A snow-covered Washington prepared for a protest against gun violence that is predicted to draw hundreds of thousands of marchers this weekend.
Washington officials estimate that as many as 500,000 people will march Saturday in a demonstration to urge politicians to prevent further school shootings.
“In the tragic wake of the 17 lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now,” says that organization’s mission statement on its official website.
“On March 24, the kids and families of March For Our Lives will take to the streets of Washington, D.C., to demand that their lives and safety become a priority,” the website says. “The collective voices of the March For Our Lives movement will be heard.”
Even in the month since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, claimed 17 lives, other high schools have been the scene of shootings. Most recently, a female student was critically injured by a shooter at a Maryland high school who was later killed in a confrontation with police.
Survivors of the Parkland shooting, including Emma Gonzalez, who, with several of her classmates, has taken the anti-gun violence debate national, supported the students at Great Mills High School.
March For Our Lives was largely organized by Parkland students, who have used social media widely and publicly to insist politicians stop taking political donations from the National Rifle Association and pass legislation to make gun access more difficult.
Cameron Kasky is one of the many Parkland students traveling from Florida to the nation’s capital this weekend to “stand together on the right side of history -- the side of life over money.”
In a letter to the organizers of the march, ride-hailing service Lyft said that it will offer free rides to students from Parkland traveling to and from the march. Many Washington-area households have opened their doors to students and protesters from out of town seeking a place to stay.
“Your bravery and intelligence have provided a renewed and much needed hope for our future. We are incredibly grateful for the example you are setting,” Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green wrote in a letter to the students.
AirBnb, an online lodging reservation service, told VOA that 8,400 arrivals are scheduled in D.C. for the night of the march - making it AirBnb’s second highest booked night in the city, only behind the Women’s March in January 2017.
Musicians Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Demi Lovato, and Common are among the celebrities who are scheduled to perform at the Washington march, according to organizers.
Washington’s Metro subway system said that it will operate at rush-hour levels of service throughout Saturday, starting at 7 a.m., to accommodate anticipated crowds.
“As the young men and women have been preparing for Saturday’s event, the district has been preparing to keep them safe,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told a press conference.
“Of course, First Amendment-protected events are not new to Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said. “...We are looking forward to these teenagers and everybody who believes that we must do more to have sensible gun regulation in our nation and to keep children safe in their schools, in their neighborhoods in cities across America.”
D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department will be fully staffed on Saturday.
“We will ensure that we have plenty of officers on hand to facilitate a peaceful and safe day for the rally,” Chief of Police Peter Newsham told a press conference.