March For Our Lives – the “Take-Away”

With the most racially- and multiculturally-diverse presenters in Oregon memory, March for Our Lives brought together thousands passionate about school shootings on March 24.

Who were these speakers?  What did they look like?  What backgrounds and cultural groups did they represent?  This is perhaps the most remarkable and moving message of Salem Weekly’s  “take-away” from the event.  The March showed true diversity in action.

Student Allison Hmura – Photo by Greg Zurbrugg

There was Allison Hmura, sophomore class president at South Salem High School, with her long blond hair, standing straight and tall and giving a powerful, well-reasoned speech with passion and focus.  Sounding as if she had been speaking to crowds of 3,000 for years.  There was Raul Marquez, McKay High School senior, a Latino speaking clearly about the need to outlaw assault weapons, and drawing attention to the special levels of fear experienced daily by Latino youth.  He spoke of the DACA youth and of their families.

There was Julian Holman, a middle school student from Howard Street Charter School.  Another student speaker with skills and polish amazing in one so young.   He spoke about the fears of gun violence felt daily by all students, and especially about the high numbers of LGBTQ youth who have been killed by guns.  He spoke of the PULSE night club massacre and about the high numbers of assaults on the LGBTQ community in general.  There was Zyel Crier, black high school junior, taking the mike and, with no accompaniment, singing a professional rendition of “I Can’t Keep Quiet.”

Raul Marquez -Photo by Greg Zurbrugg

Moving far beyond the steps of the state capitol, the energy of the huge crowd was electric.  It was part of a vast March For Our Lives happening simultaneously in hundreds of cities around the world and throughout the USA.  Here in Salem the tone was both peaceful and forceful.  The leaders were young, a generation of youth not heard from before.  Turns out they are mature, focused, articulate, intelligent, and inclusive.   From the beginning, it was clear this event was different.  The youth were there!  Their parents were there!  Their grandparents were there!

Then they started speaking.  What did they say?   We demand change – change to a more sane society, to a community where school kids don’t hide in fear of military grade assault rifles cutting them down.  How can we get that?  We demand our legislators enact laws outlawing assault rifles and bump stocks in Oregon.  We demand background checks for all gun purchases.  We demand the age to purchase any guns be raised to 21.  We will get youth registered to vote.  We will work to increase voter turnout.  We will campaign.  We will organize.  We will stay connected with the national movement to outlaw assault weapons.  They were believable.   This force is here to stay.

Adults also spoke and added their strength to the cries for reform of current gun laws.  Both Oregon senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, sent messages in support of the rally.  Both senators proudly stated they accept no money from the National Rifle Association.  Loud cheers of approval followed the reading of these statements.  Paul Evans, Oregon State Representative from District 20, said he supports responsible gun owners having rifles for sports hunting, but is not in favor of assault rifles being available outside the military.

Deb Patterson, candidate for State Senator, District 10 spoke strongly in protest of assault rifles.  She said she was heading soon to a funeral – a funeral of an elderly woman who had lived a rich full life and had died a peaceful death.  Deb said, That is the death we all hope for.  May we never again attend funerals for our youth, those dealt violent deaths by gunmen with assault weapons, while their lives had not yet been lived.  May we never again hear of deadly shootings in schools, restaurants, and other venues meant to be peaceful.

Shelasswau Crier, Candidate for Marion County Commissioner, spoke passionately against gun violence and the laws and leaders that allow it.  She mentioned that her opponent has a 100% approval rating from the NRA during his time in the Oregon legislature.  She called for a new day of peace and safety.

And finally, the overwhelming power of seeing Janet Perkins stand silently between Beck Danner of McNary High School and Wylie Thompson of Sprague High School as they read her statement about her son Quinton Perkins who lost his life at age 18 to the shooter at Umpqua Community College.  Yes, Never Again!!  Not one More!!  Join our youth as they continue to March For Our Lives.