The school walkouts and rallies were the latest in a wave of demonstrations in ithe past two months meant to build political momentum to pressure lawmakers to pass new gun control measures. At each successive demonstration, student activists insist they plan to keep up the pressure until their demands are met.
“This is only the beginning,” Niskayuna student Elisabeth Chillrud said to kick off a rally outside Niskayuna Town Hall. “We must stay passionate and stay active.”
Students from more than a half-dozen area schools – private and public – converged on the state Capitol for a rally and march. About 15 Schenectady students joined the Niskayuna event.
“I think it’s beautiful how we are all here together. I think it’s really true how when we work together we are stronger together,” Schenectady senior Trevor Luciani said as he spoke at the Niskayuna rally. “I’m proud to move onward with everyone of you, because this is only the beginning.”
Fewer students participated in Friday’s demonstration than in the March 14 walkouts, which drew thousands of students across the region out of classrooms to honor the victims of the February school shooting in Florida. The Florida shooting sparked the recent wave of student activism.
But students who did participate Friday don’t appear ready to let up the fight any time soon.
“It’s kind of messed up that we have do something anyway,” Niskayuna freshman Alex Burger said.
The Niskayuna organizers also made a point of acknowledging that their Schenectady counterparts, who live just down the street, have long lived with the reality of gun violence in their community.
“It must be recognized that people of color have been fighting this fight long before Parkland or Sandy Hook,” Niskayuna senior Kira Wisenhunt said.
The students were also joined by dozens of adults who support their efforts. Parents, clergy members and gun control activists as well as Democratic Assemblyman Phil Steck of Colonie attended the rally.
“Gun reform is complicated …” said a sign posted on the back of one parent. “Good thing my kids are smart.”
Three counter protesters – two Niskayuna High School students and a recent graduate – stood on the sidelines of the rally, holding an American flag, a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and hand drawn signs that defended gun ownership.
One of the students, a sophomore named Andrea, who wouldn’t provide her last name, said they wanted to show that there was another side to the gun debate and they didn’t think restricting access to guns was a solution to the problem of gun violence.
“We have our political views too,” she said, adding that she felt dismissed by classmates. “It’s a lot of judging rather than having an open mind.”
In Albany, a few hundred students from area schools, including Albany, Guilderland, Bethlehem, Columbia, Albany Academy and Emma Willard, echoed the gun control message at the foot of the Capitol.
A pair of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – the site of the Florida school shooting that left 17 students and school staff dead in February – joined the area students in Albany. Capital Region organizers reached out to the Florida students and offered to bring them to New York for the event.
Stoneman Douglas junior John Barnitt said that he and his classmates watched after the shooting at their school as politicians “began to give their same pathetic copy and paste response of my thoughts and prayers.” That was far from satisfactory, he told the Capital Region students.
“But we’ve had enough, we are no longer going to let our schools be shooting ranges,” Barnitt said. “We need our politicians to protect our most important right: the right to our lives.”
As the students describe it, they see the gun issue as one primed to define their generation.
“We aren’t just fighting for safety at school, we are fighting for safety at places of worship and at movie theaters and malls,” Albany Academy junior Caroline Crowell said as she spoke at the Albany rally. “This fight we are fighting isn’t a fleeting moment, this is the movement. Nothing has changed, so we are still fighting.”
After listening to speeches from student organizers, local elected officials, a representative from the Governor’s Office and the Parkland students, those at the rally marched around the Capitol building. As the mass of students started marching down Washington Avenue, a group of the Niskayuna student organizers came running in to join rally.
Fresh off of their own rally, they drove to Albany to join with other like-minded students.
“We had this momentum, and we wanted to keep it going,” Niskayuna junior Cecilia Cain said in Albany. “It really shows the Capitol we are all united in this.”