They came. They marched. Perhaps they have added even more sizzle to a growing movement among young Americans.
I’m guessing a crowd of about 300 or so Texas Panhandle residents gathered today at Ellwood Park in Amarillo. From the park they marched toward the Potter County Courthouse, where they would bring a message of fear, anger and perhaps a healthy dose of hope to those in power who are willing to listen to their message.
It is this: We are tired of gun violence and we are tired of being afraid in our public schools.
It was a March For Our Lives, carried out by the Texas Panhandle “chapter” of a movement spawned in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School slaughter of 17 students and staffers in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day. Parkland is the latest in a growing list of American communities scarred by gun violence on a mass-murder scale.
The students there went to Washington today to protest on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building. They want legislative change. They want stricter gun regulations.
But as the organizers in Amarillo noted today while commencing their march to the County Courthouse, “We are not ‘anti-gun.'” They do not intend to confiscate guns from responsible owners of firearms. They simply want what they call “common sense change” in the nation’s gun laws.
Violeta Prieto was one of the marchers who came to Ellwood Park. She is showing support for her daughter, Carla, one of the Caprock High School honor students who organized the Amarillo march. One of her sons, a middle-school student, said he came to the march “because my mom made me.” He’ll get the message that’s being delivered; of that I am quite sure.
“I am afraid to take my kids to school,” Prieto said. “I cannot know what will happen” any day here children are in school, she said.
“I want more control and I want to end this easy access to guns,” she said.
Prieto is a 1997 graduate of Palo Duro High School, an institution with some gun-violence history of its own. A student at PDHS opened fire in 1992, injuring six fellow students before he was arrested. Prieto said her older sister, who was attending PD, remembers the incident “very well.” The shooting occurred a couple of years before Prieto entered the high school, “but I remember it, too.”
“I support my daughter all the way,” Prieto said. “She is our future. All those kids are our future.”
To be sure, not everyone at the Ellwood Park gathering was singing off the same page in the proverbial hymnal. I chatted briefly with a couple of young men, one of whom was carrying a Confederate flag, the other a “Don’t Tread on Me” banner.
I asked if they were there to “counter protest.” One of the young men, whose name I didn’t get, said: “Oh, no. We’re here for the same reason. We want to end gun violence, too. We just believe there’s another way to do it.”
He said the emphasis should be on ending the bullying, making schools more secure, safer and “enforcing the laws we have already.”
The young men didn’t march with the rest of the crowd. When the marchers started walking away, they went to their vehicles and drove off, presumably to the courthouse — perhaps to listen and make their own statements heard.
My wife and I didn’t stay for the march. I wanted to get a feel for the Ellwood Park crowd’s mood and its sense of hope. I saw a lot of smiles and expressions of guarded optimism that we well might be seeing the dawn of a new era.
Even here. In Amarillo, a community not known as a hotbed for community activism. However, times — and communities — can change.