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A march, young voices and signs of the times

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FILE - Protesters flash peace signs during the "March for Our Lives" at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

FILE - Protesters flash peace signs during the “March for Our Lives” at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — They started at West High School and snaked their way down city streets and up the hill to the state Capitol. Thousands were there "marching for their lives" a month after a deeply troubled 19-year-old gunman shot and killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The signs told the story, both in Salt Lake City and in the more than 800 other cities around the world where young people in elementary, middle and high schools were joined by like-minded adults in a massive "moment" trying to bring change to what they hope will continue as a "movement."

The Deseret News has spent the past month talking to students and to parents, as well as lawmakers and other decision makers about what can be done to bring real change. We are amplifying the need for safe schools. But how do you get there? How does the under-18 crowd raise a voice for real change?

Was Saturday's action a plea for gun control? Is it about school safety or safety everywhere? Is it a march for political change? Like other marches that have focused on human rights or social issues, each participant comes with purpose, but perhaps not all speaking the same language.

"Throw out the NRA," said one Salt Lake marcher.

"Plant knowledge in students, not fears of dying," said another.

And in Washington, D.C. a sign stated, “Graduations, not funerals!” while another in New York said, “I should be learning, not protesting.”

There were also counter protests, or should they be called alternative protests, offering some of the same claims of a want for school safety, but reflecting a decidedly different position:

"Criminals (heart) gun control," said one sign in Salt Lake City, while another declared, "Assault is a behavior, not a device," a clear reference to people as the cause of violence, rather than any specific weapon.

Today's Deseret News features 11 of the 40 voices of Utah high school students who came together from 10 high schools at the invitation of the Desert News Editorial Board Monday to learn how to get "Beyond the March" to carry their concern into action. School safety is the cause, knowing how to achieve it is what will separate the moment from the movement.

"The one thing that was most noticeable to me upon leaving the forum Monday was that each of us had differing views on the most important steps to combating the issue at hand," said Shannon Lamson of Highland High School. "What we all agreed on, however, was that things cannot be allowed to continue as they are. This movement is being led by the youth in an unprecedented manner because our schools are our homes and we want to feel safe in them."

Bountiful High School student Sam Nafus, who appears with me on "Weekend Edition" Sunday on KSL, Ch. 5, at 9 a.m. to talk school safety, said, "I saw a group of teenagers set aside those differences for the common goal of progress. I want the world to know my generation is going to change it for the better."

Why is now a different moment? Columbine shooting survivor Matt Varney, now 36, says a different time means a different moment. A different moment brings the chance of a movement.

“I think there was a certain level of naiveté to us 19 years ago. The gun debate was rampant, but it was nowhere near what it is now,” Varney told Deseret News reporter Erica Evans, who explored the topic in a piece headlined, “Is Saturday’s March for Our Lives a moment or a movement? “The students today have grown up not really knowing about Columbine, but knowing school shootings happen frequently. It’s a way of life.”

Monday, the high school students heard from Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of “Crucial Conversations” and “Influencer." He taught the students six principles for social influence he has identified through extensive research.

How do you influence people and create lasting change?

“Help them love what they hate, help them do what they can’t, provide encouragement, provide assistance, change their economy and change their space,” Grenny told the students and Evans, who covered the event.

"School safety begins with each and every one of us. It's not just about reporting suspicious activity, but it includes getting to know one another well, building strong families and communities, looking out for each other and always choosing kindness," Zac Napierski of Orem High School writes in Sunday's Deseret News.

The good news for Utah, and perhaps the nation, is that the march that ended Saturday is just the beginning of the story. The 40 students we spoke with will return to school Monday without placards and slogans, trying to put into practice things learned, preaching love and tolerance for each other, with zero tolerance for violence.

They will be an example for the rest of us.

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly referred to Stoneman Douglas High School as Stoneham Douglas High School.