By Jen Cooper and Jonnathan Pulla
Students from over 60 high schools across Long Island joined together to march for their lives, and for gun control, behind Huntington Town Hall on Mar. 24.
Event planning began on February 14, right after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and injured 14, co-organizer of the march Max Robins, a 17 year old student from Huntington High School, said.
“We organized in conjunction with other rallies in Washington D.C., New York City, and a few others across the island,” Robins said. “Ours is the only on Long Island that is completely student and youth led.”
Founding organizers for March for our Lives Long Island, Avalon Fenster and Sarah Frawley, both sixteen years old, led the rally which featured speeches from religious community members, student organizers, political leaders, doctors and even family members of those killed in the Parkland School shooting.
“If they’re old enough to die, they’re old enough to know what’s going on and do something about it,” Tinna Kopelow, a volunteer for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said.
Addressing the crowd with passion, Melissa Zech, sister of Scott Beigel, geography teacher who sacrificed his life to save students in the Parkland shooting, encouraged the youth movement.
“This is the generation that will not stop until change is made,” Zech said. “Make sure my brother didn’t die in vain.”
Each of the speakers throughout the morning was met with raucous applause and often chants of “vote them out” by the crowd. Fenster said that they registered around 175 new voters to hit the polls in November.
The gun control legislation demands were first read by Paul Guttenberg, uncle of 14 year old Parkland shooting victim Jamie Guttenberg. The main goals in terms of legislation were a ban on assault and high capacity weapons, fund the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence, stronger background checks and help for people with mental illness. The CDC may soon be able to do so, as there is currently a spending bill in Congress that would allow it.
Youth speakers repeated these demands throughout the rally and said that if their demands weren’t met, they would vote out politicians that didn’t support them.
“I stand behind the kids,” Carmella Saccardi, retired Grandma and teacher for 30 years from Huntington, said. “We would practice [school shooter] drills with our students but not like this.”
Student activists introduced each speaker and intermittently read their own poems, speeches, and contributions to the rally. The event started at 11 AM but had over 100 student volunteers making posters and organizing before 9AM, who wore orange bandanas, t-shirts, ribbons, and clothing.
“Hunters wear bright orange in the woods, which means ‘don’t shoot,” Ariana Strieb, student co-organizer from Huntington High School, said.
The rally had over a dozen police officers, park rangers, public safety enforcers and other security people. Co-organizer Max Robins said that security was cooperative with the march beforehand and that they didn’t expect any major counter-protests or safety issues, which can happen at large rallies.
“We have a criminal intelligence bureau that monitors social media,” Inspector Christopher Hatton, Commanding Officer of the second precinct of Suffolk County police department said. “We hadn’t received any actionable threats regarding counter-protestors at the Huntington event. I would describe it as an organized and energetic crowd; definitely not a disorderly crowd.”
The crowd’s energy was high throughout the two hour gathering, which ended with the student organizers encouraging everyone in the crowd to register to vote, and that the change starts with them.
Although voters ages 18-29 have historically had the lowest voter turnout according to the United States Election Project, the youth speakers said that they will create the change they want to see, regardless of statistics.
“We are hosting a student-led town hall on April 7 to which we are inviting CD1 representative Lee Zeldin to make him answer to his constituents about his record when it comes to sensible gun reform,” Fenster said. “Students, teachers, parents and elected officials are being invited and we will also be registering students to vote there.”