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Gun control protests sweep from Amherst to D.C. By Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg, Claire Healy, Nate Procter and Annabelle Tocco

Students, teachers, parents and demonstrators of all ages and backgrounds converged in major cities across the country and the world on Saturday in a show of solidarity against gun violence.

The March for Our Lives event — a day of action sparked by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — consisted of over 846 events worldwide. From Boston and New York City to San Jose and Tel Aviv, the day was intended to have kids and families “take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and that we end gun violence in our schools and communities.”

Thousands came out to protest gun violence at the March for Our Lives event in Boston on Saturday, March 24, 2018. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

Organized by survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, with help from many young activists across the country, this event garnered an estimated 800,000 participants in Washington D.C.

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian had reporters covering activities in Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as in Washington, D.C. This is the Collegian’s coverage of the March 24 March for Our Lives protests.

Pioneer Valley locals hold up hand-made signs over the heads of a crowd of hundreds at Amherst's March for Our Lives event at the Amherst Center front lawn. (Caroline O'Connor/Collegian)

Amherst

In Amherst, the League of Women Voters of Amherst organized a March for Our Lives protest, which was co-sponsored by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization that advocates for “common-sense gun reforms,” according to its website. Starting at Kendrick Park, around 200 students, teachers, parents and other residents of the town marched with signs to the Amherst Common where the protest culminated in speeches and song.

While some signs had a simple peace sign, “March for Our Lives” or “#ArmMeWith,” protesters also got creative with their messaging, sporting signs with statements ranging from “Arms are for Hugging” to “SOS: Save Our Students.”

Kalyani Kastor was born and raised in Amherst, graduated from Amherst Regional High School and currently attends college in Providence. Holding a poster that stated, “Students Demand Action,” she came back to march with her family members, who work at the University of Massachusetts.

Other young people of all ages, from students attending UMass to Wildwood Elementary in Amherst, marched to advocate for safety.

Emily Mackay, a senior communication disorders major at UMass, “felt like she [sic] needed to be here today.” Prior to coming to UMass, Mackay had received a scholarship from the family of Victoria Soto, a teacher who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Mackay was joined by her friends; they were all wearing sweatshirts with Soto’s name.

UMass students, left to right, Marcus Braudis, biology major, Alison Nunziato, management major, Claire Chang, psychology major, Kate Schacterle, psychology and political science major, and Lily Elkin, psychology major, hold up the March for Our Lives sign while Emily Stetson gives a speech on gun control. (Caroline O'Connor/Collegian)

“It means a lot to be out here this morning,” Mackay said.

Victoria Bryson, a senior accounting major at UMass, marched out of frustration “with the lack of change.”

“It’s frustrating that if you pay enough people in Congress money, then the NRA can get away with so much stuff — just selling things that no one should really have access to, [such as] bump stocks and everything,” Bryson said. “I think there should be a change and money should have nothing to do with it.”

Sam Simon, Thor Mead, Tucker Ninteau and Jude Cook attend Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School in Orange, Massachusetts. They came to Amherst to join their Hampshire county public school counterparts in sending a message to the government. Their reason to march was partly influenced by personal experiences with gun violence at school.

“A few weeks ago, our school went into lockdown and no kids should have to deal with that,” Simon, Mead, Ninteau and Cook said. “And the fact that Congress has done nothing to address the issue has been frustrating.”

As the protesters winded down South Pleasant Street, children as young as infants could be seen amongst their fellow activists.

A crowd of hundreds gather in the Amherst Center front lawn for the global March for Our Lives event. (Caroline O'Connor/Collegian)
“I don't want people in schools and in their neighborhoods to feel afraid.”

Kai Larsen, a five-year-old, marched with a sign that he made himself which said, “Stop Violence” on one side and “End Gun Violence” on the other. His mother pointed out that the figure on the back of the poster was Martin Luther King, Jr. After “learning about civil rights in school and at home,” Larsen organized his own “March for Kindness” protest at his school.

Susan Richardson, a speech and language pathologist at Amherst Regional High School, marched “so that people in our country can feel safe.”

“I don't want people in schools and in their neighborhoods to feel afraid,” Richardson said.

Many, like Robin Diamond, marched because they believe “this [gun violence] has to end.” Diamond’s co-marcher, Connie Gould marched out of fear for her grandson.

“I feel incredible fear about my grandson’s future and it’s time for change — now,” Gould said.

Amy Gaubinger of Hudson, Massachusetts, along with her husband and infant daughter, marched “to make school a safe place for little Anna,” who attended the march strapped into a Baby Bjorn.

At the Amherst Common, the march was rounded off by a set of songs performed by the “Raging Grannies,” a group of local elderly women. They riffed off of classic patriotic songs by replacing the lyrics with explicit anti-NRA sentiments.

Sue Alexander, center right, the conductor of the Raging Grannies singing group, speaks about voting rights and fighting the NRA on gun control laws during Amherst's version of the global March for Our Lives event. (Caroline O'Connor/Collegian)

Teacher Karen Schumer and her husband, who wielded a heart-shaped poster stating, “Kindness is the new sexy,” believe in the power of the young voice.

