Students who survived the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shocked many of their fellow Americans by creating a groundswell of opinion against liberal gun laws which has turned into a march on Washington, D.C. this weekend.
They’re calling it: #MarchForOurLives and they’re demanding sweeping federal gun legislation.
Alex Clavering, a first-year Columbia University Law student, heard about the march and began looking for a sister march in New York City. Not finding one, he set up a Facebook Event and invited 30 friends from law school. Within 24 hours, Clavering says, more than 15,000 people on Facebook had indicated they were interested in attending the NYC march.
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A day before the march, that number stands at over 40,000 people and organizers say they, and the New York Police Department, are prepared for as many as 100,000, with a contingency plan for up to 200,000. It’s just one of 832 marches planned worldwide.
“I’m about as dumbfounded as everybody else is,” Clavering told 50 or so volunteers on Thursday night in a training session for marshals for the event. “I just want to make it clear that I did nothing special for this to happen.”
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What’s planned is a one-hour rally at 11am on Saturday morning, followed by a march of over a mile to Times Square.
The New York Police Department plans to close three major avenues, Central Park West, Central Park South, and Sixth Avenue, and most of the adjacent side streets.
With no experience organizing protests on this scale, Clavering and his fellow organizers, Julia Ghahramani and Ankit Jain, have relied on the expertise of many organizations. The marshal training was conducted by seasoned activists from Rise & Resist, Alexis Danzig and Jamie Bauer.
They taught the volunteers to keep the crowd at the speed of the slowest walker, to distract hecklers and counter-protesters by asking questions and engaging with them, and to never run.
“Skip,” Danzig recommended if you need to get somewhere quickly. “People may look at you and think ‘that’s really weird,'” she said, but you won’t panic them. She also reminded the volunteers that, as New Yorkers, they have perfected the art of the fast walk.
She and Bauer also told potential marshals to have tactics to de-escalate the mood of the crowd if it should get unruly by asking people to sit down, which they said is a universal sign of non-violence.
There is no civil disobedience planned for the day that the organizers are aware of. They warned that there may be quick “die-in’s” which can mean people lying down on the asphalt and having chalk lines drawn around their bodies to reproduce a crime scene, but generally, once the crowd starts walking, the job of the marshals is to keep people moving.
“We are customer service,” Bauer told the volunteers. “We want people to have a good time,” she said. “And we’ll be much nicer than NYPD.”
Funding a rally for 30,000
To pay for the event, Clavering and his friends started a GoFundMe page expecting that insurance, sound equipment and a stage for a crowd of 30,000 people might cost $100,000. Their ask has been reduced to $25,000 and they’ve raised $26,507 from 507 people in 22 days according to the page.
The stage is being erected at 62nd Street on Central Park West and a crowd of 30,000 may reach up to 72nd Street, a half mile away. If more people show up, NYPD will send protesters north from 72nd Street as far as 88th Street, over a mile from the stage.
To keep protesters interested and involved in the rally, the organizers are locating giant speakers along Central Park West.
When asked whether they’d considered using Facebook Live at the stage to allow participants to watch from a distance of potentially over a mile away, Clavering said that the selfies and social media broadcasts by the Women’s Marches in the same location in January 2017 and 2018 had crashed the cellular service in the area.
The entire event should take four to five hours, according to the organizers. And, for security reasons, there are no port-o-potties.
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