored their peers to show up to the polls.
This is not the first gesture of support from Obama and Michelle had reached out to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors and student activists who organized the march. They also penned a handwritten letter that was delivered earlier in March.
In that longer message, the Obamas wrote about the survivor's role in awakening the national conscience:
We wanted to let you know how inspired we have been by the resilience, resolve and solidarity that you have all shown in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. Not only have you supported and comforted each other, but you’ve helped awaken the conscience of the nation, and challenged decision-makers to make the safety of our children the country’s top priority.
They added that it's usually young people who have pushed for social change. "Throughout our history, young people like you have led the way in making America better,” the Obamas wrote. “There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.”
In addition to the Sandy Hook and Pulse shootings, Obama led the country through a time of increased awareness of violence committed against young black Americans, including by the police. Trayvon Martin's death — and his killer's acquittal — led Obama to speak out.
"You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son," Obama said. "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here."
That difference of experience was acknowledged at the March for Our Lives many times Saturday. Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors acknowledged that the relative affluence of their community led to the initial attention paid to the shooting.
One speaker, Naomi Wadler, who is just 11, acknowledged that many young Americans have been dealing with gun violence for years with no acknowledgment from the media. "I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don't make the front page," Wadler told the crowd.
The Obamas, though no longer in the White House, have used the Obama Foundation to empower young civic leaders from around the country and the world. Obama's My Brother's Keeper Alliance also works to empower young men and boys of color.
The Obamas have focused on youth since leaving the White House. Supporting the March for Our Lives shows both the Obamas' support for gun control and America's youth.