Kar Wei Cheng
On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, members of the Eau Claire community gathered outside of First Presbyterian Church to rally against gun violence and advocate for gun reform legislation.
Friday’s rally consisted of spoken statements from local high schoolers and different representatives from the community. These statements were accompanied by poetry recitals, live musical performances and the reading of a statement regarding school safety, released by the Eau Claire School District.
The event was coordinated by Sarah Gannon, a Faith Formation team member at First Presbyterian Church. Gannon said discussions at the church about the problems of gun violence were sparked by the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
“Personally, for me, the Sandy Hook shooting was really a stimulus,” Gannon said. “I think we have just reached a tipping point in society and people want to do something about it. They’re just tired of putting up with incident after incident of violence and all of the death and injuries.”
About 45 minutes into the rally, speakers paused to pay respect for the 13 victims of the Columbine shooting, which lasted roughly the same amount of time. A tolling of the bell ceremony was performed, where the names of the victims were read aloud, followed by the ringing of a single bell and 30 second of silence between each name.
This was First Presbyterian Church’s first gun reform rally, though Gannon said they had hosted other social issue-related events in the past. Gannon said the church would be willing to host the rally again, depending on the outcome of Friday’s event. Even if the rally remains a one-time event, Gannon said the church would continue to educate the community, as they were forming a “good momentum” among its members.
“I think there’s a lot of fear with this issue; that people are sometimes intimidated to say something,” Gannon said. “I want people to be able to know that there are other people that feel the same way they do. I want them to have courage. I want them to continue to work to get legislation passed, and continue to support funding of research.”
Gannon said events like this bring people together and allow them to focus on issues that really matter, rather than be distracted by everyday life.
“(The rally) forces us to have a conversation about something we would rather ignore,” said Camryn Billen, a first-year English and theater education student and member of the UW-Eau Claire Catalysts. “It’s such a hard topic. It’s so hard to form an opinion, because there’s so much stuff that you have to take into consideration.”
Billen said that she and the other members of The Catalysts attended First Presbyterian Church’s rally in order to show their support. The Catalysts had just organized their own gun reform rally earlier that day.
Travis DuChene, a first-year broad field social studies education student and another member of the Catalysts, said events like this are important because they raise awareness, educate, create opportunities for activism, and provide people with resources for getting engaged.
DuChene and Billen stressed the importance of events like this for the younger generations, saying that college students tend to make up the demographic that votes the least.
“This is a topic that is extremely relevant to us, because oftentimes, we’re the ones being killed; we’re the ones being threatened,” DuChene said. “This issue affects us the most.”
DuChene and Billen both said they were impressed by the high school speakers who came out to speak at the rally, admiring their willingness to grab their community’s attention and speak up for what they believe in.
DuChene also said he was glad to see people of older generations supporting these young people and giving them a platform. He said community events like this are great ways for younger generations to utilize the resources of the older generations.