Students March for Gun Control in Washington D.C.
Issue   |   Tue, 04/03/2018 - 19:28
Photo courtesy of Natalie De Rosa '21
Students traveled to Washington D.C. with the Amherst College Democrats to participate in the National March For Our Lives on March 24. The march supported the creation of stronger gun control legislation.

Forty Amherst students travelled to Washington D.C. to participate in the national March For Our Lives on March 24. The trip, which was sponsored by the Amherst College Democrats, called on policymakers to enact stronger gun control legislation.

The Washington D.C. march was organized by victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The massacre, one of the deadliest school shootings in the nation’s history, killed 17 people and injured 14 others.

The Amherst College Democrats had initially planned to attend the March for Science on April 14 to advocate for the use of science-based evidence in federal policymaking. In the wake of the Parkland massacre, however, the organization decided that the gun control debate held greater urgency.

“The gun violence epidemic in this country got a lot of national attention and focus on it, and [the march] was something we were all very excited about participating in,” said Alexander Deatrick ’20, president of the Amherst College Democrats.

The importance of the gun control debate in recent weeks was evident at the march, which gathered over 800,000 people, with hundreds of thousands of others participating in 800 other sister marches throughout the world.

March for Our Lives also gained celebrity attention, with musicians like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande performing at the event.

Students from Parkland, along with others impacted by gun violence, gave speeches advocating for stronger gun control laws following these performances.

The event’s first speaker was Cameron Kasky, a junior at Stoneman Douglas. Kasky, known for challenging Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s acceptance of donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA), questioned the intent of Washington’s legislators.

“The corrupt are manipulating the facts, but we know the truth,” Kasky said.

Sarah Chadwick, also a junior at Stoneman Douglas, echoed Kasky’s sentiments in her speech, asking, “Is that how much we’re worth to these politicians? One dollar and five cents?” That figure is the amount of money Rubio accepted from the NRA, divided by the total number of students in Florida.

Last month, Chadwick vocalized her disapproval of Rubio’s ties to the NRA, tweeting, “We should change the names of AR-15s to ‘Marco Rubio’ because they are so easy to buy.”

There were also calls for the Trump administration as a whole to take action.

“We cannot keep America great if we cannot keep America safe,” said Jaclyn Corin, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The comment is a spin on President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

Following the speeches, demonstrators chanted “Vote them out,” calling for the election of pro-gun control legislators in the upcoming 2018 midterms.

Protesters rallied behind these calls, raising signs with phrases like “Thoughts and prayers to NRA-backed politicians on Nov. 6” and “GOP, thought you were pro-life.”

Along with calls for legislative action, speakers used their time to share their experiences with gun violence.

The Stoneman Douglas activists were joined by students who have been impacted by gun violence, either in or outside of school settings.

Matthew Soto, who was a sophomore at Newtown High School in Connecticut at the time of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, opened up on the death of his sister.

“At the age of 15, I sat in my high school Spanish class while my sister, Victoria Soto, was being slaughtered in her classroom in Newtown, Connecticut,” Soto said.

Other students shared their experiences with gun violence outside of school. Edna Chavez, a 17-year-old from Los Angeles, recounted the murder of her brother.

“I have lived in south Los Angeles my entire life and have lost many loved ones to gun violence. This is normal. It’s normal to the point that I learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read,” Chavez recalled. “Ricardo was his name, can y’all say it with me?”

The march ended with a speech from Emma Gonzalez, one of the lead organizers of the march. In her speech, she listed the names of all of those killed in the Parkland shooting, then stood silent.

After a four and a half minutes of silence, Gonzalez revealed that she had been on stage for a total of six minutes and 20 seconds, the amount of time it took for gunman Nikolas Cruz to murder 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Gonzalez later tweeted about her silence, writing, “The fact that people think the silence was six minutes ... imagine how long it would have felt if it actually was 6 minutes, or how it would feel if you had to hide during that silence.”

Rose Mroczka ’21, who attended the march, said she valued the message the event’s speakers presented. “Being able to hear such a diverse and thoughtful group of young leaders speak was eye opening,” she said. “Hopefully after the march, Americans will see that action needs to be taken to prevent gun violence.”

Anna Kanengiser ’21 also found the march impactful, hoping that it would lead to further legislative action.

“The mass numbers of people who were mobilized to call for gun control was inspiring and I think a clear call on legislators to act,” she said.

Travelling back to Amherst from Washington, Deatrick emphasized the importance this national issue has on the college community.

“The important thing to recognize is that the gun violence epidemic is something that seems to strike at random places at random times,” he said. “In that sense this march and this movement are tied to Amherst in that it really is a national movement that impacts everyone.”

He also mentioned ways in which Amherst students could continue to involve themselves in activism, even if they did not attend the march.

“I think the best way to get involved is to find a group – I have a bias for the AC Dems,” Deatrick noted. He also referred to the Direct Action Coordinating Committee (DACC) and the Roosevelt Institute as on-campus organizations that students could involve themselves with.

“Always just think about, whether it’s on campus or through the local Five College community or in the country, what is it that you want to change and how do you think you can put together a coalition that could change that,” Deatrick said.