WASHINGTON - Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the nation's capital and cities across the U.S. on Saturday to demand action against gun violence, the latest and most visible show of force by a student-led political movement born in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter's rampage last month left 17 dead, the teens who took the stage at the March for Our Lives in downtown Washington called for Congress to enact stricter gun controls in response to the nation's relentless, two-decade stretch of campus shootings. Hundreds of sister protests were taking place in cities across the United States, including Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Although the Washington march was bankrolled by left-leaning celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and George and Amal Clooney, students who survived the Parkland shooting, students directly affected by gun violence have been its faces. Their unequivocal message on Saturday: The inaction that has repeatedly characterized federal lawmakers' response to school massacres and everyday gun violence would no longer be tolerated.
"To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn, welcome to the revolution," Cameron Kasky, a Stoneman Douglas High student, said to a standing-room only crowd that packed at least 10 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue. "Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming."
About 20 speakers - all of them kids or teens - spoke to a striking diverse crowd that included students from every background: black and white, rich and poor, suburban and inner-city.
Together, they sang along to Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande, shed tears during a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to a Parkland victim and chanted "Enough is enough!" as one of the movement's leaders, Emma Gonzalez, stood silently on the stage.
One of the rally's most emotional speeches was delivered by Zion Kelly, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, whose twin brother Zaire was shot and killed by a robber in September. Choking back tears before a rapt crowd, Kelly described the close bond he had with his brother.
"From the time we were born we shared everything. I spent time with him every day because we went to the same schools, shared the same friends and we even shared the same room," he said. "I'm here to represent the hundreds of thousands of students who live everyday in constant paranoia and fear on their way to and from school."
Because many of the demonstrators were children, authorities in the nation's capital said they were taking extra security precautions.
"To be honest, I'm scared to march," Stoneman Douglas senior Carly Novell said in a Saturday morning tweet, citing the risk that a shooter might terrorize those gathered to protest in Washington. "This is a march against gun violence, and I am scared there will be gun violence on the march. This is just my mind-set living in this country now, but this is why we need to march."
Callie Stone, 18, was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue before the march wearing a denim jacket emblazoned with "Nasty Woman," a term President Donald Trump used against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election and that progressive women adopted as a moniker.
With Stone was her mother, whom Stone had told the previous day that she wasn't sure she wanted to raise children in a world where students fear going to school. "But I said, 'Look at you, at your generation - you all are bringing us hope,' " said Kelly Stone, 54.
Kelly Stone was a middle school student in Canada in 1975 when a gunman killed two people and himself at Brampton Centennial Secondary School, which she went on to attend. She said that incident has cast a long shadow over her life and that of her daughter.
Nearly 200 people have died in school shootings since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 13 dead and inaugurated a relentless two-decade stretch of campus gun violence. During that period, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a Washington Post analysis.
"We've grown up knowing this could happen to us," Stone said.
Just on Tuesday, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey was fatally shot at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland by a 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, who died as well. One other boy was injured in the gunfire. Willey was taken off life support two days ago.
Great Mills students, wearing their green-and-gold school colors, were among those thronging the main stage Saturday afternoon.
Carmen Hill, 17, a Great Mills senior, said Willey had been in her fifth-period American Sign Language class. She said it was time for elected officials in Washington to take heed of the anger and activism that has seized the country in recent weeks.
"If they weren't listening," Hill said, "they are now."
Organizers had hoped for a crowd of half a million in Washington. Police did not provide crowd estimates, though by 1 p.m. about 207,000 people had ridden Metro, officials said. That was more than three times normal Saturday ridership, although it did not approach the 470,000 people who used the system by 1 p.m. for the Women's March last year.
The White House issued a statement Saturday praising the marchers, despite their calls for tougher gun-control measures than Trump supports.
"We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in the statement, in which she added that "keeping our children safe is a stop priority of the President's."
The president himself was in Florida at Trump International Golf Club, located about 35 miles from Parkland.
Nevaeh Williams, a 16-year-old who lives and attends school in the poor, predominantly African-American neighborhoods of Washington, said that while the focus on reducing gun violence was welcome, it was coming belatedly for young people who face it daily on the streets of the District and in other cities.
