Demonstrating islanders make their up the main highway as part of the March for Our Lives event on Saturday. (Kent Phelan Photo)

Demonstrating islanders make their up the main highway as part of the March for Our Lives event on Saturday. (Kent Phelan Photo)

Hundreds turn out for gun safety march

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets coast-to-coast last Saturday as part of March for Our Lives demonstrations, including hundreds on Vashon, all seeking stronger gun laws.

The crowd gathered at Vashon High School, made its way to Chautauqua and McMurray, where it picked up school district officials participating in interviews for the new superintendent, then headed to the highway and into town. At the Village Green, high school senior Iris Sackman addressed the crowd.

“We are the thunder before the lightning,” she said. “We are creating change. We are the coming generation, and we have had enough. We are making sure that gun violence is never the elephant in the room again.”

Leading the throng most the way there were school board members and principal Danny Rock. It was coincidental that he ended up there, he said, but he was glad to be in that position, carrying the March for Our Lives banner..

“I do want people to know there is a strong sentiment from myself and others in the district on this issue,” he said.

He noted that district leaders took a measured approach to the walkout on March 14. While he said he believed that was the right approach for that day, he felt constrained in expressing his personal beliefs — which he expressed by marching Saturday.

He added that he believes society must address who has access to guns, which guns people have access to and how guns are affecting school-age children.

“Our politicians have failed to address this through policy, and they need to fix it through policy,” he said Monday.

Islander Kevin Jones was one of the organizers of the event, and he did a rough count as the group was walking to town. He tallied about 350 people. In town, after others had joined the marchers along the way, Bruce Haulman did another count and came up with more than 400.

“It exceeded my expectations,” Jones said.

Preparation for the march began Friday afternoon, when McMurray teacher Patty Gregorich hosted a sign-making party at the Backbone Campaign’s quarters in the Sheffield Building

She said she hosted the event because she was “sad and concerned” that only about 50 high school students participated in the earlier walkout and wanted to support them taking action the next day.

“I want them to feel compelled to do so. I want them to feel their voices matter and are needed,” she said.

Early on in the poster-making session, two McMurray students, Eva Cain and Sofie Merrigan were there.

Eva said she was inspired by high school activist Emma Gonzales. She added that she has thought about the possibility of gun violence at school — and believes more communication is needed.

“The school has never told us how they are going to keep us safe, and I think we have a right to know,” she said.

Sofie added her thoughts.

“When we go through lockdown drills, there is never an explanation of what they (school officials) would do,” she said. “They do not prepare us as well as they could.”

School district nurse Sarah Day was there, as well.

“I am glad for the opportunity to express my opinion about a public health emergency,” she said.

She noted that the shootings increase anxiety for many students — and figure into her planning and preparations.

“We had to buy tourniquets, for God’s sake,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to buy tourniquets.”

The next day — under blue skies — the marchers were noticeably older — not the teens that were such an organizing force for this event nationwide.

For her part, Sackman said she stepped in because she sensed a vacuum.

“Someone needs to do something,” she said, adding: “Since no one else was doing anything, I wanted to … speak on behalf of students who might not be willing.”

She added that while few high school students attended the island march, several went to the march in Seattle — but others were not engaged.

“I think that in general a problem with my generation can be apathy,” she said. “We think it does not affect us or is not something we have to advocate for.”

She also noted many students are busy — she is the co-president of the Queer-Staight Alliance, tutors and is busy with school. For many students — including her — there can be little time left over for other pursuits. But the subject of gun safety is resonating.

“As I talk more about it, and watch the speeches, it becomes something I care more about it,” she added.

Estimates are that there were about 20 teachers in Saturday’s crowd, including McMurray teacher Stephanie Detwiler, who experienced a school shooting in the 1990s as a teacher in Seattle. No one was killed, but many shots were fired.

“What has changed since then is that now kids have assault weapons,” she said.

She thinks about the possibility of a school shooting on Vashon every time the school does a lockdown drill and every time another shooting occurs in a school.

She added that she is hopeful about the latest surge of attention to this issue.

“I am impressed with the young people. And I am embarrassed by the rest of us,” she said.

Some at the march are questioning what comes next.

One woman at the march was wearing a sign for the national group Moms Demand Action, which will hold a meeting on Vashon this evening — Wednesday — at 7 p.m. at a public building near town. The Washington chapter of the group will send speakers and educators to the meeting to inform islanders how to start a chapter.

People interested in attending can learn more about the group and get the location at act.everytown.org/event/moms-demand-action-event/10421/signup.

Additionally, Jones said that earlier this month, he convened a conversation about gun safety with a variety of island activist groups. Now that effort is broadening for continued conversation and action on Vashon regarding increased gun safety.

“Hopefully, we will find people from a broad spectrum,” he said.

More information will follow as that work progresses.

Oftentimes, conversations about gun safety end in accusations that those advocating for change are trying to take away all guns, which was not the intent of Saturday’s march.

Along the way, islander Deb Dammann carried a “Never Again” sign. She recounted how as a young bride, intending to live off the land in the 1970s, she asked for — and received — two “beautiful” shotguns as a wedding gift.

Guns themselves are not the problem, she added, walking with the crowd.

“It’s the murder we object to,” she said.

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