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March for Our Lives - Rochester

by Patrick Doyle - Contributing Writer
Tue, Mar 27th 2018 09:15 pm

On Saturday, March 24, students from all over Monroe County converged on Washington Square Park in downtown Rochester, New York. Some were driving their first cars to get there.  Others were led by their parents while holding up signs larger than their own bodies. Others simply followed the familiar route from their own homes.

Although they came from a wide variety of backgrounds, the students who participated in the Rochester March for Our Lives protest all had the same goal: gun control now, more student activism in the future.

“I want young people to assume leadership roles, I want young people to be civically engaged, and I want young people to be taken seriously,” said Dylan Holcomb, a Brighton High School senior who organized the protest.

From a stage in front of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Holcomb addressed a crowd of 5,000 protestors. He was the first of many young speakers to stand in solidarity with a movement born out of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. 

Every speaker talked of fear that they would be affected by the next mass shooting and of anger at what they saw as inaction from lawmakers. One student spoke from experience.

“We texted our families with shaky hands as the news came in that there was a shooting at one of our elementary schools,” College at Brockport student Rebecca Oberstadt said.

Oberstadt was a high school student when her hometown, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, was upended with tragedy. She said she wasn’t ashamed of what happened in her hometown, but she was ashamed that nothing was done in the intervening years to curb the persistent threat of school shootings. It was a message that resonated with the crowd.

“We shouldn’t have to think that our lives are in danger daily when we go to school,” Newark High School student Tatum Arnold said.

Arnold stood with a sign that said “Am I Next?” tucked under her arm. She said March for Our Lives was her first protest and she was motivated because she didn’t want to be afraid to go to school.  

She was one of many first-time protesters who turned their fears into action. Their fresh energy reverberated in the air throughout the rally. Each speaker was met with boisterous cheering and applause.

That energy didn’t fade as protestors filed out of the park and into the streets for a brief march. They chanted “enough is enough,” the movement’s rallying cry. 

It’s a slogan that reflects how student protestors are fed up with what they see as an easily fixable problem.

“We’ve seen, time and time again, people abandon this issue,” Allendale Columbia High School student Gabe Rosen said. “But now that it’s fresh in our minds we can really take a stand.” 

Like many of the protestors, Rosen attended with a group of fellow students and parents. It was incredibly common to see large swaths of the same school colors marching together in the crowd. This may be the secret to this movement’s strength: young people already operate in groups, but they are now bolstered by the community to organize.

This community support is, in a way, a continuation of Rochester’s history as a destination for civil dissent. The city was home to abolitionist and orator, Frederick Douglass, and women’s rights icon, Susan B. Anthony. Their names and actions are taught with reverence in the very schools the protesters now seek to make safer.

Having taken their lessons to heart, students are writing the next chapter in Rochester protest history. They met in the same park that has been used as the city’s communal gathering space for over a century, marched the same well-trodden streets their forebears had and spoke their minds in the tradition of so many great Rochestarians.  

Rochester March for Our Lives wasn’t about reflecting on the past. These students have taken the reigns and are focused on the future. The future was the 5,000 people who flooded the streets and made their voices heard.

As Oberstadt said, “We, as a generation, are spearheading this movement and saying what many adults are too afraid to say.”

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