At Washington Square Park on Saturday, snow was still on the ground. It was 32 degrees, and for many, the parking was disastrous. But, people didn’t care. Assembled with hand-written posters demanding safety in schools, 5,000 Rochesterians of all ages and backgrounds gathered for the March for Our Lives.
“I’d rather be cold for a couple of hours than be dead in a week,” 15-year-old Hannah Eckos said.
The marchers slowly waded through the mud and snow to get closer to the rally, which was propped up next to a monument of Abraham Lincoln. In a giant blue tent adjacent to the crowd, the League of Women Voters encouraged Monroe County residents to register to vote.
The rally and its organizers seized the crowd’s attention. Many looked on and listened, and at other moments, hooted and hollered. The march and rally were organized by local students of the greater Rochester area and the youth social change organization Teen Empowerment. Mayor Lovely Warren addressed her constituents, which was followed by a performance from a teen on his guitar and an interpretive dance from a group of young people.
The change-making hopefuls roared when Lentory Johnson, a Rochester resident who lost her son to gun violence in 2015, took the stage. She addressed Washington Square Park, reminding all in attendance of her son Johnny, who was shot outside a Boys and Girls Club on Genesee Street, while expanding upon the role race plays in gun violence in schools and communities.
“Are you in a moment, or in a movement?” she asked the crowd to conclude her address.
Miya Libman, a 16-year-old from nearby Brighton High School, and an organizer of the march, followed Johnson for the final remarks. Miya was inspired by how quickly the students from Stoneman Douglas mobilized, influencing marches not only in Rochester, but around the world.
“Enough is enough. We are the empowered generation,” she said. “We are the generation that is going to make a difference. Speak up, speak out, and make your voices heard.”
Miya and all the others were accompanied by an ASL interpreter, providing the Rochester deaf community, or those hard of hearing, a way in which to engage in the opening phase of the event. Following the rally, participants marched 3/4 of a mile from the town square through downtown Rochester moving west to hit Court Street, Exchange Boulevard, and Bausch & Lomb Place.
Once the marchers hit the streets and passed the Court Street Bridge, they could turn their heads to the right and scope out a sea of other people on the other side of the Genesee River fighting for the same cause.
Aside from the snowy and muddy grounds, March For our Lives Rochester was secured by police officers who put up snow plows in order to block off the streets for the event. Nothing is more Rochester than using snow plows to control and contain a major national rally.
But, nothing is also more Rochester than witnessing an impromptu song on the sidewalk of the Court Street Bridge. Beside the Blue Cross Arena, a group young people stood back to back while holding small white flowers and signs honoring the lives lost from Sandy Hook. They sang Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome.”
Young people of all ages and sizes marched. Two little girls around four feet tall jumped out of their stroller holding rainbow colored signs labeled “Arms are for Hugging,” and “Be Kind”.
Middle and high schoolers hoisted their signs over their heads stating their preferences for peanut butter and books rather than guns and bullets. Their signs read: “I couldn’t even bring Peanut Butter to School,” and “Books Not Bullets.”
In upholding the legacy of hometown revolutionaries such as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, during the event, the community focused heavily on diversity’s role in the movement.
“I feel really empowered being here and hearing all of these diverse voices,” Addison Farrell, a Brighton High School student said
That day, a small city in Western New York put its foot down and declared enough is enough. Rochestarians young and old marched, but it’s very clear to students that their best work is still ahead of them.
Addison’s peer added: “We are teenagers who are out here, and it’s not up to the adults anymore; it’s up to us.”