By Jay Cook and Chris Rotolo |
RED BANK – Generation Z has had enough.
They carried colorful signs, howled impassioned chants and shed tears as more than 3,000 demonstrators flooded downtown Red Bank last weekend, calling for widespread changes to federal firearm legislation in response to one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.
“We, the students, are your future lawyers, politicians, educators, creators, doctors and more,” said Sofia Casamassa, an 18-year-old Middletown South senior and Middletown resident. “We should lose sleep studying for our tests, not for the fear of our schools being shot up.”
Casamassa’s speech was one of the many emotional messages passionately delivered on Saturday at Riverside Gardens Park during the final stop of the Two Rivers Families March For Our Lives. Nineteen student activists from a half-dozen Two River-area high schools expressed how special interest groups, the federal government and prior generations have failed to protect them.
Red Bank’s march was one of 10 March For Our Lives protests across the state and one of the 700-plus demonstrations held nationally and internationally. Each march was held in memory of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff were gunned down inside the school by a former student.
Demonstrators first converged in Red Bank around 9 a.m. at the Red Bank train station, a contingent that grew by the minute. The parking lot would have suited the initial estimated draw of 1,500 demonstrators, but the crowd exceeded expectations and spilled over to the auxiliary NJ Transit parking lot adjacent to the Red Bank Armory skating center.
As the the 10 a.m. start time approached, conversations among the demonstrators touched upon several topics. The issue of more stringent gun control regulations remained at the center of the chatter. Students spoke among themselves about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting while also imagining aloud how they might react if a similar scene played out on their local campuses.
Once the march moved out from the commuter lot, the throng slowly headed eastward on Monmouth Street. A select group of student organizers and speakers led the marchers through a series of chants, including “Enough is enough,” “NRA money is blood money,” and “No more AR-15s.”
Above the call and response was a sea of cellphone activity, as selfies, snaps and point-of-view videos were posted on social media. It allowed the March For Our Lives movement to live and breathe in real time on various digital platforms – one of the hallmarks of this youth movement which has helped launch and sustain its message.
The procession down Monmouth Street was slow moving and came to a halt at Maple Street as police waited to clear and secure the intersection for passing. The march once again came to a stop before turning left onto Broad Street and paused again minutes later at the West Front Street traffic light before turning left and moving toward the end point at Riverside Gardens Park. The trek took nearly 30 minutes to complete.
With a calm river behind them and a steady wind at their backs, the student speakers showed no restraint when scolding their federal representatives and community members who don’t support stricter gun legislation.
“This is not normal,” said Shea Grant, a 16-year-old from Little Silver who attends Red Bank Regional High School. “We must all refuse to let this become normal. It is when we allow ourselves to become desensitized and indifferent that lawmakers become lenient with policies.”
Grant, who is two years away from being able to vote, pleaded for the general public to protect her while she waits her time to cast a ballot.
“Be the voice I do not have,” she continued. “Be the voice that was stolen from the 17 in Parkland, for the kids in Newton who were too young to understand politics.”
The rally began with a minute of silence for those lost in school shootings, but the rhetoric turned to an attack on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other special interest groups that protect the Second Amendment.
“Now is the time to act. Now is the time to let (politicians) know what we think,” said 18-year-old Rumson-Fair Haven Regional senior Cameron Spector, a Fair Haven resident. “Now is the time to tell them that we do not stand with the NRA, that we don’t want our teachers armed, that we don’t want more guns because more guns do not equal more peace.”
Some students also pleaded for more perspective so older generations could understand their growing fears about their safety when attending school.
“(Students) should wake up every morning with sound assurance, confident they will go to school and be safe all day,” Cakie Dym, a 13-year-old Oak Hill Academy student from Rumson, asserted. “They should ride the bus and never wonder if the person sitting next to them is carrying a gun.”
“I have grown up in a world where children are being shot in their schools,” said Fiona Maguire, a 15-year-old freshman at Middletown South. “I have grown up in a world where I think about the shoes I wear to my school in case I have to run out of it.”
A number of elected Democrats spoke directly to the students, reassuring them of their support. Menna, Red Bank’s mayor, suggested the youthful participants petition their municipal governments for support. State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) said the NRA should stand with protestors and ensure no more lives are taken by gun violence.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) said he’ll continue to push for “common sense” gun legislation – universal background checks, closures to loopholes from gun shows or internet sales, a ban on assault weapons and “some kind of limitation on the rounds of ammunition.”
“We’ve had so many deaths, we’ve had so many mass shootings,” Pallone said. “People are sick and tired of it. Enough is enough.”
This article was first published in the March 29-April 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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