ATLANTA - Thousands of Georgians have gathered at Atlanta's Center for Civil and Human Rights as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives protest.
Atlanta's branch of the march started at 11 a.m. and includes speakers like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Jake Zaslav and Alec Zaslav, and Jacob Busch from Moms Demand Action.
U.S. Rep. and civil rights icon John Lewis will be delivering the keynote address and leading the march with student organizers.
"We march not only for our lives, but for all those who have been lost due to gun violence," said March for Our Lives Atlanta organizer Jennia Taylor, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a current student at Spelman College. "We march for the safety of future generations.
NOW: @repjohnlewis walks ARM IN ARM with students at #marchforourlivesatl. #studentsspeak #march4ourlives #parkland #columbine #sandyhook #neveragain #gunreform #fox5atl #enoughisenough #change #now #stonemandouglas #momentinhistory pic.twitter.com/e1SUbXKj0L— Natalie Fultz FOX 5 (@NatalieFFOX5) March 24, 2018
Large rallies have also taken shape in such cities as Boston, Houston, and Parkland, Florida, the site of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.
Lindsey Alexander, a freshman at Decatur High School in Decatur, Georgia, was attending her first protest, inspired by hearing Parkland students debate the NRA on television.
"If nothing changes, we're going to continue to have school shootings," she said. "I understand the Second Amendment is important. We've always had this right. But when the Founding Fathers put that right in place, they didn't mean it to become what it is today."
Since the bloodshed in Florida, students have tapped into a current of gun control sentiment that has been building for years -- yet still faces a powerful counterpoint from the National Rifle Association and its supporters.
Organizers hope the passions of the crowds and the under-18 roster of speakers will translate into a tipping point starting in the midterm elections this year.
You can see the emotion on their faces...the hurt, the pain after all of these senseless #schoolshootings. Thousands of others feel the same and are out here preparing to march down the streets of Atlanta. Cities across the nation are doing the same. #MarchForOurLives #Atlanta pic.twitter.com/30adt4i0uT— Natalie Fultz FOX 5 (@NatalieFFOX5) March 24, 2018
The protesters, many of them high school students, claim that the youth leadership of this initiative is what will set it apart from previous attempts to enact stronger gun-control legislation.
Polls indicate that public opinion nationwide may be shifting on an issue that has simmered for generations, and through dozens of mass shootings.
A new poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 69 percent of Americans think gun laws in the U.S. should be tightened. That's up from 61 percent who said the same in October 2016 and 55 percent when the AP first asked the question in October 2013. Overall, 90 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of gun owners now favor stricter gun control laws.
But even with claims of historic social momentum on the issue of gun control, the AP poll also found that nearly half of Americans do not expect elected officials to take action.
Among the questions facing march organizers and participants will be how to translate this one-day event into legislative change.
One way they hope to do that is by registering young voters and channeling energy into the midterm congressional elections this fall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.