The student activists behind the March For Our Lives movement are taking their fight to end gun violence to Times Square.
The organization created in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year debuted new billboards on Monday that will display messages highlighting the impact of gun violence in the country. The billboards, one at 729 Seventh Ave. and another at 3 Times Square, will run four times an hour for the next two weeks.
March For Our Lives co-founder and communications strategist Brendan Duff, 21, said the organization aims to broaden its message while encouraging people to become part of the solution.
"The overall message, the thing you’re going to see the most is ‘Save Lives’ and that is a narrative that we’ve synced up with since the very beginning,” he said. “It’s not a political issue; we’re not in this for any other motivation other than saving lives and doing what we can to stop what happened in our community from happening in other communities.”
The digital billboards rotate with such messaging as “I saw my brother get shot; I saw my classmate get shot; I saw my teacher get shot,” along with a number that people can text to receive more information on how to get involved with March For Our Lives.
Duff said they chose Times Square because it’s a high-traffic area filled with people from all over the country and the world. The billboards are expected to reach 380,000 people a day and about 5 million people by the end of the campaign. The group hopes the billboards will remind the public that gun violence can happen to anyone.
“There are people every single day who are at stake and the longer that we wait to address this issue, the more and more people we’re going to lose,” Duff added. "We need to come together, with just the interest of saving lives."
Those who text the March For Our Lives number can expect to receive information on how they can get involved in the fight against gun violence, including resources on how to start a March For Our Lives chapter or how to find an existing chapter nearby. The organization is focusing on growing its number of local chapters this summer as part of an overall strategy that also includes influencing policy and policy makers.
The success and sustainability of March For Our Lives chapters is critical in achieving their goal because people are affected by gun violence in many ways, not just through school shootings, Duff said.
“We can’t necessarily speak for them and we can’t speak to those issues, but we can amplify them and we can give them the resources they need to tackle those issues in their own communities,” he added.
For Duff, the March For Our Lives cause is also personal. His younger brother, Daniel, is a survivor of the Parkland shooting that claimed the lives of 14 students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018. Daniel was a freshman at the time, with five out of his six classes in the building where most of the shooting took place.
“I started thinking this is really, really scary and horrifying but there’s no way — that’s my little brother — there’s no way this is actually happening,” Duff recalled of the tragic day.
Duff was attending Elon University in North Carolina, where he is currently a junior studying strategic communications, when he heard there was a mass shooting at his alma mater. He said he texted his brother, hoping to find out he was OK.
“There was a solid 25 to 30 minutes where I did not hear back from Daniel,” he said. “That period of not knowing and that period of thinking, ‘OK well this is a reality for so many people, it could also be my reality,’ really drove me and still motivates me to do this work every single day.’ "