Williams' cousin was shot four years ago. A classmate, Zoruan Harris, the quarterback for the football team, was fatally shot in 2016.
"As soon as stuff happened in Florida, everyone wanted to do something," Williams said. "But every week someone gets shot in D.C."
More than 800 events were scheduled to take place around the world Saturday, according to March for Our Lives organizers. Beyond major cities, they included rallies in Las Vegas, where a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival last year; in Parkland, home to Stoneman Douglas; and in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the community is marking the 20th anniversary of a middle school shooting that left four students and a teacher dead.
Survivors or relatives of those killed in other mass shootings were also at the march in Washington, including some from Columbine, Sandy Hook and Marysville Pilchuck High School in Washington state, where four were fatally shot in 2014.
By mid-afternoon Saturday the rallies had proceeded peacefully, with small and scattered counter-protests by opponents of stricter gun control.
In Washington, a group of several dozen protesters in tactical gear and bearing a "Don't Tread on Me" flag stood by FBI headquarters, conversing with march demonstrators and enduring the occasional yell or middle finger.
In Boston, a group of about 25 counter-protesters gathered in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts statehouse to decry calls for tougher gun laws.
"I think it's a little ridiculous," Benjamin Johnson, 21, from New York, said of the March for Our Lives event. "After a tragedy like this one," he said of the Parkland shooting, "everyone looks past the motives of the shooter and immediately focuses on guns. If you run over someone with a car, they don't blame the car. But if someone is shot, they immediately blame the guns."
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump jolted Washington on Friday when he began the day tweeting that he might veto a massive spending bill needed to prevent a government shutdown - and then appearing in front of cameras five hours later to say that he had signed the legislation.
Trump ripped into the $1.3 trillion funding package in remarks at the White House shortly after 1 p.m., calling it a "ridiculous situation," filled with overspending yet lacking enough money for his border wall or a deal to resolve the future of young undocumented immigrants known as dreamers. He said he was only signing the bill because it contained a boost for the military.
"I looked very seriously at the veto," Trump told reporters. "I was thinking about doing the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we've been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking."
Friday's five hours of confusion showed once again nothing is certain in Trump's Washington and that any deal is at risk of being blown up by the mercurial president. Just Thursday, administration officials and congressional leaders said the president would sign the bill - even though for days he privately complained about the package in late night phone calls and early morning rants - and the White House issued a news release touting its accomplishments.
It also highlighted Trump's desire to be seen as his own political entity and still an outsider, separate at times from the Republican Party he leads. During his remarks at the White House, Trump sought to distance himself from a bill unpopular with his base but that his aides helped craft and the GOP-led Congress passed. At times he went so far as to portray himself as being almost helpless and having little choice but to accept the spending package.
"As a matter of national security, I've signed this omnibus budget bill," he said. "There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were, in a sense, forced - if we want to build our military - we were forced to have."
The president's unhappiness was fueled Friday morning how it often is, with Trump in the residence watching "Fox and Friends." For days, he heard Republicans were getting rolled in the spending negotiations and that message was now being delivered by his favorite morning show.
"This is a swamp budget, this is a Mitch McConnell special, this is a dysfunctional Senate," Fox News personality Pete Hegseth vented, referring to the Senate majority leader. "There's no wall. Ultimately the Democrats controlled the process in the Senate. That's why Chuck Schumer was so happy."
Trump had confided to several advisers that he was tired of watching Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., crow on TV - or hearing that he was being snookered by Democrats. He gets particularly agitated by Schumer, two of these people said.
He also heard from Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., Friday morning, who said he shouldn't sign the spending package. Trump seemed to agree. The president had already talked to a number of other conservatives and friends, including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the leader of the hard right House Freedom Caucus.
None of the reviews coming in from his favorite media outlets, including Fox News and the conservative website Newsmax, about the massive funding bill were positive, even with a big uptick in military spending that Trump so prized. The president was told about radio show host Rush Limbaugh's rant against the bill.
"The president was really sold a bill of goods here," said Christopher Ruddy, Newsmax's CEO who speaks frequently to the president. "Conservatives look at this omnibus bill and say, this is not why they elected Donald Trump. This is not a good bill for him to sign."
