Notre Dame, SMC students participate in local ‘March for Our Lives’
Across all 50 states, young leaders and activists helped to organize the first “March for our Lives,” aimed at enacting gun control reforms in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Fla.
One of these marches was held Saturday afternoon in downtown South Bend, where students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s marched in time with millions across the country advocating for a change to America’s gun laws.
The students flocked to Morris Performing Arts Center where they carried signs and shouted chants into the cold March air.
Among those carrying signs was Saint Mary’s junior Teresa Brickey.
“I’ve been to a lot of protests and a lot of organizations, but what made this one special was that it was organized by people who can’t even vote yet, but have this intense love for our country,” Brickey said. “It’s very much about our future as a country and who’s going to be in positions of power and who’s going to be heard.”
Brickey’s desire to listen to affected individuals and participate politically motivated her to attend the march, she said, but the most influential factor driving her decision involved the prevalence of gun violence.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that as a developed country, this is happening,” she said. “It just keeps happening, and every once in a while it happens to the scale where it’s on the news everywhere. But it happens every day.”
Attending the march constituted a civil mode of taking action, Brickey said.
“I think it’s really important to participate in forms of democracy that we’re called to and that we’re given these rights to do,” Brickey said. “It’s not necessarily that we can get rid of gun violence as a whole, but we can have ways that diminish it or decrease the rates. I just believe that there are ways we can change it.”
Notre Dame sophomore Kelsey Allen, who grew up twenty miles from the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and attended the march, expressed frustration at the continued prevalence of gun violence in American society.
“I had to hide under a desk for several hours when the Newtown shooting happened,” Allen said. “Several people in my school lost family members, we lost a couple members of our community and I can’t believe it’s not over.”
In explaining her decision to take part in the march, Notre Dame sophomore Sheila Gregory also mentioned the scale of gun violence in the United States.
“I’m marching because in the years since Columbine we’ve had more deaths from gun violence than basically all wars,” Gregory said. ”It’s disproportionately affecting students, and we‘re afraid to go to school. We need to get out there and show our representatives that enough is enough and this is going to be what breaks the camel’s back. We will vote you out of office.”
Saint Mary’s senior Caroline Koenig said Parkland shooting — in which 17 students were killed and another 17 were wounded — especially resonated with her and sparked a desire to seek active outlets for her frustration.
“It’s such a uniquely American issue,” she said. “There has to be a reason for that and a way we can fix that.”
The freedom to express her opinions, Koenig said, cannot be neglected.
“It’s important for me, if I believe in something, to participate in protests such as these,” she said. “If I want to say that I believe in it, I should go out and act.”
Notre Dame senior Carolyn Yvellez said in an email she was marching to stand with victims of previous gun violence.
“I participated in the event to march in solidarity with the survivors of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and the African American community who have been advocating for an end to gun violence in their communities before the media and the American public gave this issue proper attention,” Yvellez said. “As a young person, I feel particularly motivated to join Parkland students in demanding grown adults and our legislators do their job in protecting students and children who do not have a voice, and continue to be victims of gun violence.”
The march also saw participation from international students. Notre Dame junior Camille Taltas, a native of France, said marching gave her a chance to express her views on gun safety.
“I can‘t vote in this country, so this is the only way for me to protest,” Taltas said.
Direct political participation, rather than more passive avenues of support, spark productive discourse and catalyze societal change, Saint Mary’s sophomore Olivia Sencion said.
“You can say anything you want, but taking the action and physically doing something about it and making your voice heard … is the most critical part,” she said.
A definite shift has occurred in the concerns she had as a young person and the fears children endure today, Sencion said. One poster at the march, she said, captured this sentiment by stating: “I don’t want to have to worry about going to school with my book-bag and coming out in a body bag.”
“I never had to worry about that, and I don’t want young kids to have to worry about that,” Sencion said. “That hit me most because these are children being scared for their lives and whether or not they’re going to survive their school day.”
Saint Mary’s junior Melissa Palencia said though she appreciates the intention behind offering thoughts and prayers for victims of violence, taking concrete steps toward reform is just as necessary.
“What really needs to happen is action,” Palencia said. “Especially for me personally — I’m trying to be an educator, so seeing [violence] firsthand and having so many people in this community be affected … there needs to be so much change in the community, in society, in everything.”
Gregory said she felt the policies of certain lawmakers on the issue of gun violence were at odds with their stances on other questions.
“Another reason why I‘m marching is because 33,000 [people], on average, are killed every year from guns, but Republicans in Congress don’t make it a pro-life issue and it is obviously a pro-life issue,” she said. “If you’re going to call yourself [pro-life], you should support legislation that restricts the sale of assault weapons and increases background checks.”
Yvellez also mentioned this issue in relation to her decision to march.
“Given [that Notre Dame] identifies as a pro-life campus, I hope these demonstrations are highly attended and embraced as consistent with Notre Dame’s values,” she said.
Koenig said she feels compelled to defend students’ rights to live and earn educations.
“This is something that I don’t really want to have to protest for — for children to be in their school environment,” Koenig said. “The innocence of children is impactful and powerful in the eyes of, hopefully, legislators, who can empathize with mothers and fathers.”