March for Our Lives expected to draw thousands to Atlanta

Jaderious Raifoed (L) and Elijah Massicot (R) work on their posters for an upcoming “March for our Lives” rally while at the Rook and Pawn in Athens. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Jaderious Raifoed (L) and Elijah Massicot (R) work on their posters for an upcoming “March for our Lives” rally while at the Rook and Pawn in Athens. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Thousands of Georgians will fill the streets of Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and cities across the nation Saturday to protest gun violence and call for tighter gun controls.

The March for Our Lives events are among more than 820 demonstrations worldwide. They are the culmination of protests that began in Parkland, Fla., after the Feb. 14 mass school shooting, which sparked walkouts from classrooms across metro Atlanta and the nation one month later.

The Atlanta program begins at 11 a.m. at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Speakers include Congressman John Lewis; Mary-Pat Hector, who at 19 ran for a city council office in Stonecrest, and survivors of the Florida school shooting, Jack and Alec Zaslav.

The march to Liberty Plaza, where there will be more speakers, starts at noon. Depending upon the size of the crowd, the march itself could take several hours. Atlanta Police are expecting 7,500 based on social media interest but planning for more.

Streets along the march route will be closed from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., said Atlanta police Deputy Chief Scott Kreher.

Downtown already will be bustling because of a dental conference and an NCAA basketball tournament game, which will draw thousands more.

Organizers have put plans in place for nearly every contingency.

Major partners of the march are the nonprofits Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and Everytown for Gun Safety. Among the hundreds of marches, Everytown picked Atlanta to invest additional resources. It is paying for stages, TV monitors, electrical generators, sound systems, portable toilets and water stations.

The city of Atlanta is providing police, fire and EMTs as well as sanitation workers. The Department of Homeland Security is also involved and may have staff members at the event.

Besides helping the young organizers plan and promote the march, the Alliance provided safety vests and whistles for peace marshals and raised money through T-shirt sales.

Organizers have reached out to cell phone service providers, and AT&T said it will have additional hotspots that should accommodate increased phone usage.

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Smaller groups from metro Atlanta will trek about 600 miles to Washington to join in the national march.

Roswell attorney Brad Kaplan created a $14,000 fund to help students, parents and teachers cover gas and lodging. He estimated that the stipends would help several dozen demonstrators travel to Washington.

About 10 minority students plus chaperones will go to Washington with the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. It will be the first time some of the teens have left Georgia.

“I think this will be a life-changing experience for them,” said the nonprofit’s co-founder, Mokah-Jasmine Johnson.

University of Georgia students and community members remaining in Athens will rally from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Arch.

Atlanta organizers encourage attendees to bring rain ponchos.

“No matter what the weather does, we will march,” said spokesman Ethan Asher. The Centennial High School sophomore from Roswell said the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hit home because he had friends close to many victims.

“It wasn’t something that happened in a remote place,” he said. “In my lifetime school shootings have become too common. This isn’t political in the sense that it’s one party against another. We just want the violence to stop. We just want common-sense gun legislation.”

If you go

The March for Our Lives event is scheduled to begin 11 a.m. Saturday at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. NW, near Centennial Olympic Park. The march will end at Liberty Plaza outside the state Capitol. Organizers urge participants to carpool, take MARTA or Lyft. The ride-hailing company is providing free rides.

Organizers suggest: sunscreen, water bottle, walking shoes. Don’t bring: whistles, signs on sticks (hand-held signs only) or confrontational attitudes. They intend the march to be a peaceful demonstration.

The story so far

On Feb. 14 a lone gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and opened fire. Victims included 17 dead and another 16 injured. Students across the country began rallying for what they call common-sense gun laws. These youngsters organized a school walkout March 14, when students left class for 17 minutes in honor of the dead.

What’s next: Thousands are expected to join the March for Our Lives on Saturday in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. A team of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters and photographers will cover both marches. We will begin reporting live Saturday morning on and