Voices of Resistance Ring Out in Downtown Albany
|Marchers in Albany take to the streets demanding changes to gun laws.|
More than 5,000 students, parents, teachers, lawmakers and people of all ages, from all parts of the state gathered in Albany’s West Capitol Park on Saturday, March 24 to lend their voices to the “March for Our Lives” rallies taking place in more than 800 cities nationally. The Albany march was the result of the combined efforts of students from across the Capital District region in conjunction with Moms Demand Action.
Hundreds of signs, with messages ranging from “Fire Politicians, Not Guns,” to “Resist, Enough,” to “Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough,” were toted by protestors as the large but peaceful group gathered to hear speeches from student organizers, members of Moms Demand Action and local lawmakers and politicians, including Patricia Fahey, Phil Steck, and Paul Tonko.
Protesters listened as students told stories of their own experiences with gun violence in schools, in their neighborhoods and on the streets. Lisa Goode, a member of Mom’s Demand Action, talked about her activism in the community and her firsthand experience in dealing with the bleak aftermath of guns. “I have seen firsthand, at the bedsides and gravesides of victims, its devastating impact.”
Another student organizer, Columbia High School junior, Cindy Lumiere said she was a sixth grader when the Sandy Hook massacre took place. She recalled that she was laughing with her friends in her mom’s car on their way to a party, when her mother told them that the Newtown Elementary students had been killed. “I didn’t even know what to say. So, I just stared out the car window.”
She went on to talk about the shooting that took place in her own school in 2004, when a “disturbed and depressed” student fired three shots in the school. She said that he had managed to hide 20 gunshot shells into a boys’ bathroom. She also said that, while many people have forgotten the event, her school is now like a fortress and she and her fellow students continue to worry about it happening again.
“But this time, I think something might change, because we are the change,” she said.
Others echoed Lumiere’s sentiments, calling for a ban on assault rifles, bump stocks, enhanced background checks, the ability to notify law enforcement when an individual fails a background check, and the passage of “Extreme Risk Protection Orders,” which would give law enforcement the ability to remove guns from individuals who pose a clear and present potential for violence, particularly in domestic situations.
Several speakers talked about the importance of funding to research the uniquely American phenomenon of gun violence and mental health issues. They decried the government’s failure to fund the CDC and other organizations to study the issues and find ways to improve access to and accountability for mental health in schools and communities. One speaker said that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be the perpetrators. Others, including Tonko, talked about the importance of addressing the issue of bullying and helping children who are isolated and ostracized.
Bethlehem High School senior, Lydia Martel told the crowd that she turned 18 years old three days after the Parkland shooting occurred. “I could still purchase a gun. And I promised myself that I never would. My name is Lydia Martel, I’m 18 years old and I’m tired. I’m tired of hearing that I’m too young to have an opinion. I’m tired of hearing I’m too young to know what I’m talking about. Let me remind everyone that it was America’s youth who created the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protest. I’m tired of hearing that a good guy with a gun is the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun, and I’m tired of saying goodbye to my parents and worrying about never seeing them again.”
Many other students gave similarly impassioned and rousing speeches to the crowd of enthusiastic supporters. Some people came from as far as Utica, Binghamton and Syracuse. One trio of women made the trip from Utica because they said it was important that they attend an event in the state capitol. One of those women, Francine Zupp, is a member of the National Rifle Association and is licensed to carry a concealed weapon. She said that her husband is also an NRA member, but they both agree that sensible gun regulation is necessary to protect not only students, but also people attending concerts or going to movie theaters. Her traveling companion, Jan Marcy, suggested that “gun regulation” is a better term than “gun control.” “Saying ‘gun control’ freaks out a lot of people,” she added.
Many of the speeches talked about the Second Amendment, with all speakers stressing that they are not against the Second Amendment. NY State Assemblyman Phil Steck talked about the history and origins of the Second Amendment, noting that the founding fathers never intended the Second Amendment to be interpreted to mean that anyone can or should own semi-automatic assault rifles.
Shaker High School senior, Amsa Bawla, in her remarks to the crowd, said that “The Second Amendment will stay, but the rules have to change,” and she ended her remarks saying that the issue is bigger than anyone individual, “but together, we can make change happen.”
Voting registration tables were placed at the perimeters of the park entrances and people walked through the crowd during the speeches, encouraging students to register to vote. Many of the students in the crowd had already turned 18 and others will be turning 18 in time to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. Their enthusiasm about voting was heard repeatedly throughout the morning. Katie LeGerc, Brenna Donzelli, Hannah Duffy, and Cara Duffy are students at Niskayuna High School and said that they were prepared in the fall to vote for candidates who stood for gun control.
Olivia Dubois and her friend, Jessica Liber, are both seniors from Averill Park High School. Both young women said they plan to become teachers and they are excited to vote in November. “I want to be a teacher and I don’t want to have to worry or have my students worrying about getting killed at school,” said Ms. Liber. Ms. DuBois said she disagrees with the idea of teachers carrying guns.
Many people stated the statistics on shootings across the country. According to Ms. Goode, 47 kids and teenagers on average are shot every day in America.
Laura Franz, president of the Albany Teachers’ Association, said that more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence since Columbine High School in 1999. “We should be teaching skills in school and not practicing lock downs,” she said.
Sheila Poole, Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services in the Cuomo administration, said that New York has the third lowest number of gun deaths in the country and that Governor Cuomo is advancing the extreme risk protection orders and extending the waiting period for background checks.
Paul Tonko talked about how impressed he was with the articulate and impassioned speeches he heard from the student organizers. “To hear these students’ statements, are we not gifted as a nation to have these children as today’s leaders?” adding that “no child should have to go to school in fear.”
“We have created a new political generation, and this moment will create monumental change,” said Tonko.
Following the speeches, the crowd marched along Washington Avenue, along Eagle and up State Street, with crowds chanting “This is what Democracy looks like.”