On Saturday, March 24, over 200 ETSU students and local community members rallied together in a nationwide protest demanding gun legislation reform in spite of rain and near-freezing temperatures.
Activists began marching at the corner between West State of Franklin and University Parkway at the edge of campus. Upon reaching South Side Elementary, the marchers paused as SGA President Keyana Miller read aloud the names of the victims of the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The march concluded just outside the Culp Center Cave.
From approximately 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., the marchers heard speeches by guest speakers including Jodi Jones, Allen Pickel, Brice Terry, Michelle Treece and Johnson City Vice Mayor Jenny Brock.
“Ninety-six people die from gun violence every day in the United States,” said Moms Demand Action activist Jodi Jones. “This is a public health crisis of epic proportions.”
The Johnson City March for Our Lives event was planned, organized and led by Tri-Cities students and members of the group Moms Demand Action. The local march coincided with events by the same name that took place across the United States. The March for Our Lives demonstrations were formulated in response to the recent slew of gun-related school violence.
“When I served as a military policeman, we had to train with firearms every month,” said retired veteran and teacher Allen Pickel. “It was far from a one-time certification. There have been many past incidents where teachers have accidently discharged weapons or left them out in the open for students to take. In my opinion, it’s crazy to arm teachers.”
Attendants hoisted signs saying things like, “Am I next?” and “How did a well-regulated militia get twisted to mean a well-armed, unregulated people?” March leaders led chants such as “No more silence! End gun violence!” and “Hey! Hey, NRA! How many have to die today?”
“How many more senseless massacres do we need to see before something is done?” asked student activist and organizer Brice Terry. “If we don’t take action today, we may not have the chance to tomorrow.”
The overall attitude at the march was positive yet driven. A couple counter protestors made appearances, but they were ignored.
The marchers formed a diverse group in no way limited to specific ages, genders, creeds, ethnicities, religions or sexual orientations, showing safety to be a universal human concern.
“The idea of teachers shooting a student, even if that student is a holding a gun, is unfathomable to me,” said retired teacher Michelle Treece.
“Young people are standing up and saying this is not the world we want to live in,” said Johnson City Vice Mayor Jenny Brock. “We’ve got to this point because we vote in the same people over and over again and have allowed a negative culture to develop. Stay active, stay involved, and look past politics.”
Gun reform is a broad topic. The local March for Our Lives demonstration did not directly advocate for any existing pieces of legislation. The exact opinions of the marchers certainly varied. That being said, the march was a clear statement that gun reform is needed for the safety of students and the public at large.
“At what point in our history did the necessity of safety and security become controversial?” asked student activist and organizer Nathaniel Farnor. “This isn’t a red versus blue issue. It’s a life and death issue.”