Last year, after nineteen elementary school students and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, so many Texans needed to do something. Rosa Ruiz and her family drove to Uvalde and set up their taco truck and fed hundreds. Beto O’Rourke crashed a press conference. I took my wife and three-year-old daughter to a vigil at the state capitol. Mateo Clarke, a member of Austin FC supporter group Los Verdes and a trumpet player in La Murga de Austin (the soccer club’s supporter band), needed to draw. 

“I’m from the San Antonio area and played soccer and basketball in middle school and high school. We would go play games against Uvalde, which really wasn’t that far from Boerne, where I grew up,” Clarke said. “[After the shooting] I felt myself kind of starting to slip into a depression, and one thing that’s always been really healing for me is to design.”

Clarke took the logo for the Uvalde High School soccer team and turned it into a “two-pole” banner approximately six feet wide and four feet high. His initial idea was that Los Verdes and La Murga de Austin could display the banner during an Austin FC match. But the plan quickly grew from there.

For a group with more than three thousand members, step one was easy. Los Verdes created a GoFundMe for the Uvalde victims’ families, which brought in more than $260,000. Then more and more volunteers stepped up to create a display—part protest, part art piece—that would be featured before an Austin FC match.

On June 25, 2022, just a month after the Uvalde shooting, Clarke’s two-pole banner was displayed in the supporters section for Austin FC’s match against FC Dallas. But that banner was overshadowed by a twenty-foot-long banner that read “End Gun Violence” and another banner that read “¡Ya Basta! Enough!” Spread throughout the south end of Q2 Stadium were 21 additional banners, each featuring a victim’s name and age. Twenty-one cranes made of fabric supplemented it all, and La Murga de Austin (best known for rousing songs meant to motivate fans and intimidate opponents) played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” 

Several dozen volunteers spent days cutting, sewing, painting, and assembling the banners. Los Verdes is part of a global tradition of soccer supporter groups who do more than cheer on the team during the season. The phrase they use is “Fútbol y Comunidad.” In recent years Los Verdes members have organized blood drives, Meals on Wheels routes, food bank volunteer shifts, and more, and they’ve raised thousands of dollars for local nonprofits at away-match watch parties. 

For Los Verdes member Stefanie Torres, community service is a key part of her experience as a fan of Austin FC. “We’re a huge group of people who want to give money, who want to give our time, who like spending time with each other,” she said. “And why wouldn’t we use our force for good? To me, it’s just a no-brainer that we would do things to take care of our community.”

While most of Los Verdes’ efforts have focused on Central Texas, the frequent threat of gun violence in this country transcends one team. Many communities across the nation feel powerless to stop the violence, and coming together to deliver a message can become a powerful act. This year, after the March 27 shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Los Verdes pulled the “End Gun Violence” and “¡Ya Basta! Enough!” banners out of storage and mailed them to a Nashville SC supporters group. Those fans displayed the banners and shone their cellphone lights during six moments of silence (one for each victim) at the beginning of a match against Toronto FC. 

A few weeks later, after a shooter killed five people at Louisville’s Old National Bank, a Nashville fan drove the banners to Kentucky. Fans hung the banners in the stands for a Louisville City FC match. (It should be noted that Louisville plays in the United Soccer League, which is separate from Major League Soccer, where Austin FC and Nashville SC compete.) Shortly thereafter, supporters of Racing Louisville FC, in the National Women’s Soccer League, displayed the banners during one of the team’s matches.

This type of coordination—four teams in three leagues—is unheard of. “I think gun violence is the bridge and the tissue that connects us,” Chap Torian, a member of Los Verdes leadership, said. “And it takes all of us standing up, because clearly our politicians aren’t listening to us; we’re going to continue to keep pushing our agenda. We have to do something and we can’t stop and we have to keep pushing until it gets fixed.”

The back of one of the banners now features a running list: Uvalde, Nashville, Louisville. And just last week, Torian added a fourth city: Allen, Texas

Last week, on the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde shooting, Los Verdes again displayed the banners before a match against Chicago Fire, along with the 21 banners naming the Uvalde victims. The afternoon of the match, I joined the group of volunteers mapping out where each name would be displayed. The detailed manner in which the volunteers planned the memorial reinforced the depth and magnitude of what was taken from Uvalde on May 24, 2022.

So many banners, so many names, all spread out over such a large portion of Austin’s Q2 Stadium. The number of banners was the point. The time and effort taken to trace each name, paint each banner, add a second coat, find space for them all to dry, then fold them neatly, transport and arrange them, count them, and double-check that no one was missing. At a certain point, the scope of the loss became overwhelming. 

That night Austin FC supporters lifted the banners to honor the victims in Allen, Louisville, Nashville, and Uvalde. Today these banners are back in storage. But we all know they won’t stay there long.