"Dumbfounded," NYC March For Our Lives Prepares
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Students who survived the February 14th massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida shocked the US by quickly calling for a march on Washington, D.C. on March 24th to demand sweeping federal gun legislation. They’re calling it: March For Our Lives.
Alex Clavering, a first year Columbia University Law student, heard about the march and immediately began looking for a sister march in NYC. Not finding one, he set up a Facebook Event and invited 30 friends from law school.
Within 24 hours, Clavering says, over 15,000 people on FaceBook had indicated they were interested in attending the NYC march.
One 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. They are one of 832 marches planned worldwide.
“I’m about as dumbounded as everybody else is,” Clavering told fifty or so volunteers on Thursday night who trained as marshals for the event. “I just want to make it clear that I did nothing special for this to happen.”
What’s planned is a one hour rally at 11:00am on Saturday morning, followed by a march of over a mile to Times Square. New York Police Department will 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 them to de-escalate the crowd if it should get unruly by asking them 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, but generally, once the crowd starts walking, the job of the marshals is to keep them 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 over 30,000 people
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 would cost $100k. Their ask has been reduced to $25k 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 will likely 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.