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Photo: Annie Rice/AP Photo

In Chicago, an annual Peace March doubles as the start of the Road to Change

CHICAGO —There could be no mistaking the message of the night at Saint Sabina. Outside the church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the city’s South Side stood a sign whose red letters had a different call to purpose than the usual summoning of the flock: BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS; TITLE GUNS LIKE CARS; BLACK LIVES MATTER; America divorce from your love affair with guns; PEACE!!! STARTS HERE.

The church’s annual Peace March is held on the last Friday of the Chicago Public School year and run weekly throughout the summer, the city’s deadliest season. This year it doubled as the first stop on the Road to Change, March For Our Lives’ traveling initiative, which is covering over 50 cities and 20 states with the aim to register voters, detail gun reform, and visit locations wherein the NRA has consolidated political power and communities deeply affected by gun violence.

Student activists from across the city spoke in front of a massive crowd gathered in Saint Sabina’s parking lot. The pre-March rally served as an introduction to ChicagoStrong, a new student-led coalition looking to end gun violence in the city. Joining the locals on stage were students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, will.i.am, Jennifer Hudson and Chance the Rapper. A litany of local and state politicians, including gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, were named as being in attendance.

Orange price tags for $1.05—the cost, according to March for Our Lives, to Marco Rubio of every student in Florida’s life, calculated by dividing his NRA donations by the number of students in the state—dangled from wrists, hats and sunglasses, garnering questions, looks and at least one surreptitious snap with a cellphone camera.

“We are survivors,” said Alex King, a recent graduate of North Lawndale College Prep and the first student speaker. “Survivors of a war that has been lasting way too long. The war on violence, whether it is physical violence or emotional violence.” War survivors come with trauma, King said, the trauma of loss or its constant specter, and they mental health resources, not, as King put it, corner stores, liquor stores and police stations.

March for Our Lives Chicago activist Marley Rosario stressed the importance of not voting blindly by party loyalty in an incendiary listing of politician’s failings. “It’s not good enough, it’s not good enough, to vote for a candidate just because they have a D next to their name,” Rosario said. “The students of Parkland deserve better. The students of Chicago deserve better.”

A lone Trump flag, flown by a tall white man in sunglasses and a camouflage Trump hat, was surrounded and obscured by signs and an upside down American flag as Trevon Bosley spoke. Bosley highlighted that in Chicago, gun control is not about school shootings per se, but everyday shootings.

Chance the Rapper speaks at a peace rally and march, June 15, 2018, in Chicago. Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and Jennifer Hudson were also among the celebrities who spoke at the event. Annie Rice/AP Photo

“I’m talking about the little boys and girls who grow up hearing gunshots and police sirens, and think that is just our way of life,” Bosley said. The city’s new police academy came under fire, as well. “We refuse to accept that the only solution is to put more money into the Chicago Police Department,” Maria Hernandez of Black Lives Matter said.

A contingent of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, including Emma González, were followed by an appearance from will.i.am, who debuted a new song, “Insomniacs.” After a heart-rending reading of the names of the 147 people under the age of 21 who have been killed since last June—including a 1-month-old—Chicagoan and gun violence victim Jennifer Hudson took the stage and led the crowd in “Amazing Grace.” Chance the Rapper closed the rally and the March headed to the streets accompanied by a panel truck displaying life-sized pictures of victims; a pickup loaded to bear with speakers playing Childish Gambino, gospel and Kendrick Lamar; and Saint Sabina’s outspoken pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, whose last words at the rally echoed the hopes of those gathered.

“It’s time for direct action!” Pfleger told the crowd. “It’s time for civil disobedience! It’s time to get in the face of America! It’s time to say never again! Never again!

“Our children will live! Our children will live! Our children will live! Our! Children! Will! Live!”

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