Students share experiences, activists rally against gun violence during ‘March for Our Lives’

People+hold+up+signs+during+%22March+For+Our+Lives%22+Saturday+afternoon+in+the+Library+Quad.+Students%2C+community+members+and+activists+alike+listened+speakers+talk+about+their+issues+and+experiences+with+gun+violence+during+the+rally.++
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Students share experiences, activists rally against gun violence during ‘March for Our Lives’

People hold up signs during

People hold up signs during "March For Our Lives" Saturday afternoon in the Library Quad. Students, community members and activists alike listened speakers talk about their issues and experiences with gun violence during the rally.

Jordan Boyer

People hold up signs during "March For Our Lives" Saturday afternoon in the Library Quad. Students, community members and activists alike listened speakers talk about their issues and experiences with gun violence during the rally.

Jordan Boyer

Jordan Boyer

People hold up signs during "March For Our Lives" Saturday afternoon in the Library Quad. Students, community members and activists alike listened speakers talk about their issues and experiences with gun violence during the rally.

Cassie Buchman, Editor-in-Chief

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Alex Seymour, a student at Mattoon High School, remembers seeing her art class huddled in a cornfield, crying to their parents over the phone in the aftermath of a shooting that happened in her school’s cafeteria.Seymour was not in the cafeteria, but her best friend was.

“She saw him pull out the gun, saw him shoot,” Seymour said. “She saw half of the school in the cafeteria fearing for their lives, screaming, running.”

Seymour talked about the shooting that happened at Mattoon High School during a March for Our Lives rally hosted by a public relations class at Eastern on Saturday.

The march was sponsored in solidarity with others going on across the nation, sparked by a shooting in Parkland, Fla.’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.

Seymour said the images she and her friends saw on the day of the shooting in Mattoon High School are ones that “never disappear from your memory.”

Legislators do not have this same experience, she said.

“They don’t have to make sure they wear running shoes to class in case it happens again,” she said. “That’s true. We’ve seriously had to think about that.”

Jordan Boyer
Two people walk through the rain holding a sign that says “Children Over Guns” at the “March For Our Lives” Saturday afternoon.

Despite pouring rain, Eastern employees, students and surrounding community members came out to tell their stories and advocate for an end to gun violence at the rally and march.

Participants in the rally held up various signs and later marched through Eastern’s campus with a blue “March for Our Lives” banner, chanting “No more silence end the violence” and “Now’s the time to talk about gun control.”

Jordan Boyer
People stand and listen to speakers talk about their issues and experiences with gun violence at “March of Our Lives” Saturday afternoon.

English professor Jeannie Ludlow, coordinator of the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program, compared the active shooter training going on in schools today to the duck and cover drills of the past, saying they were just as scary for students.

During her speech, she talked about the racism and sexism involved with gun violence.

“No child should ever have to go to sleep with fear of a shooter twisting in their gut,” she said. “No parent should ever have to go to sleep at night with the fear that their child will be shot because of their race twisting in their gut.”

Zoey White, another student at Mattoon High School who spoke at the rally, was not in the school at the time of the shooting, but has seen its affect on those close to her.

“I still have friends who have nightmares,” she said. “No one should ever have to go through this.”

Though Zoey White said she has been harassed in school for speaking out on this and other issues, it is still something that is important to her to do.

“How else are we going to get our voice out there and make change?” she said.

Jennifer White hugs her daughter Zoey White, after she talked about her experience with the Mattoon High School shooting at "March For Our Lives" in the Library Quad on Saturday. Jennifer said it’s easier to speak out for gun reform on campus because, campuses tend to be more liberal, while in Mattoon it’s a different scenario. "I was fortunate enough to not be there, but I do have friends who still have nightmares. No one deserves that,” Zoey said during her speech.

Jordan Boyer
Jennifer White hugs her daughter Zoey White, after she talked about her experience with the Mattoon High School shooting at “March For Our Lives” in the Library Quad on Saturday. Jennifer said it’s easier to speak out for gun reform on campus because, campuses tend to be more liberal, while in Mattoon it’s a different scenario. “I was fortunate enough to not be there, but I do have friends who still have nightmares. No one deserves that,” Zoey said during her speech.

Zoey’s mom, Jennifer White, said after seeing Mattoon High School when going to the school musical, it was not the same as before the shooting, comparing it to a house that has been broken into.

“You put everything back, you clean up the mess, you do your best, but you still feel violated,” White said. “When that young man decided to take a gun to school and shoot up lunch, he violated the rights of every kid in that school to get their education and safety. He violated the peace of mind and sense of safety and security of every teacher, staff member and parent in our town.”

White said she wants the ralliers to keep doing what they are doing for change.

“My advice to everyone here, not just students or parents or concerned community members, is write down what you’re feeling, write down why you feel that way, and write down what you’d like to see happen, take it and put it in an envelope and send it to (Rep.) John Shimkus,” she said.

Students are afraid, White said, because in addition to having shootings happening at schools, there are people in society whose attitude is that ‘hey, schools just get shot up sometimes.”

“(They say) you can pry my gun out of my cold, dead hands ; that’s how I feel about my kid,” White said. “There is no way that you’re more scared of losing your gun than I am of losing my child.”

Jordan Boyer
Charleston city council member Dennis Malak speaks at “March For Our Lives” Saturday afternoon.

Charleston city council member Dennis Malak said this movement has already created laws in other states and started bills across this country, but ralliers need to keep pushing.

“These are all great first steps, but the fight is not over,” Malak said. “We need common sense nationwide gun laws that keep our communities safe. We need to keep guns out of the wrong hands; that’s what this movement is about.”

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]