On Saturday, March 24, 2018, 14 youth and adults from the Charlotte Congregational Church (UCC) assembled with thousands of others at the March for Our Lives: Montpelier.
It was a solemn event, held simultaneously with similar events all over the country, in the wake of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and in the wakes of countless other mass shootings in the U.S. I can’t speak for others, but I participated in this event for many reasons. I lament the deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and too many other places. I want to support our courageous young people. I want to give witness to the relentless gun violence in this country. I am compelled by my faith to engage in prayerful, compassionate and courageous action in the world. And I believe that real and sensible change is possible.
There is more that I could articulate about my experiences in Montpelier on March 24, but I won’t do that here. As I listened in Montpelier, and as I listened at home afterward to a recording I made of the day, it became clear to me just how much all of us, whoever we are, wherever we come from and however we feel about guns, need to listen to the sounds and voices that came from the March for Our Lives: Montpelier.
I heard words of warm welcome by volunteers at Christ Church Episcopal, who provided snacks and a warm place for marchers to gather before the event started. I heard prayers for safety and change by Rev. Joshua Simon (Essex Junction, UCC) as marchers gathered at Bethany UCC. I heard laughter and conversation from a crowd of a few thousand who seemed grateful to be “doing something” in the face of violence. I heard a “don’t tread on me” flag whipping in the wind, held high by a man wearing blaze orange. I heard hundreds of rustling signs that expressed sorrow, frustration, anger and a desire for sensible gun legislation. I heard cheers, gasps and chants as Sen. Bernie Sanders walked through the crowd and then joined to listen.
I heard speakers: a woman who had been shot by her stepfather as a youth, testified to the reality of domestic violence; a female high school student thanked the Vermont legislators who had voted for recent gun legislation; a young man from the Social Justice Union at Burlington High School whose life was forever changed when his grandma was shot at a school in Essex when he was only 6; a female high school student in Vermont who feels afraid in her school, saying, “I don’t want to go back, but I have to”; a female high school student in Vermont who repeated the refrain, “we need more, and we need it now”; a high school student who ended her comments by saying, “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”; a student a cappella group from Brattleboro who sang a song titled “Shine,” written by two student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas; a student who recited a poem written in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting, which said, “this world drunk on hate, decides blood is wine”; a student poet who read his poem about the real dangers of being black in the U.S.; a public school teacher of 30 years and president of the VT Union of Professional Educators, who asserted, “no guns for teachers, no way”; many speakers who acknowledged that “thoughts and prayers” are simply not enough.
I heard no hate. I heard no personal attacks. I heard no politics of division. I heard gratitude for the courage of our young people. I heard a diverse cross-section of Vermonters coming together to reduce gun violence in our state and beyond. And when the event was over, and the crowd dispersed, I heard murmurs of hope that the way things are now, are not how they will always be.