March 28, 2018

Thousands Fill Downtown in March for Our Lives

By Donald Gilpin

Optimistic organizers anticipated hundreds, but thousands of people showed up in Hinds Plaza Saturday to join Princeton’s March for Our Lives rally, one of more than 800 across the country in support of the national march in Washington, D.C., demanding that lawmakers take action against gun violence.

Estimated at more than 4,000, the crowd overflowed the Plaza. Witherspoon and Hulfish streets were closed to traffic. 

“I was very surprised,” said student organizer Dziyana Zubialevich. “About 1,600 registered online. We expected about 800 С then almost 5,000 showed up.”

The Princeton High School senior continued, “This movement is student-led. This gives people hope, voice С especially the younger generation. And parents and grandparents also want to support their children. I’ve worked on political campaigns before, but this is different. This movement has changed the situation. On gun control it’s been difficult to get our voices heard, and to get politicians to listen, but it’s very powerful this time.”

In a Facebook post the following day, Zubialevich wrote, “Thank you all so much for coming yesterday. The event turned out great! Now it’s time to turn the march into something actionable,” urging her followers to contact their legislators. On Monday in Trenton lawmakers seemed to have heard the new voices and felt the power of their pleas, as the New Jersey Assembly voted to pass six different bills to tighten gun restrictions.

The bills will go to the state Senate, which must also pass them before they go to Governor Phil Murphy to be signed into law.

“I’m exhilarated,” said the Rev. Bob Moore, executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action, a co-organizer of the rally. Moore, who sent two bus loads off to the national march in Washington early Saturday morning, then drove to Westfield to speak at a rally, before returning to speak at the Princeton rally, described how his organization had printed 500 fliers, thinking that would be enough.

“It was exciting, empowering,” he said. “The weather cooperated. It was a great collaboration between young and old. I’m thrilled with how it went.” He hastened to mention the “amazing results already” from Monday’s vote in Trenton, but was not optimistic about further breakthroughs in Washington. “I don’t foresee much movement until Congress changes hands,” he said.

Describing a “tipping point” that has been reached in the wake of the Parkland shooting and over 300 other school shootings since Newtown five years ago, Moore noted, “There’s a new wave of activists. Can they apply this momentum in national elections? Both the youthful idealism and the passion are important.”

In addition to Zubialevich and Moore, speakers at the Hinds Plaza rally included four students and four adults: Vidhya Dhar, a junior at East Brunswick High School; Rabbi Arnold Gluck of Temple Emmanuel in Hillsborough; Ben Bollinger and Joe Redmond, student leaders of the newly-formed Princeton Against Gun Violence at Princeton University; Assemblyman Roy Frieman; and Glenda Torres, who has been a victim of gun violence.

Reba Holley, Mercer County leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, co-organizer of the Princeton rally and nine others across the state, also expressed her happiness with the success of the event. “There’s a palpable difference now, caused by the activists at Parkland,” she said.

In attempting to explain the large turnout, Holley mentioned the effect of the shooting at Panera Bread in Princeton last Tuesday, where a gunman died after a long standoff with the police. She also noted, “At Sandy Hook, the students couldn’t speak and the parents were too devastated. But the kids of Parkland took their pain and channeled it into action. They are articulate and media-savvy.”

Holley praised Zubialevich for “a lovely job of binding young and older, with a variety of people who spoke.” She continued, “I see a tide turning. I’m more optimistic now. I’m feeling great enthusiasm. People who might have been complacent are being awakened and are understanding that 96 people a day are dying from guns in this country.”

Discussing the organization of the event, Zubialevich wrote in her press release, “Organizing this march and seeing the immense support from organizations as well as individuals in the area has been amazing, and I am excited to see people of all ages, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds come together and work towards common-sense gun laws.”