March For Our Lives crowd is inspired by Benicia High School Youth and Community Leaders
By Roger Straw, June 11, 2022
Benicia moms and high school youth organized a local rally and march on Saturday, June 11, to call attention to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S., and to call for sensible legislation to make our schools – and our communities – safer.
A crowd of around 300 rallied at Benicia’s First Street Green overlooking the Carquinez Strait. Attendees received free blue t-shirts with white lettering, “MARCH FOR OUR LIVES” and the colorful crowd heard inspiring speeches before taking to the sidewalks and marching up First Street and back to the Green.
Organizer Alicia Brewster served as MC, welcoming the crowd and thanking everyone, including co-organizers Becca Cannon, Jacquie McCue and others.
Leadoff speaker was Terry Scott, chair of Benicia’s Arts and Culture Commission. Scott shared his experience at Kent State University in 1970 when he witnessed the killing of 4 students and injuring of 9 others. Then he turned to our current epidemic of gun violence, asking, “How high are we willing to set the price to defend an amendment that has been outpaced by technology? How is being shot at schools, malls, churches, grocery stores an expression of freedom? Is it time to agree that the original intent of an antiquated amendment has been co-opted?”
Benicia School Board President Sheri Zada recalled the horrific 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland Florida. That AK-47 massacre triggered the March For Our Lives movement, and Zada was one of the organizers of Benicia’s 2018 March. Zada recalled, “I was with my husband Alan, at lunch one day, crying… and I said, ‘You know what, I can’t just sit by and do nothing.'” She offered sobering statistics, “More than 170 school shootings have happened since Parkland, Florida. 170! Over 950 school shootings have happened since Sandy Hook in 2012…. You’ve got to realize that it’s an epidemic in our country. Guns are the leading cause of death in American children and teens.” Zada got enthusiastic applause as she wondered what can be done, “Well, the first thing I did when I got into office is that I made sure there is a resolution passed in our School Board that would not allow our teachers to be armed, ever.”
Three students representing Benicia High School followed.
“I am here speaking to you today because I am fifteen, and I am tired,” said Bella Cannon, Sophomore Class President of Benicia High School. Bella’s litany of “I am tired” statements illustrated the sorry state of so many of our kids in schools these days. “I am tired of being scared to go to school every day. I am tired of being worried about my 10-year-old sister and 13-year-old brother when we all leave the house every morning….I am tired of worrying if we are all going to make it home.”
Benicia High’s 2022 senior class valedictorian Juhi Yadav followed, and made a profound point, “If you want a gun, the government says that you get to have it, virtually unconditionally. You have a right. But is it right that you have it?” It took a minute, but the crowd’s understanding slowly bloomed, as did the applause. Yadav continued, “In response to tragic and despicable instances of violence, like that in Texas just weeks ago, lobbyists and lawmakers love to enter a fantasy world, where guns are used to protect innocent families from armed gunmen. At every step of the way, they ask, but what if just one of these teachers had been armed – how would the story have changed? The answer is painfully clear. It wouldn’t.”
Benicia High Junior Michael Delgado added a rather stark and shocking perspective. “Three weeks ago, when we heard the news that nineteen children had been murdered in a public school, none of us were surprised,” he began. “These children are the pure among us, the innocent among us, and the most vulnerable among us. They are our future. Time and time again, we watch, and stand idly by, while they are taken from us. A society which allows its future to be slaughtered is a sick society….”
Benicia Poet Laureate Mary Susan Gast concluded the pre-march ceremonies, sharing three poems. Tragically and movingly, the first poem, by former Benicia poet laureate Johanna Ely, was written four years ago, on the occasion of Benicia’s 2018 March For Our Lives, a poem titled, I am tired of waking up to the faces of dead children…. Dr. Gast then read two of her own poems, beginning with One Who Survived Uvalde, describing the heartbreaking story of Miah Cerrillo, who survived the Uvalde massacre by smearing herself with blood of a dead classmate and playing dead. Gast’s final poem, A Plea to Legislators began, “Deliver us from slaughter,” and ended with the crowd joining in a crescendo of cries, “Do something. Do SOMETHING. DO SOMETHING!”
The sidewalks of First Street, Benicia – June 11, 2022
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After the March
Marchers returned to the First Street Green for closing remarks and a commemoration of 21 flowers for the 21 who were murdered in Uvalde Texas.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young reported that “There has been a mass shooting every day since Uvalde, and 1500 since Sandy Hook.” He added, “In 1994, Congress passed an assault weapons ban, and in the next ten years, mass shootings declined by 43%. Republicans undid the ban in 2004, and mass shootings have increased 239%. Coincidence?” The Mayor’s best line came at the end, and got a big cheer from the crowd: “The only way to stop a bad politician with a vote is with a good citizen with a vote!”
Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown added, “Together, we need to elect US senators who believe in our cause. Background checks, a 30 day wait to get a gun…. An example is the recent Tulsa shooting at the hospital. He bought a gun at 2 and by 5pm, 4 were dead plus the shooter. We might say enough is enough, but the effort must be daily until November 7. 2022.”
Mel Orpilla, Senior staff for Benicia’s U.S. representative Mike Thompson, read a message from Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce. Thompson has long led an effort to pass universal background checks. “This week,” wrote Thompson, “the House passed two vital bills that join my Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act as gun violence prevention legislation that the House has sent to the Senate.” He continued, “The bills we passed will save lives by raising the age to purchase an assault rifle, restricting large capacity magazines, going after gun traffickers, stopping ghost guns and bump stocks and requiring the safe storage of firearms. The pressure is now on Senate Republicans to do their job and vote for these policies that are overwhelmingly supported by the American people.”
The rally concluded with a touching memorial reading of the names of the nineteen children and two teachers murdered in Uvalde, Texas. As the names were read, March speakers, organizers and supporters were thanked one by one, and presented with one of nineteen individual flowers representing those we lost in Uvalde.
Video of Highlights by Dr. Constance Beutel (28 minutes)
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