In solidarity with Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., a huge crowd gathered for the event's "sibling march" in Johnson City.
March for Our Lives is a student-led movement forced into the spotlight after the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The massacre left 17 dead and sparked a massive debate concerning gun violence in schools and how to deal with it.
In step with marches across the country, students, teachers and other concerned residents of Johnson City and beyond turned out in the rain to demand local and federal lawmakers make students' lives and safety a priority and pass "common-sense gun safety legislation."
"We want a school, an institution of education, to be a place where you shouldn't have to fear for your life. It's a place you go to learn, a place you go to grow, and to try new things and when your safety is at risk it really puts a lot of that work into jeopardy," said Nathan Farnor, an East Tennessee State University student and one of the organizers of the march.
The issue is as local as it is national.
"It directly effects ETSU. There are pieces of legislation right now in Tennessee that would impact the way that guns are allowed on this campus right here as well as campuses across the state," said Farnor.
Marchers began their walk from the bottom of ETSU's campus to the Veteran's Park outside Southside Elementary School, where they gathered in a circle. Keyana Miller, ETSU's Student Government Association president, read the names of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, followed by a moment of silence.
Della Cole, a sophomore at University of Virginia at Wise, drove an hour-and-a-half to join the march in Johnson City. She said it is her first time out to a march, because this time last year, she was on the opposite side of the argument.
As a recent high school graduate, a college student and a future high school teacher, she believes being shot at is not something she should be worrying about.
"I would like to see politicians stop taking money from the NRA, I would like to see a ban on automatic rifles, and overall a greater understanding that gun control is not to take away your Second Amendment, it's to protect your children," said Cole.
After the roughly 1.5-mile march, the crowd gathered at the ETSU campus in the D.P. Culp Center's cave patio for the rally. Speakers included students, former teachers, and the vice mayor of Johnson City.
Brice Terry, the ETSU student who was ground-zero for the march, addressed the crowd, reflecting on past mass shootings. He called for everyone to act by voting and demanding support from lawmakers, including local elected officials.
"As students, as churchgoers, and as people just having a good time and enjoying life, we should not be worried about being killed. We especially should not have to worry about being killed because our lawmakers refuse to take action," said Terry. "Make no mistake and look at their history. If they will not support us and protect the citizens of this country, then we need to take action ourselves.
"I'm asking you to take action today, because if we don't take action today, we may not have the chance tomorrow."
He concluded the speech with a gentle and emotional request for those in attendance to register to vote.