Temperatures climbed into the 90s and high humidity made the already-scorching heat feel worse as Women's March organizers led demonstrators on an 18-mile march from the National Rifle Association (NRA) headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. on Friday. As the length of the march (nearly five miles longer than a half marathon), the day's high temperatures, and a surprise rain storm left protesters sticky and sweaty, some questioned exactly what it was that had motivated marchers to show up despite the heat in protest of the NRA. Whether it was a loved one lost to gun violence, concerns with what they deemed the NRA's hateful rhetoric, or their own harrowing experience as a survivor of gun violence, many marchers and advocates had uniquely personal reasons for supporting the Women's March organizers' NRA protest.
"By refusing to support any reasonable gun control, especially in cities like Chicago where there were 762 murders, 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims just last year, the NRA is contributing to the number of black and brown lives lost to gun violence," co-president of the Women's March Tamika Mallory wrote in an op-ed published Friday by Time. "Its lobbying against regulation is filling these communities with guns. When these guns inevitably result in violence, the NRA refuses to hold our systems of justice accountable to ensure all Americans — no matter their race — are protected equally."
Women's March organizers became motivated to march against the NRA following a string of aggressive NRA ads, the first of which Mallory characterized as "a direct attack on people of color, progressives, and anyone who exercises their First Amendment right to protest" in an open letter she wrote to the NRA on June 28.
Although Mallory had asked the NRA to apologize and remove their ad, which appeared to even rub some NRA members the wrong way, the NRA chose to respond to Mallory's letter with a second ad entitled "We Don't Apologize For Telling The Truth." In that ad the NRA accused what they called "the violent left" of setting fire to buildings and attacking people in the streets and specifically targeted Mallory, accusing her of hypocrisy. "We don't apologize for warning America about chaos creators who want to impose their will upon us through their violence and lies," conservative talk-show host Grant Stinchfield said in the ad.
"At a time when our nation is seeing a rise in racially charged incidents and violence motivated by hate speech, it is unconscionable for a powerful organization like the NRA to unashamedly peddle an 'us versus them' narrative and call for our grassroots, nonviolent resistance movement to be met with violence," Women's March organizers said in a statement provided to Bustle.
Indeed, many marchers cited a desire to challenge the NRA's agenda and rhetoric as their main motivation for marching Friday. "I'm marching 18 miles today to protest the NRA's dangerous irresponsibility," Twitter user Gray B. said in a tweet. "It cares more about fanning fears than any right." Others, like Mia Ives-Rublee, cited their support for common sense gun laws.
For others it was statistics related to gender-based gun violence. "Yet another reason why I'm marching 18 miles," Sophie Ellman-Golan tweeted, citing the Guardian's claim that "national police department statistics" showed nearly 50 women are shot and killed every month in the United States by former or current partners. "Men with guns hurt women that's why I'm marching from the #NRA2DOJ," Women's March Artistic Director Paola Mendoza wrote in a tweet published Friday.
Women's co-chair Bob Bland cited all victims of violence when discussing her reason for marching in a brief video posted to the Women's March Twitter account. "We need to be standing up for those who are being directly impacted by violence," Bland said in the video. "We need to end violence in this country and we need the NRA to hear our voice."
Twitter user Kat Bell voiced a similar reason, tweeting, "I'm here for #PhilandoCastile, #SandyHook, and all those affected by #gunviolence."
For others, like Twitter user Andrea Johnson, the decision to support Women's March organizers' NRA protest was more personal. "As the daughter of a gun violence survivor, as a woman, as a Minnesotan – I will not be intimidated into silence," Johnson wrote in a tweet posted ahead of the march. "Here for my dad because he taught me never to be silent when the NRA threatens your rights," Johnson wrote in a tweet posted Friday alongside a picture of herself at the march.
On Saturday, the Women's March organizers plan to hold a vigil for Philando Castile, a black man shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer in June 2016 despite Castile's attempt to notify officers he was in possession of a licensed firearm.