Nearly 200 people, mostly students, gathered on the southern steps of the Rhode Island State House to once again demand changes to state and federal laws surrounding guns. The event was planned for the anniversary of last year’s March for Our Lives rally, which brought around 5000 people to the State House. Last year’s event was inspired by the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and the amazing activism of the student survivors there.
The speeches delivered by the young people who organized this year’s event were every bit as moving and needed as last year. The politicians who showed up, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Representative Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich) and Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) were appreciated by the young, soon to be voters. (There were tables in back to register young people to vote.) Also attending, but not speaking, were Representatives Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence), Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth) and Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence) and Providence City President Sabina Matos (Ward 15).
Below is video of all the speakers at the event.
Tori Richard acted as emcee for the event. She is a student and co-founder of March for Our Lives RI.
“…every day I see students just like me protesting in the streets because their brother was gunned down in math class,” said Francesca Binder, a Junior at Classical High School in Providence. “I see teens, just like me, building a revolution before they can even vote… gun violence is a poison, a virus…”
“We have something now we haven’t had before. We have an amazing group of young revolutionaries, an inspiring, heroic, legendary lot of people ready to do whatever it takes to make this country a safer place,” said Miguel Figueroa, a Chilean social activist and member of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) and Students Demand Action. “And we’re out here, showing our strength, and scaring the shit out of our out of touch friends in the State House…”
Representative Justine Caldwell is the House sponsor of a bill to ban assault weapons and a bill to ban high capacity magazines. She has also introduced a bill requiring that gun owners store their guns safely.
“As the sponsor of those bills, I hear people telling us that this isn’t our moment,” said Caldwell. “The political will isn’t there. The opposition is too strong, too active. The issue is just too divisive. We’ll have a better chance in the future.
“But in this case, it’s truer than ever that justice delayed, is justice denied…”
“If New Zealand can acknowledge their weakness in gun control, then why can’t we?” asked Savannah Melo, a 17 year old student from Blackstone Valley Prep. “How many shootings must there be for the American government to see how incredibly embarrassing it is to live in the ‘land of the free?'”
After a perfomance by the What Cheer? Brigade, Classical High School student Victoria Figueroa and Francesca Binder sang “Youth” by Shawn Mendes:
“The first time I ever thought that someone could walk into my school and shoot me and my peers, was after Sandy Hook in 2012. I was 10, and in the fourth grade,” said Classical High School student Xavier Copeland, one of the co-founders of March for Our Lives RI. “Sandy Hook was over six years ago, and since then, many more crimes have happened in this country we call home.”
“Our kids deserve to be safe,” said Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune. “Our kids deserve to be protected and our legislators should take it seriously.”
“Being young and not being a revolutionary is a biological contradiction,” said 12 year old Cole Middle School student Eduardo Figueroa, quoting Salvador Allende. “Us young people will not stand by as people die across the country and we sure as hell won’t be silent.”
“We cannot depend on a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Life is not that simple,” said Norah Levinson, a freshman at Classical High School, a member of March for Our Lives RI, RICAGV and Plannned Parenthood Youth Empowerment. “If we have the maturity to recognize that, so should our lawmakers!”
“When you look at me do you see a student or a target? I am only 14 years old, why am I creating an emergency school shooting contact list?” asked Jaychele Schneck, a member of Young Voices and March for Our Lives RI. “After Sandy Hook we said ‘never again’ and then we let 100 more mass shootings happen… Who’s next? Me? My brother? My mother? My sister or nephew?”
“We have to put our words into action,” said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. “I want to give a big shout out to each and every one of you for being active, for being involved, for being engaged, and making sure that we have common sense gun control in our state, and in our country.”
Aleita Cook is a member of the Providence Student Union and involved in their Counselors Not Cops campaign.
“I stand here before you today,” said Cook, “because I feel we need to increase the amount of mental health support staff in schools and remove school resource officers from schools…
“The people who should be in schools are nurse, counselors, social workers. At my school, we only have three guidance counselors and one social worker, for a population of six hundred students…
“I have seen what a cop can do with a gun outside of school, they do not protect me or make me feel safe. As a black teenager who lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, I would get afraid to walk home alone and worry if a cop will stop me. They do not create a safe environment outside of schools, never mind in schools…”
“If the tragedy that just occurred in New Zealand isn’t the final reminder that we need, it’s about time we have comprehensive, common sense gun control pass here in our state and throughout the United States of America. It’s about time!” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.
Ashley Rodriguez, a senior at the Met High School in Providence and a student leader in the One Gun Gone project, read her poem, “Fear is my Friend.”
The final student speaker was Halima Ibrahim, who last year knocked out the crowd with her poem, “Wake Up!“
This year she presented a new poem, “The Hero’s Journey.” Here are a few lines:
When you asked us what we wished for we said world peace.
When you asked us who we wanted to be when we grew up we said the first female presidents.
We said pirates and princesses and superheroes.
Do not expect us to be quiet while we watch our world be destroyed.
Do not be surprised when we decide to make those dreams a reality.
Do not be surprised when we stand up and fight. Do not be surprised when we call BS.
The pirates are going to take back the nation. The superheroes are going to lead the world to peace. The princesses are going to rule.
We are not the school shooting generation. We are not the Tide Pod generation.
We are the revolutionaries. We rise up…
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