At Pittsfield March For Our Lives, 'kids are leading us not to be shushed'

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BEN GARVER – THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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PITTSFIELD — Hundreds of activists, parents with young children and students took to the city streets Saturday afternoon in the local March For Our Lives demonstration.

The event, which drew people from across the Berkshires and beyond, was one of more than 800 marches that were planned worldwide Saturday to call for stricter gun laws.

"I'm so impressed by the kids. They've given me a renewed hope," said Carrie Waara, 65, of Williamstown. "It finally feels like these kids are leading us not to be shushed. Our voices have been so stifled until now."

The crowd took over Park Square at noon, with many individuals displaying signs that included statistics about gun-related deaths, criticizing the power of the National Rifle Association and memorializing those killed in mass shootings.

The crowd of more than 500 then marched to Pittsfield High School, with some singing folk songs and playing instruments while walking the route.

The demonstrations were the most recent demand for gun reform from the student-led political movement that formed in the month since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen students and staff were killed that day.

The local march was organized by the Indivisible Pittsfield organization. Indivisible also organized fundraising to help three busloads of local students pay for transportation to the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, which was led by survivors of the Parkland shooting.

"It exceeded expectations," Drew Herzig, an organizer with Indivisible Pittsfield, said while folding up a banner. "It was great."

Pittsfield students attending the march in Washington were scheduled to meet with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Herzig is encouraging them to plan a public event to share what they have learned, and offer next steps about addressing national policies and local needs.

When the crowd reached the end of the march, at Pittsfield High School, dozens of students climbed atop a concrete wall and chanted "not one more."

Abby Mullany and Madison Decelles, juniors at Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School, said that, aside from Saturday's march and participating in their school's walkout this month, they have also become members of the American Gun Safety Association, which is working to pass state laws for licensing, registration and insurance of firearms.

"We've seen so many shootings. There can't be any more," Mullany said. "We shouldn't have to worry about not making it home from school."

As demonstrators made their way along the route, several stopped to comment on Luka Clark's sign that read: "At 17, I've seen 188 school shootings."

Clark, who is also a student at BART, said he came up with the number through research he did online.

Since Clark made the sign this week, the number has gone up.

On Tuesday, a 17-year-old at Great Mills High School in Maryland shot two of his classmates, then was reported killed after a responding school resource officer fired a shot at him. A teenage girl who was shot died Thursday night.

"It's 189 now," Clark said.

Statistics on school shootings vary by source. Clark's estimate mimics a February article in the Chicago Tribune.

For many, Saturday's demonstration was a family affair, with generations standing side by side.

Sophie Burnell, 18, of Lee, stood next to her mother, Michelle, while holding a sign that called for "Policy and change" over thoughts and prayers.

As a family, the Burnells have been involved in social justice movements and attended the Women's March together last year.

Sophie also is a member of the Social Justice club at Lee Middle and High School and plans to major in criminal justice in college.

"Guns are one of the biggest reasons of death for children," she said. adding that most students in her school support the movement for stricter gun laws. "Except for some younger kids that aren't fully aware of actual statistics of gun violence."

Susan Mahler of Williamstown marched Saturday with her son and daughter.

"I have two kids, 7 and 9 years old," Mahler said. "I'm horrified ... terrified that my kids will be affected by this, or their friends, or their teachers."

For Eileen Knowles, 83, who has been calling for stronger gun laws since her children were babies, this student-led movement brings new hope.

Though she has seen waves of demonstrations come and go, she said this one is going to stick.

"The kids are not going to let it die," said Knowles, who has seven great-grandchildren. "They're so determined. This is entirely different."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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