Unitarian Universalist youth march in Washington and other cities to protest gun violence.
Youth from UU Church West at the March for Our Lives in Milwaukee, March 24, 2018. (© Suzelle Lynch, courtesy Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson)
Gun violence has polarized the United States for decades, but hundreds of thousands of America’s youth spoke with a single voice during the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 24, and in companion marches in hundreds of other cities. When they said, “Enough is enough,” thousands of Unitarian Universalist young people, parents, and teachers raised their voices, too.
Elise Reichenfeld, 18, will remember the sign she saw in the hands of one woman with her family at the Washington, D.C., march that read, “My daughter Maya will vote in only 12 more years.”
Reichenfeld traveled to Washington with five other young members of the UU Church of the South Hills near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They had boarded a bus at 3 a.m. to get to the march site in time. She was back on the bus immediately after the march and in her church the following Sunday morning.
“Everybody said how proud they were of us for going,” Reichenfeld said.
She and the other young members of her congregation already are making plans for the April 20 national school walkout, timed to coincide with the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine school massacres.
Zoe Christenson*, 17, a member of First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota, did not make it to the march in Washington. But she has been busy nevertheless. Christenson is one of four co-leaders of Students Demand Action MN, a student-initiated group that is lobbying Minnesota politicians to change existing gun laws.
Christenson was at the Minnesota State Capitol twice in the week before the March for Our Lives, once to participate in a die-in with thirty other high school students in front of the Minnesota House of Representatives. She expected to be back at the Capitol the week after the marches as well.
“I want to be the change and to keep the momentum going,” she said.
Lisa Row was at the Washington march with her two sons, Ryan and Dan Gallagher, 17 and 16, respectively. The Coming of Age group the boys are involved with at the UU Church of the Shenandoah Valley in Northern Virginia had already made the decision to change its social justice project to gun violence.
“So this was a good starting point for us,” Row said after returning from the march. “Everything we heard that day is awesome discussion for a future voter.”
Winston Basso-Schricker, 15, traveled nine hours with thirty other young members of First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio. He was inspired by the words of Emma González and the several minutes she stood on stage in silence.
“Just to think that all those people died in what didn’t even seem like very much time,” Basso-Schricker said.
Maddy Katz, 15, was equally inspired by González. She also was quite busy. Katz was part of a group at All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C., that welcomed twenty-three students from the West Palm Beach, Florida, area on the morning of the March for Our Lives.
The twenty-three students who traveled from Florida were not UUs. However, they were there thanks to the generosity of the UU Fellowship of Boca Raton. The congregation has very few teenage members, but still it wanted to participate. In the weeks before the march, members raised $9,000 to rent the bus that would take the nearly two dozen students from inner-city neighborhoods in their area to the march.
Danielle Apter, a fellowship member, teaches in a Title 1 school district in West Palm Beach. “These are kids I teach who don’t have the financial means to take part in the process,” Apter said. She rode all through the night with the students and arrived at All Souls early Saturday morning. Katz and others from All Souls joined the West Palm Beach students at the march and led them on a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., afterwards.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of them,” Apter said. “They never imagined the march was going to be as big as it was. It was something I couldn’t have dreamed of for my kids.”
James Ploeser, youth coordinator at All Souls, arranged the welcoming party for the Florida students as well as a singing and sign-making event the night before attended by 150 to 200 people and another pre-march get-together on Saturday morning.
Ploeser said of the Boca Raton fellowship’s decision to fund the bus trip, “The UU willingness, to not just send their own people, but to make sure resources and opportunities are extended to people who are affected, points in a positive way to the intersectional analysis of what gun violence is really all about.”
On the long bus trip home, Apter said, the students talked about what they would do to curb gun violence when they got back. Some said they would be kinder to students who seem alienated, others said they’d go to town hall meetings, and all said they planned to register to vote as soon as they could.
“The benefit here is that it has opened up a dialogue on the kinds of violence my kids deal with every day,” Apter said.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Zoe Christenson’s last name. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.
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Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who is also a member of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.