More than 120 people gathered outside the Arcata Playhouse at noon today to take part in the second annual March for Our Lives, a student-organized event to address gun violence.
A group of high school girls (and one college freshman) who are part of Apprentice Entertainment planned the march that moved from the Playhouse to the plaza and back.
“To belittle our voice is to belittle our existence,” said Arcata High School senior Lavender Weburg, one of four students who gave speeches ahead of the march. “We demand action on gun control and we demand it now.”
The planning for the event was primarily done by Arcata High students Jazmine Fiedler, Jacquelyn Opalach, MacKenzie Ridgwood, Nigella Baur and Humboldt State University freshman Melina Wardynski. The students said that while the turnout may not have been the 1,200 or so people who attended a year ago, the issue at hand was still important.
“There is not the same passion as there was a year ago in the wake of a huge shooting but the fight isn’t over,” said Opalach before the event began. “A lot of teenagers my age get caught up on one topic at a time and climate change is a big thing with teens right now. We understand people are busy but the things we want to see changed have not been changed. That’s why we are back this year.”
Opalach was busy making buttons for attendees to wear bearing messages of peace and calls for action on gun control, while at the next-door table others prepared signs on pieces of cardboard as the crowd slowly gathered.
The event planning was entirely coordinated by the students and they worked with Sarah McKinney who is the director of Apprentice Entertainment at the Playhouse. She said the work, passion and the message students want to send was important.
“We keep telling them it doesn’t matter who comes out, your voices will be heard, you’re speaking to the people who are showing up and they’re here to support you and we carry on no matter what,” McKinney said. “They do all the work, all the planning and they should be heard. I had to do fire drills, not active shooter training, and there is no question we are here to support them.”
That message of support was echoed by the adults who had come out to take part in the march as they linked arms with four dozen or so teenagers and listened to Cheryl Seidner give a short speech and a Wiyot prayer after the “Raging Grannies” opened the event with two songs calling for peace.
“It’s not the gun, it’s the human being behind the gun we need to address,” Seidner said as she called for all of those in the crowd who had seen gun violence in their families to gather. “Parents, never be too tired to listen to your children. We need solidarity in the face of the violence that has touched our lives and we pray to you, Father God, to end this violence all over the world.”
North Coast Preparatory Academy sophomores Olivia Joachim and Eva Swartz took turns calling for changes in gun control laws at the national level. The pair were the driving force behind the passage of Arcata’s Safe Storage Firearm’s ordinance that now requires gun-owners in Arcata to keep their firearms in a safe or keep them secured with a trigger lock.
The ordinance was approved by the Arcata City Council, although not without opposition. The call for greater regulations of firearms and ammunition was Saturday’s theme of the day.
“I guess what I want you to hear is that just because there hasn’t been a recent mass shooting at a school, that means all of a sudden people aren’t angry,” Fiedler said ahead of the event.
Fiedler noted she and the others have come under heavy criticism for their stance on gun control.
“Honestly, I’m not mad at our critics nor offended, we just take it as it comes. Sometimes it’s productive and we respond with something educational and try to explain the situation and our motives. Sometimes we just leave it be. What’s important is to spread the message and I don’t need to waste time and engage with people being disrespectful,” she said.
Among those gathered outside the playhouse were dozens of teens who supported the calls for greater gun control and cheered the speakers’ demands for action.
“I’m here because we are the next generation and I’m here for our country. There are plenty of countries in the world that have demonstrated gun reform is totally possible and there is no reason we shouldn’t follow,” said Abigail Hasting-Tharpe who was echoed by fellow student Ty Vizenor. “I just saw an article about an Indiana school that was shooting its teachers with pellets to simulate a shooting situation. I think the fact that they have to do that is the reason I am here today.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.