Local march planners chat with Fla. peers

  • Northampton High School students gather to video-chat with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, March 22, 2018. MJ TIDWELL

  • Northampton High School students gather to video-chat with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, March 22, 2018. MJ TIDWELL

@mjtidwell781 @BeraDunau
Published: 3/22/2018 11:58:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Just before the last planning meeting for Saturday’s Pioneer Valley March for Our Lives, a group of Northampton High School students behind the local march met to Skype with three students who attend Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida.

“You are the spark,” Zalia Maya, 17, said Thursday evening to the students from Parkland. “We’re the kindling.”

“And we just want you to know, there’s kindling everywhere, all over the country” said Ben Moss-Horwitz, the leader of what he called the loosely organized organizers. “We’re ready to stick with you.”

March For Our Lives is a protest over gun violence that will take place in Washington and in communities around the country. Youth-led, it seeks to draw attention to and demand action on the issue. It was inspired by the activism of the Parkland students in the wake of the shooting at their school that left 17 people dead.

The Pioneer Valley March For Our Lives, planned by youth from numerous area high schools, is expected to draw at least 1,000 people.

Moss-Horwitz said the march has gotten some 1,700 responses on Facebook and has more than 50 co-sponsoring groups. He estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people would show up.

That matches what Northampton Police Capt. John Cartledge said the department was estimating, based on talks with organizers.

Cartledge said an extra staff of officers will be there to help with security and traffic direction for the march, and will stand by at the rally at City Hall. He said no threats have been made against the local march, and he expects it to be peaceful and with no incidents.

Cartledge said police have been in direct contact with march organizers, and they have been receptive to the police presence.

The protest will gather at Northampton High School at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, before marching to City Hall at noon for a rally that will feature entirely student speakers, with the exception of Anne Thalheimer, who survived a school shooting when she attended Simon’s Rock, and is currently affiliated with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America..

Nationally renowned local author Jane Yolen will be in attendance, and one of her poems will be read by a student speaker, whom Yolen will introduce.

Younger children marching will be able to meet in the Social Room at the Unitarian Universalist Society for music, movement and story time.

There will be other Massachusetts marches in Springfield, Pittsfield and Boston.

A bus will be leaving from Hatfield carrying Smith Academy students and Hatfield community members, as well as students from the Gill-Montague Regional School District to the Boston march. The bus has been arranged by HEADS Up, a volunteer group dedicated to promoting mental health efforts in Hatfield. Those who want to join can call 247-5010.

Some of the Amherst High School activists will be in Washington for a band trip during the national march, and Moss-Horwitz said they plan to take part in the national action.

Common cause

Before the call, the Northampton students tried on orange sashes they plan to wear to designate themselves as leaders/organizers at the march on Saturday and shared stories of making thousands of copies of orange flyers to pass around.

Moss-Horwitz, a 17-year-old member of the NHS Democrats, said they chose the color orange for their activism because it’s the color of hunter’s vests that signal “don’t shoot.”

The Skype call, which turned into a FaceTime chat after technological problems with freezing video and muted audio, was organized by NHK, a Japanese news organization.

Student organizer Cherilyn Strader said NHK reached out to her via her email, which was posted on the Women’s March website, to connect youth activists in America.

On the call, the students from disparate ends of the country discussed things like history class and snow, and then delved into topics such as moving local legislation, encouraging young people to get involved and learning about civics to make a change. They discussed whether gun violence is a gun safety issue, a school safety issue or a mental health issue.

They talked about the different responses at their respective schools, such as Stoneman Douglas’ new policy requiring students to have clear backpacks, compared posters and preparations for their respective marches and asked each other the question, “how can you change people’s minds without this happening again?”

The Northampton students snapped their fingers when they agreed with something said by the Parkland students, and halfway through the call the Parkland students began doing the same.

“It’s amazing how similar they are to us,” Jesse Zebles, 17, said after the call. “I’ve been thinking this whole time that we’re really different and in different parts of the country, but that there must be some common thread. That call shows we’re just the same.”

Moss-Horwitz echoed Zebles’ thoughts.

“We’re the localest of the local,” he said. “But we want the same thing as people all over the nation.”

The call with the Parkland students, he said, was validating for the efforts of the students at Northampton High.

“It’s clear that so many of us were ready to do this,” Eva Gerstle, 18, said of organizing the march and pushing for legislative action on gun control. “We needed this leadership to get together as focused and organized as this.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com. M.J. tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.

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