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Youth gun violence rally a success – now they’re going a step farther

These Bellingham students rallied at City Hall to protest gun violence in schools

High school and middle school students protest gun violence in schools on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 in front of Bellingham City Hall.
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High school and middle school students protest gun violence in schools on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 in front of Bellingham City Hall.

Bellingham students who organized a school walkout and rally against gun violence last month are planning to join their peers for a massive encore two weeks from now in the nation’s capital.

Some 20 members of Students for Action, representing all four Bellingham high schools, will join an estimated 500,000 people expected to attend the student-led March For Our Lives to limit firearms access March 24 in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve never been politically active, but I felt like I couldn’t stay silent anymore,” Squalicum High junior Maggie Davis-Bower said Monday. “No sooner than the (Feb. 21) rally was over, we thought, ‘What’s the next step?’ ”

To help pay for travel expenses, they’re hosting a fundraising Sunday at Homeskillet restaurant and started a GoFundme page, Bellingham Students4Action DCMarch. By Thursday morning, it had raised $8,665 of its $15,000 goal.

Several of their parents are attending the national rally as chaperones.

Students for Action formed just two days after the Feb. 14 slaying of 17 people by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, part of a surging movement in the face of a horrific toll of American mass killings.

Davis-Bower – who survived the 2016 mass shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington as the gunman walked past without firing – used the social media app Instagram to spark interest, using the hashtag #studentsforaction.

Over the long Presidents Day weekend, Davis-Bower and about two dozen students planned a walkout and rally that drew an estimated 2,000 people to Bellingham City Hall on Feb. 21, a week after the Florida slayings. They arranged for a city permit – and notified city and school officials, police and members of the media.

“I don’t think any of us at Students for Action thought that 2,000 people would attend,” said Squalicum junior Catherine Poubere. “We’re doing it to show the (school) board that we’re concerned about safety at school.”

Reaction to the walkout was passionate and varied, said Bellingham Schools Superintendent Greg Baker.

In a statement posted at the district’s website, Baker addressed the range of viewpoints that parents, students, staff and others expressed in the wake of the Feb. 21 walkout and rally.

“... There are moments in time when young people decide they’ve had enough with what society has to offer, and they want their voices to be heard,” Baker said. “I believe this is one of those times. Societal change is often led by the youth in our country, and in a democracy, they too have a right to express their views.”

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Students ranging in ages from middle school to high school fill the area in front of Bellingham City Hall to protest gun violence in schools on Wednesday, Feb. 21, in Bellingham. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

Poubere said Wednesday that she’s “humbled” to be part of the nationwide movement against gun violence.

“Hopefully, we can aid in the change that’s coming,” said Poubere, who studied Parkland school namesake Douglas and other activists in school last year.

Douglas, who died in 1998 at age 108, was a journalist, women’s suffrage advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development, according to Wikipedia.

Societal change is often led by the youth in our country, and in a democracy, they too have a right to express their views.

Superintendent Greg Baker, Bellingham Schools

Tucker Wood, a Bellingham High junior, said the entire experience has been “surreal.” He’ll be among the students headed to DC.

“The amount of people that came to the rally was really incredible to me. It made me feel like we really tapped into something that people feel strongly about in just the right way,” Wood said. “That was really inspiring to me and it made me feel like we really are doing something for the greater good.”

Students across the U.S., such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Emma González, who has more than 1 million Twitter followers @Emma4Change, have added a youthful vigor to the issue of gun control, and kept it in the front and center in the American consciousness.

“DC is just another special opportunity to add our voices to the movement and help make it as big and loud as possible,” Wood said.

Just Wednesday, the Florida Legislature voted to raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and extend a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns. It would also create a so-called “guardian” program, enabling school employees to carry handguns in certain circumstances. Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t said if he would sign it into law.

Meanwhile, national polls shows a rising support for measures to limit access to firearms.

A Gallup poll in 2017 showed that 42 percent of Americans have a firearm in their home and 60 percent think that laws covering the sale of firearms should be more strict – part of a trend that’s been rising since 2015.

A CNN poll conducted Feb. 25 found 7 in 10 Americans in favor tougher gun laws.

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Students from across Bellingham gather in front of City Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, to protest gun violence and promote school safety. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

March 2 NPR/ Ispos poll showed an increasing number of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, want more gun regulation.

The poll showed a jump from 68 percent in favor of tougher gun laws in mid-October 2017 to 75 percent on Feb. 28, in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

Support among Democrats rose from 84 percent to 92 percent; support among Republicans rose from 55 percent to 59 percent.

Fundraisers

GoFundMe: gofundme.com/students-for-action-dc-march

Benefit: 2-5 p.m. March 11 at Homeskillet restaurant, 521 Kentucky St. Food, bake sale, music, stories, silent auction, register to vote.

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