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If adults won't do it, they will: Hundreds join Modesto youths in March For Our Lives

They came with their voices, their signs, their passion and their votes — and in many cases future votes — to demand gun reform. And, if the adults don't get it done, they promised, they'd grow up and do it themselves.

Students led the way Saturday morning as the March For Our Lives drew hundreds to Modesto's streets. The event was part of a nationwide day of protest against gun violence and for school safety. And like its counterpart in Washington, D.C., which drew hundreds of thousands, it was organized by young people — many who aren't yet old enough to cast their ballots.

"We are the future of this country and they work for us. They're supposed to be protecting us; they're our representatives. I feel now if students keep pushing and keep this conversation going, finally something will be done. And if not, we'll get it done," said Enochs High junior Isabel Garcia. The 17-year-old spearheaded the Modesto march with Beyer High junior Sophia Potochnik, 16.

In Modesto, more than 700 people, ranging in age from babies in strollers to grandparents with canes, gathered Saturday morning at Graceada Park. They then marched 1.7 miles (a tenth of a mile for each life lost in the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. last month) from the park, up to McHenry Avenue and through part of downtown Modesto before finishing back at Graceada's Mancini Bowl.

Chants like "No more silence! End gun violence!" and "What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Now!" echoed through the crowd. Homemade signs ranged from the pointed, like a high schooler with a placard that read, "If kids are old enough to be shot, they're old enough to have an opinion about guns," to the poignant, like another teenager who held up a sign that said, "Am I next?"

While the march drew a smaller crowd than January's second annual Women's March, which had more than 1,200 participants, organizers were heartened by the turnout given spring break began Saturday across all Modesto City Schools. The Modesto Peace/Life Center also helped by sponsoring the event.

And students weren't the only ones showing up. Many teachers marched alongside their charges and had plenty to say about the recent ideas floated by the Trump administration to arm them with guns in the classroom.

"We need more funding, more safety and more staff; that's what we need. Not guns," said Ellen Burchett, a third grade teacher at Crossroads Elementary School in Riverbank. She brought her two boys, 4-year-old Luke and 6-year-old Noah, who had their own signs that read, "Arms are for hugging" and "Keep me safe!" Noah even enthusiastically led some of the chants along the route.

Across the country, a million students, teachers, activists and supporters are estimated to have taken part in the march at more than 800 towns and cities across the globe. In Modesto, the marchers were met largely with honks of support and waves from passers-by. Though one man parked a truck with a poster that read, "Pro Gun: It's my right," alongside the rally at Graceada Park. Another man screamed, "Target practice!" at the marchers as they walked by his car.

Many families attended, parents with their young children and groups of siblings. Modesto friends and grandmothers Dolores Gullatt, Lisa Zavala and Donna Gosselin came together with handmade signs. Gosselin's grandson recently went through a lockdown at his middle school, on the same day of the National School Walkout a little over a week ago, which cemented her determination to help change the gun laws.

"He said that morning, 'We always say it can't happen here.' Then three hours later he is in lockdown because of a suspected gun on campus," the 53-year-old said. "Something has to be done and that is why today's march will be one of the pivotal moments in history that wakes up the world. Enough is enough."

The rally also attracted area politicians and candidates, including three Democrats vying to unseat Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in November — Josh Harder, Virginia Madueño and Sue Zwahlen, who all spoke to the crowd. Others walked through the throng of people with clipboards making sure they were registered, or pre-registered for the under 18 set, to vote.

Potochnik, who carried the banner at the front of the march with Garcia, said it was a phenomenal experience to look back and see her fellow marchers stretch for block after block after block. She said she feels hopeful that lawmakers will listen to them, if only in their own self interest, because in a couple of years her generation will be voting age.

"They are looking at the future right now, and they need to answer for it," Potochnik said.

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