When the panel left and the chairs were folded, a 3-year-old girl danced about the room in her sandals and pink dress.
As the little girl bounced around without a care in the world, the music continued to play and her mother continued to worry.
Less than an hour before she began dancing, the room at the Gainesville Woman’s Club echoed with survivors’ accounts of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Margaret Hamer, a local “spokesmom” for the group Moms Demand Action, brought her daughter only after the panel finished their discussion.
“The reason she is here today is because I don’t want her to be that 16-year-old telling those stories,” Hamer said. “As a mother, sitting in that crowd, listening to those kids weeping, I don’t want my kid to have to be up there.”
The club hosted more than a dozen young speakers at 5 p.m. Thursday as the March for Our Lives Florida bus tour travelled through Gainesville. The evening was divided into two sections: a series of speeches and stories from children and young adults, then a panel discussion involving the audience and their questions.
“Vote them out!” was the rallying cry of the evening. Every speaker — be it 11-year-old Aagneya Singh Banerjee or Robert Schentrup, brother of Parkland victim Carmen Schentrup — called out the current Florida representatives for their inaction on gun violence prevention.
“One day, I will take your job,” Banerjee said of Florida representatives, earning a supportive roar from the crowd.
Liz Stout, a survivor of the Parkland massacre, delivered a speech detailing the shooting and the struggle of life afterward.
“I graduated, but today I have a hole in my heart that my senior year had been ruined by a mindless and unstable murdererer,” Stout said.
Aalayah Eastmond, another Parkland survivor, read a poem she wrote about the shooting. A few lines were:
“Truth is, I hid underneath his dead body. Truth is, I wish I didn’t.”
“Truth is, nobody deserves to die under gun violence. Truth is, I almost died under gun violence. Truth is, America is gun violence.”
“But we can fix it.”
The panel outlined just how to “fix it.”
When asked how to best create change, panel member and president of the UF Never Again group Andrew Garfield said voting was the only way.
According to the panel, only one-fifth of eligible 18 through 29 year olds exercise their right to vote.
Garfield tried to inspire students to increase that number by saying youth have the power to change the world.
About a dozen people became newly registered voters after the speaking event, said Tom Bergan, a member of the “Road to Change” team. He said the Florida tour has registered more than 200 people just this summer.
Earlier that day, voters and protesters alike rallied outside the offices of Rep. Ted Yoho, state Sen. Keith Perry and state Rep. Chuck Clemons around 11 a.m. simultaneously.
The three congressmen being protested by the March for Our Lives movement are all Republicans and affiliate themselves with the National Rifle Association. Perry received an “A” rating from the group, while Yoho received $1,000 from the group in funding.
Prior to the event, Perry said he wasn’t sure why they were only protesting Republicans.
“We elect people to go up and represent (the people) in Congress, so engagement in a civil manner is critically important,” said Perry.
At Yoho’s office, protesters gathered outside the building in 90-degree weather. People of all ages carried signs that read “VOTES BEAT MONEY” and “Put Children 1st! NOT the NRA, NOT the GOP.”
Kevin Trejos, UF freshman, March for Our Lives activist and Stoneman Douglas alumnus, said he’s spoken to many congressmen since the attack at his school.
“I’m here because I want Ted Yoho to know that when I become a constituent in less than a month, that I do not support his policies, and I will gladly vote him out,” Trejos said.
The protest continued on for the next hour, with no appearance from Yoho.
Student leader for March for Our Lives Jovanna Liuzzo said Chuck Clemons met with her and another student leader, Ryan Servaitis, before leaving through the back door.
Liuzzo said Clemons was originally supportive of the student protesters attending. She explained they discussed his support from the NRA and finding solutions to gun violence nationally and locally.
“I’m grateful that I got the chance to speak with him, but he can’t have words that are misleading,” Liuzzo said. “He (told us) that he wants to hear student voices and that he encourages my presentation, while contradicting that and (leaving) right after.”
Liuzzo said she has not heard from Clemons since then.
Despite the silence from leaders, Trejos said he will keep participating in marches like Thursday’s until change is made.
“I will be protesting now. I will be protesting next week,” Trejos said. “I will be protesting as long as our politicians don’t represent us and our values.”
Staff writers Dana Cassidy, Danielle Ivanov and Gillian Sweeney contributed to this report.