“I think the entire world should be run about kids,” Schumer said. “I've been a teacher for many, many years, and I think that the kids have the power to change things, and I'm right behind them. I have a lot of faith in [this] generation — a lot of hope.”

One demonstrator holds a sign, stating, "Kids who are lucky enough to go to school shouldn't have to worry about whether or not they'll make it home," at the March for Our Lives event in Northampton. (Annabelle Tocco/Collegian)

Northampton

Students, children, teachers and people from all backgrounds and ages participated in a March from Northampton High School to Northampton City Hall, where an estimated 1,500 people then gathered to listen to student speakers and musicians from the Pioneer Valley.

The event was organized by the Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control, a coalition of students advocating for reform. The students stated that the goal of the march was to bring people together over such tragedies, rather than tear them apart, and to strive for a change in legislation in years to come. Before the march, they handed out dozens of pre-made picket signs.

Student leader Jesse Zeldes said their goal was to begin with getting Bill H.3610 passed; the act aims to temporarily prevent firearm access for extremely dangerous or suicidal individuals.

“It’s a red flag law,” Zeldes said. “This would allow persons close to someone they believe is a security risk to file a petition to have an extreme risk protective order passed, preventing them from purchasing, owning or using firearms for 10 months.”

“These protective orders are just the start,” Northampton High School student, gymnast and school democratic chapter member Tadea Martin-Gonzalez said. “We want common sense gun legislation beyond that.”

The right to vote was heavily pushed throughout the march, with many students encouraging others to register to vote, or to vote and contact their legislators if they are able to already. Middle and high school students wore name tags but instead of a name, the tags stated, “I VOTE,” followed by the year they will be legally allowed to vote in the United States.

Protesters walked on the pavement and sidewalks throughout downtown Northampton, and traffic was limited to one lane. Some cars honked and waved the crowd on. Residents on the route emerged with their own signs of support. Some kitchen workers in their aprons and rubber gloves observed from the parking lots of their restaurants.

Gary Briere rode his bike from Sunderland to see his hometown high school in their demonstration.

“I graduated in 1973, so we had the Vietnam War. So, there were plenty of protests,” Briere said. “But I don’t remember anything quite like this, particularly led by the students. It’s just so inspiring.”

During the march, dozens of individuals began chants. Simultaneously, in different parts of the march, there were various messages: “Not one more” and “No more silence. End gun violence” to “Black lives matter” and “Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids have you killed today?”

The crowd converged in front of the Northampton city hall building. Police formed a blockade, and traffic going through the center of Northampton was halted.

Demonstrators march down the streets of Northampton as part of the global March for Our Lives event, stopping to stand in front of the Northampton city hall building. (Annabelle Tocco/Collegian)

After a few other students and community members spoke and other demonstrators chanted, “Enough is enough,” two students from Northampton High School organized a sing-along to “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen. The verses were replaced by 17 sentences, one dedicated to each of the victims of the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School shooting.

“It is time for the children to save all of us.”
Students hold up cardboard tombstones in front of Northampton city hall as a symbol for all those killed in past school shootings. (Annabelle Tocco)

Tears streamed down the faces of participants both young and old. A minute of silence followed. Much of the public took a knee or lay flat on the ground with the students. Then, local poet Jane Muellen and Smith Academy junior Abigail Davey took the stage to read a poem and incite a call to action.

“It is time for the children to save all of us,” Muellen said. “We will walk with you, we will talk the talk with you, we will put an end to the gun nuts, the NRA and all those who put our lives in danger.”

As Muellen and Davey descended the stage, a call of “We’ve got your back” was heard from the crowd.

Anne Thalheimer, a Holyoke resident and survivor of the Simon’s Rock College shooting in 1992, then took the stage to speak on behalf of the Moms Demand Action.

“The reason things are going to change is because we are going to vote out of office those that don’t protect us,” Thalheimer said.

Mother and survivor of 1992 Simon's Rock shooting at Bard College Anne Thalheimer addresses the crowd at Northampton's March for Our Lives event. (Annabelle Tocco/Collegian)

The Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control is in contact with student leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School regarding a future National Day of Legislative Action. They plan to cooperate with advocates in all 50 states to report to their own state houses in another demonstration.

Washington D.C.

In Washington D.C., the streets were filled with marchers beginning as early as 8 a.m., flooding toward the Capital building.

“Today we’re marching to get stricter gun laws, and we want change in schools,” Cherrell Carr, a freshman taking technician classes at Northern Virginia Community College, said when asked before the march about the reason why she came to D.C.; her friend Serena Corbin, a junior studying cyber security at NOVA, nodded in agreement.

