About 160 people marched through downtown Pendleton Saturday afternoon chanting “We want change!”
They were led by two dozen high school students wearing orange armbands — the color signaling “Don’t shoot!” in the hunting world — and joined by millions across the country participating in a national March for Our Lives.
Some of the adults carried signs with politically focused messages, calling the GOP “guns over people” or mentioning the NRA. But the students stuck with simpler messages, holding posters proclaiming “Never Again” and “Enough is Enough.”
“We wanted it to be more about student safety than anything political,” Pendleton High School junior Daphny Chen said.
The purple-haired teen stood on a wall as Brownfield Park as marchers arrived Saturday, welcoming them enthusiastically and asking if they were registered to vote. Organizers had arranged for a booth nearby for anyone who wanted to register.
The voter registration booth fit in with a theme many of the students espoused: thoughts and prayers were welcome, but only if they were accompanied by action.
PHS junior Samuel Attridge said before the march that the high school had provided an alternative to recent student protests, encouraging 17 days of kindness instead of walking out of school for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 students and staff who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He said people could be kind while also advocating for new laws and practices.
“Kindness is great. Everyone should be kind. I don’t think anyone in this march thinks kindness is stupid,” he said. “We’re just more focused on legislation that can make a difference rather than hoping that kindness will prevent another school shooting.”
The march drew mixed reactions from people downtown. One man stood on the edge of the gathering crowd near the beginning of the event holding a flag depicting an assault rifle and the words “Come and take it.” At another point, as students marched down the street chanting “We want change!” a woman walking in the opposite direction told them, “Give up your cell phones.” At other points, drivers passing by waved or gave a thumbs-up out their windows.
As Attridge emceed Saturday’s march, he told everyone gathered at the park that the march was not “anti-gun” or about bashing a certain political party. The only thing it was about was urging adults old enough to vote and run for office to do more than “a couple of sad tweets” to protect kids from shootings.
“We as a nation have resigned ourselves to a life where kids go to school to die,” he said.
Keyshawn Jackson and Giovana Angel performed a slam poem driving home that same message, starting off with a barrage of texts between mother and son, as the boy in the poem texted his mother that he was hiding under his desk, scared, as he heard gunshots and screams.
“They tell us to run, hide and don’t panic,” the teens said in unison.
Kathy Perez said she grew up with a turbulent home life and school used to be one place she felt a sense of security. Now she felt scared someone there would pull out a gun and start shooting.
Chen, too, told the audience of adults she was afraid to die at school. Most high school students are not old enough to vote, she said, so they need adult help to effect change.
Ellen Paulsen, 14, said she was frustrated the government was letting more school shootings happen as politics divided the conversation.
“I didn’t know ‘children shouldn’t be shot’ was a controversial statement,” she said.
After the speeches the group marched to the courthouse, chanting “Protect our youth! Protect our lives! Our future, our rights!” on the way there and “We want change!” on the way back. At the courthouse, Democratic Congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner addressed the group briefly, saying that adults had failed the students and that needed to change. She urged everyone to talk with others about their ideas for preventing school shootings and to keep an open mind even if they disagreed with the ideas.
“To the children, please find your voice and share your ideas. Please be patient with the adults,” she said.
At the end of the march, Attridge urged everyone present to continue taking action.
“Please don’t let this movement die,” he implored.
Over in Hermiston, students didn’t come together to plan a large-scale March for Our Lives event, but four people did get together on the corner of Highway 395 and Main Street Saturday morning to hold signs.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.