At Concord 'March for Our Lives,' Students, Grown-Ups, and Counter Protest
March for Our Lives rallies took place around the country - and across the state this past Saturday in Portsmouth, Peterborough and Nashua, among other places.
In Concord, an estimated 4,000 people convened at the State House following a march from Concord High School. NHPR’s Sean Hurley was there.
I find 12-year-old Anna Steenburgh standing well outside the gathering.
Overwhelmed by the noise and the packed crowd, the 7th grader from Pike hadn’t yet found the courage to push her way into it - to join her fellow students and raise a homemade sign that she reads off for me, “No sign is big enough to list all the reasons I’m here.”
But even at this distance, she can hear the speakers. “I really liked the poetry reading,” Steenburgh says. “It was so moving I actually cried.
“But I've grown immune to the news!” Daisy Young says in her poem. “Bombings, hijacks, mass shootings collapsing dying wounds! Nothing is new, so don't you dare tell me that I shouldn't worry! That I am too young! Parkland was too young! Sandy Hook was too young! Columbine, Virginia Tech, the list goes on! Too young!”
Twelve-year-old Anna takes a breath and wades into the crowd - as now Katie Henry, a senior from Concord High, begins to speak.
Henry tells the crowd that her mother is a teacher, her sister is a teacher, her grandmother and grandfather were teachers.
“We already ask our teachers to act as counselors, as social workers and as mentors and we famously underpay them for this,” Henry says to the crowd. “No matter the training a teacher may have to begin with it is fundamentally unfair to add bodyguard to this list!”
As Anna Steenburgh disappears in the crowd - Melissa Hartford emerges to find a place for her 4-year-old daughter to play. Hartford is a 7th grade teacher from Bow.
She says it’s impossible to explain school shootings to her students.
“Some of them are scared and they come in and they talk about it and they want to know, you know, will this happen here? And will it happen to us?” Hartford says.
“And you know they want to know why people do this, why it's so easy for people to acquire weapons that will hurt so many people at once. And it's hard because I really don't have the answers for them.”
Not everyone here supports the rally. From time to time a dissenting voice is heard.
I can’t make out what’s being said and move closer. I see a man standing on a snowbank waving a flag - holstered gun visible at his waist – and then suddenly someone races toward him and knocks the protestor to the ground.
As the man climbs back up onto the snowbank and pulls his jacket away so the gun is visible, he tells me his name Skyler Lee and he’s from Concord.
“It’s important for me to come here because these people are voting on misinformation and skewed studies and they don't understand the information that's actually at hand,” Lee tells me.
“Gun ownership in this country has gone down 13 percent in the last 30 years but mass shootings have gone through the roof. You know what correlates with that 30-year period? The use of antidepressants and the violence in our media - video games, music, movies, everything. But everybody wants to blame guns. I have a gun right here on my hip. Guess how many people that gun is going to kill today? Zero.”
I tell him I couldn’t quite overhear what he’d been shouting. Could he repeat it?
“An armed society is a polite society,” Lee says. “Oh yeah, somebody came over and hit me in the face.”
An armed society, it seems, isn’t as polite as he thought.
Another man approaches Lee and they move away from the crowd to talk.
“I thought he had to be listened to so I took him over here and I gave him an ear. And he disagrees with me,” Michael Johnston tells me. “I’m a Navy Veteran – they tell me I am the 52nd sniper in the Navy in Viet Nam and I saw a bit of war.”
Johnston says he remains a crack shot, is a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment and has been trained in the use of assault rifles - weapons he believes belong only on the battlefield.
“It’s a false argument to say that a civilian version of the AR 15 or the M16 is not an assault rifle. It is an assault rifle,” Johnston says, “and it was designed to provide harassing fire, cover fire, so that you can move against an enemy. It’s not a hunting rifle. It’s a rifle that makes a lot of noise and hurts people. That’s the other thing, it’s not designed to kill – it does kill - it’s designed to hurt."
“We, like the deepest caverns of our tucked away regret must refuse to be silenced,” Leeza Richter says from the podium. “We must use our sorrow as our momentum and our momentum as our strength!”
As the crowd cheers I turn around to take a photo - and see 12-year-old Anna Steenburgh. She’s finally made it into the dense throng – and waves her sign from side to side. “I mean it’s 2018 and we have to have a protest to make sure kids aren’t being shot at,” she begins. “And… I just want to be safe…”