‘March for Our Lives’ tour stops in Or­lando

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Le­mon­gello

Manuel Oliver painted 17 small cir­cles onto the wooden can­vas along­side Lake Eola. One by one, he ham­mered a hole into all of them, in­clud­ing the last one amid the im­age of his son, Joaquin.

He added one more, in­side the num­ber “49” in a prism re­flect­ing a rain­bow. And then, one by one, he placed flow­ers in every hole.

“We wanted to make a mu­ral this way to­day, to honor the peo­ple at Pulse,” said Oliver, whose son was among the 17 stu­dents and staff killed in the mass shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land on Feb. 14. “We wanted to make a way to con­nect the rain­bow flag that unites peo­ple with our son Joaquin.”

Oliver was in Or­lando on Fri­day along with the group March for Our Lives, which was founded by Stone­man Dou­glas stu­dents and has

been trav­el­ing the state and the coun­try as part of the “Road to Change” bus tour.

The tour, de­signed to en­cour­age new voter reg­is­tra­tion, is sched­uled to visit all 27 con­gres­sional dis­tricts in Florida by the end of Au­gust.

Fri­day’s event at the park am­phithe­ater was also partly a block party, with live mu­sic and re­fresh­ments amid the tents and ta­bles of var­i­ous voter groups and po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates.

“We’re just try­ing to get across that peo­ple need to be ac­tive po­lit­i­cally. They need to be ac­tive in their com­mu­ni­ties,” said Amit Dadon, 19, a 2017 grad­u­ate of Stone­man Dou­glas. “Peo­ple need to use the right to vote. … To just throw that right away is kind of ridicu­lous. If you don’t vote, you can’t com­plain. If you want some­thing fixed? Vote. If you want new lead­ers? Vote.”

Kyra Par­row, 18, a Park­land sur­vivor and an in­com­ing fresh­man at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida, said she has seen “so much love” from sur­vivors and rel­a­tives of vic­tims of the Pulse night­club shoot­ing in Or­lando in 2016, when 49 peo­ple died.

“Com­ing from Park­land, [they are] peo­ple who un­der­stand what we went through, what I went through,” she said. “I was talk­ing to Pulse sur­vivors the other day, and there was so much love and un­der­stand­ing.”

An­drea Halperin of Or­lando, chap­ter leader of the lo­cal Moms De­mand Ac­tion gun-re­form group, said the state law passed this year never would have hap­pened if it weren’t for the Park­land stu­dents’ ac­tivism — “though it doesn’t go far enough. … Our num­ber one pri­or­ity is back­ground checks for every gun sale.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Mur­phy was sched­uled to speak, along with for­mer Mary­land gov­er­nor and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Martin O’Mal­ley.

But the emo­tional core of the event was Oliver’s mu­ral, cre­ated with white paint, cans of col­ored spray paint and a sten­cil of Oliver’s son, Joaquin, a 17-year-old Park­land stu­dent who em­i­grated from Venezuela and be­came a cit­i­zen the year be­fore he died.

“We, as par­ents of vic­tims, in­vite any par­ent of a non-vic­tim to be a part of our move­ment,” he said to the crowd gath­ered around him, many of whom were Park­land stu­dents, af­ter he com­pleted the gi­ant can­vas. “Thank you for be­ing here. We love you.”

Oliver spread out dozens of sticks of chalk and told the crowd: “Now the wall is yours. You can do what you want with it.”

Peo­ple cov­ered largely black can­vas with mes­sages, in­clud­ing, “Enough is enough,” “We are go­ing to be the change,” “Red for the blood still run­ning in the U.S.,” “We fight for you,” and “Long live Guac,” Joaquin’s nick­name.

Ce­sar Oliver, Manuel Oliver’s nephew, showed a tat­too of Joaquin on his arm. He wrote, “Te Amo Joaco — Ce­sar.”

Mar­i­lyn Gil­ley of Cler­mont, who came to Or­lando for the event, said she was proud of the Park­land stu­dents and other teen and col­lege-aged ad­vo­cates.

“I love the young’uns,” she said. “I went to Tallahassee to sup­port them. I’d go to the ends of the earth to sup­port them. They may be our hope — the only hope we have.”

RI­CARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

At the March for Our Lives event in Or­lando on Fri­day, Manuel Oliver’s mu­ral in­cludes an im­age of his son, Joaquin, 17, who died at Park­land.

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