Area students take part in local rally Saturday

Published Mar 26, 2018 at 4:00pm

“To stand higher, to shout louder. To vote.”

Rome Free Academy sophomore Katerina Dragojevic says that was part of the message to students who took part in a rally Saturday afternoon in Rome in support of the “March for Our Lives” movement that included events nationwide.

The event began outside of City Hall, as students and other organizers “gave speeches in protest of gun violence and encouraged us to seek more,” Dragojevic noted.

Across the country, thousands marched in memory of the 17 persons killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school, as well as in support of that school’s students, and in a call for gun reform. An estimated 160 people took part in the Rome rally, including about 40 students from RFA plus other schools including Westmoreland, said RFA junior Class President John George, who was among those who addressed the attendees.

He noted “we also had teachers and college students come to show their support.”

Among others from the community who also took part, the group was addressed at the start by Common Council member Ramona L. Smith, D-4, who helped students organize the event, and New York State School for the Deaf teacher Victoria Stockton. Letters from state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-47, Rome, and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-119, Utica, who both had prior commitments, were read aloud to the attendees.

Griffo stopped by the event later in the afternoon and spoke with some of those who participated, his office said.

“This was an entirely student-led event, and regardless of political affiliations, seeing so many students speak up and practice civic engagement was inspiring,” commented George. “The event was a display of mature and educated solidarity from the young people in our community.”

The rally also included a march along some nearby streets. Dragojevic observed, “cars that passed us by on the streets waved and honked in support....” She also said “there are thousands of small groups like ours all across the world who understand that just because nothing might happen where we live, that doesn’t protect other people going to different, potentially unsafe schools....”

Dragojevic additionally commented, “I think a rally and participation in the worldwide march for our lives was great, but there needs to be a continuous involvement with the community to drive actual change that can be accomplished by voting. This is just the beginning, and we’re barely scraping the surface of this and many other issues.”

​Smith told attendees that “students want safe schools,” and changes in gun laws. She added that “students are saying ‘enough is enough.’” She cited efforts for “common sense gun legislation.” She also noted that petitions to sign, as well as voter registration forms, were available at the event.

Griffo’s letter said “it is clear that we as a society have a great deal of work to do in many areas in light of the terrible and tragic loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, as well as prior violent acts across our nation.”

He said he and Senate colleagues will continue to press “for a number of initiatives to make our schools and communities safer. It is important that we also continue to focus on a variety of topics related to this matter, including our neglected mental health system and other societal issues affecting our country, guns, the culture of violence that appears to be prevalent in our society and ensuring that schools have the needed resources to protect students and staff.”

Brindisi’s letter to Rome rally organizers said “at a time when our country is so divided on many issues, it takes courage and perseverance to stand up for what you believe in.”

In the national discussion about guns and school violence following the Florida school shootings, “some of the most thoughtful and heartfelt dialogue has come from the people most affected by school shootings — the students,” he said.

Brindisi said he recently supported five Assembly bills that “would keep guns out of the hands of individuals who pose a serious risk to society; would ensure the establishment of comprehensive background checks; and would ban bump stocks and other devices on guns.”

Passing the legislation “would be a good beginning, but our dialogue on ways to make mass shootings a thing of the past cannot end there, and I hope all of you can continue being a part of that dialogue,” he added.