Student-led gun violence protest comes to Hackensack

Photo by Kim Bongard

“We have power!”

“We will vote!”

“This is what democracy looks like!”

“No more silence, end gun violence!”

These words rang through the streets of Hackensack, as crowds chanted them in unison at the Bergen County March for Our Lives protest on March 24 in accordance with the national March for Our Lives movement. The student-led movement prompted millions of people to spend their Saturdays united together against gun violence, demanding action and reform in light of the year’s school shootings, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“There are moments in time that just feel different,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer at the Bergen County march, noting that the event is a symbol of hope and the first step towards real change.

Congressman Gottheimer was just one of the many notable speakers at the event. Other speakers included Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco, First Lady of New Jersey Tammy Murphy, U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

“We’re here because enough is enough,” said Murphy. “We’re marching for every town across the state of New Jersey.”

These known names, however, were not the main speakers at the event; instead, the young students lead the way, demanding that their schools be safe havens instead of shooting grounds, and reprimanding the inaction of American lawmakers over the years in regards to gun violence.

“I have been involved with this movement probably since before you were born,” said Sen. Weinberg, who was visibly emotional as she addressed all the children at the event, “For the first time, I feel hope. You are leading us.”

Their leadership was abundantly clear on Saturday. Children of all ages stood in the tight crowds, bearing signs and chanting along. Many wore gloves or held posters with evil eyes on them, which has become a symbol of the March for Our Lives movement, demonstrating that the citizens of America are watching their government.

There were also numerous student speakers representing of different high schools from the area. Dressed in orange, the movement’s official color, the students took turns addressing the large crowds that stood before them, each speaking earnestly with the cadence and confidence of a person well beyond their years.

Laurence Fine, 14, of Ridgewood High School introduced the event, rallying up the crowds and encouraging them to “persevere” and “reclaim American democracy.”

His passion was contagious, as the crowd roared their support for the young leader. Fine set the tone for the event, and though he was a tough speaker to follow, it seemed that all the student speakers were able to meet the high bar that Fine had set.

“We are tired of blood being spilled in the hallways of America,” said sophomore Samantha Marks of Northern Regional High School. Marks’ speech was one of both heartbreak and hope. She demanded that the younger demographic take charge and act now, expressing that the current lawmakers are failing to protect the nation’s children.

Westwood Regional High School student Eric Kopp, 18, echoed Marks’ disdain for the current government officials’ gun reform policies and stances. He reprimanded legislators who back Steve Lonegan, a Republican Congressional candidate who has suggested that bringing more prayer to schools could help stop school shootings.

The crowd shared Kopp’s contempt, chanting, “Vote them out!” throughout his speech. Kopp also spoke on the importance of voting. He directed any person 17 years of age or older to a table set up at the march where they could register to vote.  

“Every election for the rest of our lives is important,” said Kopp.

The March for Our Lives movement is a testament to the fortitude and compassion of today’s youth.

Students all over the nation have been instrumental in the organization of these marches, as well as various walkouts and protests. From elementary school to college, it is the students of America that are orchestrating this movement.

Ramapo College sophomore Stephanie Guzman said that attending Bergen County’s march was “so inspiring” and that it made her want to bring the same energy and determination back to Ramapo’s campus. Guzman expressed that protests like March for Our Lives are signs of hope and proof that people of all ages can make real change in society.

“It’s always empowering to know you have a voice,” said Guzman. “It makes you feel so much stronger.”