“Enough is enough!” This was one of the many passionate chants from over 800,000 protesters decrying gun violence that echoed along Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of the nation’s capital last Saturday.
Of those 800,000 chants, 100 of them were students of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School, Falmouth Academy, and Falmouth High School, all standing shoulder to shoulder, holding signs protesting against gun violence in one hand and smart phones to capture the moment in the other.
Standing there, in the throngs of the rally among a sea of posters and signs, was the culmination of a three-day odyssey undertaken by the Cape and Island students that began in a crowded room at the Edgartown library on Wednesday, March 21.
“I hope you feel proud of yourselves for having the courage to do this and being civically engaged,” Keith Chatinover, a senior at the Charter School and organizer of the trip to D.C., said to the gathering of students at the library.
Arranging such a trip may seem daunting for a young high school student, but Keith is no stranger to organizing, leading, and being an activist. He attended the D.C. women’s march, and spearheaded an attempt to go to D.C. for the people’s climate march in April last year. The Sierra Club had a bus leaving from the Cape, and Keith had about 18 students set to go, but before the bus got to them, it broke down on the interstate.
Keith decided to head the trip effort because he was inspired by the actions of Parkland survivors. Despite what he described as “many a nightmare” from the failed climate march trip, he worked in coordination with students, teachers, parents, the bus companies, the Steamship Authority, and donors who paid for the charter buses to safely get the group to D.C. and back.
With questions on trip specifics answered and details finalized, students began designing signs and packing bags, readying themselves for the journey ahead.
Once Friday night came, several boat cancellations threatened to derail the trip, but with the SeaStreak and freight boat up and running, the group of students and handful of adults from the Island managed to take two seperate boats and all arrive on the mainland. Parents and community members came down to the loading dock to wave goodbye and wish good luck as members of the group grabbed custom March for Our Lives T shirts provided by Rick Mello of Martha’s Vineyard Screeprinting.
Owen Engler, junior class president of MVRHS, worked in collaboration with Keith to get as many students on the trip as they could. Owen also worked to get community support from the Unitarian Universalist Society, which donated food, water, and blankets. The society also came down to wave off the group as they boarded the boats.
“It was a blessing to be a part of something as historic as this, and play a role in getting kids together from both the Island schools to stand together on an issue and work together,” Owen said in an email to the Times.
Once the group was settled in their seats and the bus wheels began to roll, the significance of the event began to set in, and stayed with everyone for the remainder of the trip.
Several of the adults on the trip were excited to be a part of the rally and support the kids. Jonah Maidoff, a social studies teacher at the Charter School who has taught Keith, praised his student’s efforts to pull the trip together. “This is a historic moment, it’s a chance to reset the debate,” he said.
Being inspired by students is something Casey Hayward, a fifth and sixth grade science and social studies teacher at the Charter School, gets on regular basis. “It’s nice for the rest of the world to see … It’s a hopeful reminder for the future to see kids so empowered and inspired,” she said.
“We need gun control … we really need regulation,” Sheila Mulcahy, a nurse from Marstons Mills who was making the trip with her granddaughter.
“Incredible … to see a whole group of youth get together to effect change … the energy of the kids is inspiring,” Aimee Loth Rozum, a mental health counselor in Falmouth who attended the rally with her son Dash, said.
At the rally, protesters came early, packing in close to the main stage hours before the event began. Cell phone service was nonexistent once inside the crowd, as thousands of people taking pictures, recording videos, and using data seemed to overload cell servers. Free bottled water was passed out at street corners, and people selling pins and T shirts walked among the crowds.
The decision to travel 16 hours round-trip on a bus for a 3½-hour rally is not an easy one, but the chance to support the historic moment was too much to pass up.
“I think this will motivate change,” a junior at MVRHS, who asked not to be named, said of the rally. A big part of that change, the student said, was David Hogg, one of the Parkland students who is leading the March for Our Lives movement: “I think that kid stood out.”
For others, seeing Parkland survivor Emma González stand on stage for a little over 6 minutes, the same amount of time it took the shooter to carry out his massacre, was the most inspiring part, and worth the entire trip.
