Hundreds of Port Washington residents marched 1.6 miles along the sidewalk of the sloping hills of Port Washington Boulevard from the gathering site located in front of the old Port Cafe to the United Methodist Church of Port Washington to join the hundreds of other walks around the world participating in the protest against gun violence following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, that took the lives of 17 people. While the main rally was held in Washington, DC in front of the White House, Pastor David Collins of the United Methodist Church of Port Washington, along with the Port Washington Clergy Association, organized the town’s own March For Our Lives movement, which seeks to end gun violence and mass shootings at schools through common sense legislative action, along with a vigil and call to action.
After the march, marchers made their way onto the front lawn of the United Methodist Church where they were given candles for the vigil; Collins later explained they ran out of all 750 candles that had been provided. As marchers piled onto the lawn, holding their homemade signs, a band played until Collins read aloud the names of the 17 people who lost their lives in Parkland and Port clergy members said a prayer. Eight students including Anya Weiss, Grace O’Rourke, Nathan Abramowitz, Emily Kraus, Charlotte Kerpen, Emory and Eden Franco and Michael Redelick from Schreiber High School and Weber Middle School gave speeches before Collins made the final call to action of the night.
“The moment I stepped through the doors of Schreiber High School earlier this year in September, I was looking forward to the bright four years ahead of me,” said Schreiber freshman Kerpen, who recently organized the March 14 Port For Parkland concert. “I was excited, optimistic, a little nervous and feeling lots of different emotions. However, there was one emotion that I wasn’t feeling—scared. On my first day of high school, I was not scared to walk in the building. It wasn’t until February 15 I was scared to walk into my high school, the day after 17 lives were lost. 17 lives that can’t be given back. So now I stand here after thousands of kids are standing up and I say that we will be the generation to make change. So please, for me, for you, for your friends, for your kids, for your siblings and for everyone, please don’t be a bystander. Rise up. Let’s turn this feeling of fear into a feeling of hope and let’s turn these feelings into actions.”
Many of the students understood that the march was just the first step in the process as Schreiber senior and soon-to-be 18-year-old Abramowitz explained the importance of voting.
“I’m turning 18 in 10 days,” said Abramowitz. “Turning 18 has always been a milestone. In the past it meant the time where you could be drafted or the drinking age. Now, unfortunately it’s the age where you can buy an assault rifle in several states. But most importantly it’s the age where you can vote. After each mass shooting in recent years, you’ll hear about the despair of recent prospects of meaningful gun legislation. ‘It’s too difficult,’ they say. We are in gridlock. However, there is one way to make policy change happen and that is through the ballot box. True change will come if we show how important this issue really is and for young voters like me, we need to make sure we vote. Historically, younger voters have disproportionately not shown up for midterm elections. We need to change that now. We cannot take our foot off the gas.”
To make the march possible, the Port Clergy Association received a $5,000 grant from Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization which advocates for gun control and against gun violence. The Port Washington Police Department and the Sands Point Police Department worked together throughout the event to ensure public safety.
“When is the spilt blood of our kids finally going to be enough?,” asked Collins during the call to action. “I thought it was Sandy Hook, but it wasn’t. When can I stop worrying if my daughter’s school is going to be the next blood bath? When can I stop worrying if my church might be the next place in the news like Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina? Change is here. We’ve lost too many to gun violence and if we don’t start somewhere we will never go anywhere. Thank you for this, showing that Port stands together.”
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