The story of my trip to D.C. began with a message from a CVU alumnus, Josh Ravit.
Mr. Ravit, like so many others, was moved by the events in Parkland and wanted students from his former high school to participate in the call for action.
Until his call I had not anticipated that CVU would be able to participate in the March for Our Lives in D.C. But he assured me that together we could raise the money necessary. So we launched a “Go Fund Me”, and in less than two days we had exceeded our fundraising goal. But that wasn’t the end of our planning. There was a plethora of issues—last-minute price increases on the bus, complications with the wire transfer necessary to pay for the bus, and even an issue with our brakes on the bus only hours before we were due to depart!
Despite it all, 38 students and five chaperones boarded a (perfectly safe) bus to D.C. at midnight on March 24. We drove for nine hours to the outskirts of the city and took the train to Metro Center Station. When we emerged from the subway we joined the groups of protesters streaming toward the entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue. The march wasn’t slated to start for an hour and a half, but already the streets were packed with people. And they weren’t just students; they were teachers, parents, grandparents and concerned citizens from all walks of life. We were not defined by a single race, class, age or national origin; our creed was what unified us. We were marching on the capitol dome in the distance for one thing: our lives.
And so we students of CVU fought our way through the crowd, closer to the stage. As noon drew closer more and more people filed into Pennsylvania Avenue until we were packed shoulder to shoulder. As we waited, an energy spread amongst the crowd and through the jumbotrons that showed the sister marches around the nation. It was the ineffable feeling of hope, a hope I never thought I would experience so soon.
I had expected to hear from Parkland students on the issue of school safety, but what I got was a much broader range of speeches punctuated by beautiful performances. We heard from the Parkland students whose community had so recently been devastated by gun violence, from siblings of the elementary school children who were murdered at Sandy Hook, as well as from young people living in communities, such as Chicago, D.C., Baltimore and South Central L.A., that have been experiencing this violence for decades.
They spoke on the need to address poverty, so that people have the kind of hope that can deter crime. They spoke on the need to address the way we treat mental health, so that nobody feels a desire to commit these atrocities. And most important they spoke on the need to address the ease of access that dangerous people have to dangerous weapons. These are not solutions that I am proposing, these are the solutions called for by those who have stared down the barrel of a gun or have looked upon the faces of loved ones lying in a casket, knowing a bullet put them there.
The march culminated in a speech by Emma González, a Parkland student. She spoke of the names of the 17 victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, one of whom would have turned 18 that day. She spoke about all the things they will never do again, such as complain about piano lessons, chat with their friends, eat dinner with their families. Her words left us all with a deeper understanding of the immeasurable loss that these students felt and the unknowable pains of death. As I listened to these speeches, I couldn’t help but think about my own family. I tried to put myself in their shoes, to think about what it would mean to know that I would never talk to my sisters again, to never hold them in my arms. The reality of their pain brought me to tears as I stood—staring at the capitol dome.
When the speeches were over, we walked to the nearby sculpture garden with aching muscles and heavy hearts. We met a reporter there and shared our thoughts on this incredible experience. I left that garden feeling somewhat hopeful, but as I boarded the train my mind inevitably turned to what has to be done to address this. I thought of poverty, its cyclical nature, and how hard it is to escape. I thought about mental health, and how daunting of a task overhauling our treatment system is. I thought about how divided our nation is, and how split people are along party lines, turning what should be unifying issues into points of contention. It’s almost overwhelming to think about these large systemic issues that contribute to the difficulties of ending gun violence.
But these issues don’t have to be addressed all at once. We can take much simpler actions to save lives.
We can ban bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and assault rifles. We can make sure that those arrested or cited for domestic abuse have their weapons taken away, making their victims much safer. We can enforce universal background checks so that dangerous people can’t buy dangerous weapons. These measures can and will keep us safer. We accept limits on all of our rights, from speech to assembly and to many others. If we only accepted limited restrictions on our right to bear arms, we could make our society a much safer place.
Finally: a call to my community. I implore you to stand with your youth on the issue of gun control. I implore you to be vigilant in the fight for our collective safety. Make this a defining issue when deciding how you vote in the future. Moreover, if you’re not registered to vote, do so. It is more than just a right we possess, it’s a responsibility we all bear.
The responsibility to be engaged as citizens, it is ours.
Peter Trombley is a senior at CVU. He lives in Shelburne.