“Amazing,” Leah Littlefield, a junior at Falmouth Academy, said in describing González’s speech. “I can’t imagine how she feels, but it’s amazing to be with her and have someone who is that powerful and eloquent.”
Music played a large role during the rally, as student speeches and video montages of gun violence statistics were interspersed with famous musicians such as Miley Cyrus, Vic Mensa, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Common singing soulful ballads themed with hope, perseverance, and change.
For Aiden Donovan, a junior at the Charter School, the music was particularly moving: “My favorite part was at the end when they were all singing. I thought it was really effective.”
Attending the rally was a way for many of the students to voice their support for changes in legislation to stop gun violence. Isabella Youmans, a senior at MVRHS, decided to use her talents with a video camera to add to her support. Throughout the trip, from the Island to the march and back again, Youmans filmed her peers for a documentary she is making about the trip.
“I feel like it’s my duty as a student and as a person who is able-bodied to go to the march,” she said. “My best talent is video, and if I can use that to make a difference, I should.”
And there was plenty to catch on camera: protesters holding signs saying, “I’m a teacher, not a cop,” “Fear has no place in our schools,” and “The only thing easier to buy than an assault rifle is a Republican”; students as young as 11 years old giving speeches about their horrific experiences with gun violence; and the reactions, before, during and after the rally, of the group who traveled from the Cape.
The excitement of the rally kept everyone in the group energized until the bus started back on its 11-hour journey home. Most fell asleep, exhausted from rallying. Once back and waiting for the first boat early Sunday morning, many of the students and adults agreed the trip was incredible.
Abijah Herring, a senior at Falmouth High School, said the trip was, “100 percent worth it. It was just so inspiring to see so many people there … it was all for the same cause, and they were passionate, and they wanted to see change.”
That was the biggest mass of human beings I’ve seen in one space in my entire life … You can’t ignore that many people,” he said with a laugh. “Not for very long anyway, not until November.”
Speaking like a dedicated politician himself, Keith found the Parkland student speeches to be the most inspiring due to their urging for young people to get involved and register to vote.
Keith said he was happy because a few of the students on the bus had already approached him, asking how they can register to vote.
“The civic engagement among young people is the driver, because young people get it. They get it on guns, climate change, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, economic equality. They get it on so many issues that a lot of the older generation just doesn’t,” he said.
Wednesday, March 21
6:30 pm: Students and adults gather at the Edgartown Public Library to go over D.C. trip itinerary.
Friday, March 23
7:30 pm: People riding the charter buses to D.C. gather at the Steamship Authority to head out on two of the evening boats.
9:30 pm: Two charter buses filled with students and adults drive from the Woods Hole terminal to a Metro stop outside D.C.
2:20 am: A quick stop to stretch and get a fast-food fix at a highway rest stop near the New York–Connecticut border. A sparse few night travelers sat eating their food in the dining area. Outside, the parking lot was filled with huge 18-wheelers.
7 am: The buses arrive at the Largo Town Center Metro stop in Maryland, and the group hops on a train into the city. Metro cards, purchased with trip donations, are handed out. At the end of the trip, the cards that still had money left on them were collected, and will be donated to a shelter in D.C.
9 am: Once in the city, the group got some breakfast at Starbuck’s and McDonald’s before heading toward the National Mall.
12 pm: The rally begins. Student speakers, celebrity musical guests, and videos showing newsreels and statistics on gun violence are the format of the rally.
4 pm: The rally is over, and the hundreds of thousands of people leave the avenue. The group gathers and does a head count before getting on the Metro and heading to the buses.
7 pm: Students entertain themselves with games and chitchat while waiting for the buses to arrive. The energy from the rally has begun to fade, and once on the bus, some people talk for a short while before falling asleep.
9:30 pm: Pit stop at highway rest area in Delaware. Some people get dinner, while others stretch their legs and get some fresh air.
Sunday, March 25
5:30 am: The two buses arrive safely in Woods Hole. Many in the group debate whether or not to get a coffee from Pie in the Sky Bakery, not knowing if they should stay awake or wait until they get home to sleep in their beds.
6:30 am: People returning to the Island get on the SeaStreak for a quick ride home. Everyone is welcomed back with waves, claps, and cheers from parents and friends awaiting their return.