Here's why students will be in the streets Saturday in Bellingham

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.

While the Bellingham high school students who organized last month's rally against gun violence are in the nation's capital for the March For Our Lives Saturday, their friends, classmates and supporters are staging a similar march in Bellingham.

March for Our Lives — Bellingham is set for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at City Hall, scene of last month's rally that saw 2,000 students leave their schools and gather in support of the 17 students and staff members who dies in the Parkland, Florida., school shooting.

More than 800 people indicated that they are going Saturday and another 2,300 people are interested, according to the March For Our Lives — Bellingham page on Facebook.

"As of right now, we've got a lot of community response, which is amazing, " said Izzy Jones, a Sehome High freshman.

She said the event will feature several speakers, including students and others, and then march downtown along a route similar to last year's Women's March.

Jones said that even though the 20 members of Students For Action who organized last month are attending the march in Washington, D.C., their peers wanted to stage a local event.

"Obviously, this is an issue that affects us as kids," said Ruby Weinkle-Matts, a Sehome High freshman. "I wanted to make sure that I did as much as I could. I want to be as much of a change as I can."

Saturday's marches are part of renewed grass-roots focus on gun violence, gun control and school safety that has swept the country since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Washington state recently outlawed "bump stock" devices, which make a semiautomatic rifle perform like an automatic gun.

State lawmakers are also considering other measures that supporters say will reduce gun violence, including tougher background checks and raising the age to 21 for purchase of semiautomatic rifles and some shotguns. That bill is undergoing discussion in a Senate committee, according to an online legislative post.

Meanwhile, students in Bellingham and around the nation have organized and led walkouts and rallies that focused on school safety and gun violence.

After their Feb. 21 walkout and rally, students at Bellingham schools had a more low-key observance for the National School Walkout on March 14. Instead of leaving campus, they gathered at school for information presentations and wrote letters to politicians, victims and survivors.

Western Washington University students staged a March 14 "die-in" to honor the Parkland victims.

Another nationwide protest is set for April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High shooting.

Both Jones and Weinkle-Matts said they enlisted more community participation for Saturday's march. A sign-making party Monday drew about 25 people, including high school and college students and adults.

"We as youth as taking the lead in this," Weinkle-Matts said. "We've had others contributing hours and time, but it's student-led. It's the whole community that's contributing."

She said the 25 students who organized the first local walkout and rally — using social media over the long Presidents Day weekend — set an example for others to follow.

"It was really, really empowering to see that it was created in just a week," she said. "It inspired me to get involved."

WWU graduate student Hoku Rivera it was the younger students' passion who drove her to volunteer.

"I’m drawn to the urgency of the issue," she said. "And I want to help urge lawmakers to make stricter gun regulations so that not only I as a student can survive my education but also those who have been impacted by gun violence will not have suffered in vain."

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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