Demonstrators march through the streets of Washington D.C. as part of the global March for Our Lives event. (Claire Healy/Collegian)

“We obviously need to start changing things because too many innocent people are dying, especially children,” Corbin said. “That’s a really huge problem and add that to the fact that the people high above us aren’t doing anything about it, that’s why we’re participating in the march, hopefully to open everybody else’s eyes.”

Even before the march, they were hopeful about its outcome. Corbin said, “I believe that the march will definitely make a lot of positive changes. Hopefully it will inspire people to help us out with this movement that we’ve all created.”

“There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to pass common sense gun reform that over 80 percent of Americans support,” Riley Knight, a freshman at Indiana University, said when asked about his motivation for coming to the march.

Demonstrators carry hand-made signs as they march through the streets of Washington D.C. during the March for Our Lives event. (Claire Healy/Collegian)

Speeches started a little after noon and ended at 3 p.m. They were delivered by a range of adolescents — all impacted by traumatic experiences with gun violence. The event started with a rendition of “Rise Up” from Andra Day, who performed the song with a Baltimore middle school choir. While the event hosted a number of celebrities, they largely refrained from speeches, leaving that to the students.

The Parkland students were joined by student speakers from Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C, Montgomery County, Alexandria and Stratford. Survivors of the Sandy Hook Shooting also spoke, standing in solidarity with the Parkland students. Many other speakers discussed gun violence in urban areas and communities of color. One such speaker was Zion Kelly, who lost his twin brother to gun violence and another was Edna Chavez, who also lost her brother.

Two of the youngest speakers, Naomi Wadler and Christopher Underwood, were only 11 years old. Wadler said that she “represent[s] the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”

The youngest speaker was Yolanda King. At just nine years old, King is the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. She called for a “gun-free world.”

Speeches expressed calls for unity and nonviolence across America, such as those of Alex King and D’Angelo McDade. The last speech was made by Emma González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who stood on stage for around six minutes — the duration of the shooting at Parkland — mostly in silence, with tears streaming down her face.

“When I started thinking about going to the march, I was a little hesitant because in D.C., there are Black and brown kids getting shot and killed every single day, and the media never pays any attention to them,” Maya Woods-Arthur, a student at Washington Latin Public Charter School, said when reflecting on how the march went.

“So, I was a little skeptical about how the ‘Never Again’ kids would bring attention to that. But they talked a lot about that today, so I’m really happy with how the march went. Going forward, I hope a lot of teenagers and people my age register to vote, especially in the 2018 midterms, and we keep protesting, and we keep publicizing who gets money from the NRA,” she added.

Three high school juniors from McLean, Virginia, shared their feelings of empowerment and awe in the wake of the march.

“I’m honestly amazed about the power of words and the power of actions, and the fact that this whole event was organized by young people — by people our age— just says so much and it makes me so hopeful for the future,” Ruby Larimer said.

“I’m so inspired to try and enact change,” Kaiti Bachman said. “Just seeing everyone who spoke today, and all of the people affected by gun violence, you know that this really is something that is going to affect our future, and we need to act now.”

Bryn Kirk added, “I’m empowered by today’s event, and I’m ready to take action.”

"I think that it went incredibly well — I cried through the whole thing. It’s hard though, I just lost a student. The girl’s name they called out up there, Tiana Thompson, we were really close to."

The speeches culminated with singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, who lost her brother and nephew to gun violence, singing “The Times They Are a-Changin'.” She was soon joined on stage by the teenage speakers who were impacted by gun violence, while the crowd chanted, “We want change.”

“I think it went very well — it was real cathartic. I’m from the Southside of Chicago, so I’ve witnessed a lot of gun violence growing up. I lost a student a few months ago to gun violence here in D.C., so this was important to me that we all come together as one unit to fight this,” said Yolanda Whitted, a teacher at the Washington Global Public Charter School.

“I think that it went incredibly well — I cried through the whole thing. It’s hard though, I just lost a student. The girl’s name they called out up there, Tiana Thompson, we were really close to, and I just moved to D.C., so it was hard,” Whitted added. “I teach middle school now, but it’s just tough [because] I know that all my kids are scared. It’s tough for me; I’m a teacher and I can’t do anything about it. I’m never gonna leave the classroom, but I also have a 10-year-old. I fear for him. Because now he has to do lockdown drills. I’ve never heard of such a thing when I was a kid. So, I think this is an important beginning of what we need to do. We need to keep this momentum going.”

For hours after the march, people walked around carrying signs. A young boy held a sign with a drawing of an eye that had the word “justice” in the middle, and the caption “I see justice in the Future.” On his shoulder was a sticker that read, “227 days until Midterm Elections.” Two trucks drove around with quotes on the side; one read, “‘When did America become a place where students are scared to go to school?’ - Students of Colorado.” The other read, “2nd Amendment: written when a black person was counted as 3/5 of a person. Things change.”

Demonstrators carry hand-made signs as they march through the streets of Washington D.C. during the March for Our Lives event. (Claire Healy/Collegian)

“Don’t let it end here,” Whitted said.

Members of the news staff can be reached at news@dailycollegian.com.

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