“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the fear of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” said students Wednesday at the Rhode Island State House. Hundreds of students from over a dozen schools gathered, first on the back steps, then inside in the rotunda for a loud and entirely peaceful demonstration demanding that elected leaderships pass meaningful gun law reform.
Organized primarily by the Providence Student Union (with organizational backup from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, especially Kat Kerwin) and in concert with similar walkouts across the country, the students demanded that legislators:
- Ban guns from schools. All guns, period.
- Ban assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines. Require background checks.
- Increase school counselors and clinicians, not police in schools
- Increase services to reduce gun violence in all communities
“We’re the generation of change,” said Virginia Georgiev of Classical High School. “We’re the generation of prosperity. We’re ready to make sure that these policies that need to be implemented to protect these communities are implemented.”
Georgiev recounted meeting a man at the State House who told her that, “gun control measures were a form of subjugation on the American people by the government.” Georgiev did not engage with the man at the time, but if that man is “somehow listening to her today,” she wants him to know that, for her, “gun control is not a means to subjugate, it is a means to survive.”
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“If we cannot feel safe in a place of education, where can we feel safe?” asked Classical High School student Max Schmidhauser. “We cannot allow our leaders to rollover for money. Get the NRA out of our politics!”
“The idea of having to fear being shot in our classrooms has been instilled in our minds,” said Met High School student Audrey O’Donnell. The reality is, I still dwell on that same thought…”
“My peers and I are from the generation of survivors and unanswered prayers,” said Taiwo Demola from Classical High School. “We are from the generation of scared kids, worried parents and check-in phone calls. We are from the generation of lock down drills. We are from the generation of never again hashtags repeated over and over and over again…
“To all the young people here today: We are the ones inheriting the future. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that our country is moving in a direction that reflects our beliefs and our values.”
Classical High School seniors Latifat Odetunde and Thania Merlain rewrote the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I pledge allegiance to the fact that gun violence in US tops the rest of the world, and to the Republic, for which it stands, a divided nation, under a government that lacks the decency to advocate for a system with liberty and justice for all…
“The second amendment protects the right to bear arms, but it didn’t protect the bodies that have already been harmed.”
“How do you put out a fire?” asked Odetunde.
“Do you light more matches?” asked Merlain.
“How do you stop school shootings?” asked Odetunde.
“Do you arm the teachers?” asked Merlain.
“How do you better a community?” asked Odetunde.
“Do you ignore the daily violence?” asked Merlain.
“everyone goes silent when shooting happens in the hood,” said Odetunde. “But when a shooting happens in the suburbs, we all go insane.”
“We stand with Sandy Hook, Parkland and Columbine,” said Odetunde and Merlain, together.
“But we need to keep that same energy for urban communities when things pop off and get out of line,” finished Merlain.
The pair then listed off a series of five shootings that happened in Providence in January.
“Where was the outrage,” asked Merlain. “Where was the coverage?”
“It’s funny how mental health is only brought up when a white person is holding a gun, but that’s beside the point,” said Odetunde. “If mental health is the problem in school shootings, where are the counselors to detect these signs?”
“More counselors, less cops on school grounds equals safer schools,” said Merlain.
“More community leaders, less complacency, equals safer neighborhoods,” said Odetunde.
“More coverage of local violence, less ignorance, equals legislation being passed,” said Merlain.
“Every day, I fear that at some point, in my next two years of high school, it won’t be old age or illness that kills me, but a bullet,” said Xavier Copeland, sophomore at Classical High School. “Believe me when I say this: We will keep fighting, we will keep protesting and we will make a change.”
Classical High School student Grace Kelly said, “I used to believe in leaders, the people who say they will protect us, but never act. But I refuse to become another hashtag or percentage on your screen. I believe in leaders, but not the ones on TV. The ones directly in front of me. The ones who called BS. We the believer hold in our hands change, growth and strength. We are the true leaders who stand up against gun violence and stand for gun control.
“We protect our people, not our guns.”
“We all have a dream, together, that one day these shootings will stop. One day, all these lives will be spared. And our children can learn in peace, once more.”
“My problem was that the message is focused on gun violence in schools, but little do we speak about gun violence in communities… I’ve worn the tee shirts with my friends on it. I’ve seen what a gun can do to a family. I’ve seen what a gun can do to a person. And I seen what a gun can do to a community.”
Storm, a senior at Met High School, sang the rally to a close.
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