The spending bill is widely expected to be the last major piece of legislation that Congress will pass before the November midterm elections, which increased pressure to jam it full of legislative odds and ends, such as provisions ranging from gun safety to combating invasive carp. The bill funds the federal government through Sept. 30 and provides $700 billion for the military and $591 billion for domestic agencies.
Conservatives and some of Trump's top supporters found plenty they didn't like about the package. The House and Senate both passed it just over 24 hours after it was released, drawing complaints there was little time to review its contents. Overall, critics on the right said it spent too much money, yet only included a pittance for Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Immigration seemed to frustrate Trump the most. He secured $1.6 billion for some fencing and levees on the border, but it comes with strings attached and the amount fell far short of the $25 billion requested for a wall. He was also eager to blame Democrats for the failure to reach a deal to protect the dreamers by coming up with an alternative to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) he ended last year.
Even Friday morning, he asked aides how he could still get more money for the border wall and whether some of the items that Democrats celebrated were in the bill - such as money for so-called sanctuary cities and Planned Parenthood - were really included in the package, according to people familiar with the discussions.
He was told it was unlikely he could get more wall funding and that Democrats did secure the items they were touting. He grew angry. So shortly before 9 a.m., Trump took to Twitter.
"I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded," Trump tweeted.
Inside the White House, senior officials such as Vice President Mike Pence, legislative director Marc Short and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were summoned to persuade the president to sign the bill and avoid a shutdown.
Mattis stressed that the Pentagon desperately needed the funding boost - a $66 billion increase over last year's levels - that the bill would provide. Aides told Trump it would be "historic" funding, a word that he likes to hear.
Short argued that the funding package would give the president money for immigration and infrastructure programs and that the White House had already committed to signing the bill.
Trump was given a list of all the planes, submarines and other military equipment the bill would fund, a list the president would rattle off later in the his hastily-organized appearance in the White House's Diplomatic Reception Room.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., made his own pitch, calling the president about 30 minutes after the veto threat. Trump continued to say the bill was terrible, but Ryan again touted benefits for the military. McConnell, R-Ky., called Chief of Staff John Kelly, two White House aides said, to keep tabs on the situation.
Hill staffers and lawmakers were frustrated, if not surprised.
Last year, Trump also threatened to veto a large spending bill in April on the day he was supposed to sign it, leading Ryan to rush over to the White House. Trump was set off by an episode of Fox and Friends and was confused about the legislation, advisers said.
The details of this spending package should not have been new to the president. Short, Jonathan Slemrod and Kathy Kraninger - all administration aides - were involved in the negotiations in recent days that went until the wee hours of the morning with congressional appropriators, according to three people familiar with the talks.
At times, they would go outside to call others in the White House to ask for approval on certain parts of the bill. The arguments were sometimes tense and lasted until 3 a.m.
So members were perplexed when Trump, all of a sudden, seemed to not know what was in the bill Friday and said he might not sign it.
One senior administration official said Stephen Miller, the White House's senior policy adviser, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were critical of the spending measure because it did not do enough to advance Trump's priorities on combating illegal immigration. Miller had eventually relented after realizing there were no good options if the president vetoed the bill, officials said.
While Trump was not all that concerned about the cost, he kept reminding aides that many legislators, including the Freedom Caucus, hated the spending.
"The president's instincts were right," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the caucus. "The bill is terrible. We still wish he would have vetoed it. It is a bill that funds items we said we would not fund while not funding items we promised we would."
Some lawmakers and White House officials were confident Trump's veto tweet was a bluff and that he was just letting off steam.
Eventually, White House officials said, Trump demanded having a public event, where he could show his political supporters that he didn't like the bill while attacking Democrats - and labeling it all for the military.
Before cameras at the White House, Trump vented about the parts of the bill he disliked, called for the power to issue line-item vetoes - something the Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional - and urged the Senate to junk the legislative filibuster, which has little support among senators.
But this battle was already over - he signed the bill before appearing before reporters.
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The Washington Post's John Wagner, Mike DeBonis, Erica Werner and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.