MOUNT VERNON — Seventeen-year-old Llyra Roe engaged a crowd estimated at a thousand people in a U.S. history pop quiz during Skagit County’s March for Our Lives.
Atop a platform at Mount Vernon High School, the Sedro-Woolley High School student and march organizer recounted a series of student protests throughout America’s past, starting with the 1960s sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina.
After each one, Roe asked the crowd the same question: Did they make history?
The crowd’s response of “Yes” mounted as Roe went from the black armband protests of the Vietnam War to University of Michigan students protesting in 1999 against sweatshops.
When she got to Saturday’s nationwide protest by high school students over gun violence, her question changed.
“Will we make history?” she cried.
The march took place a little over a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, which resulted in the deaths of 17 people.
Other Skagit County high school students spoke to the crowd on the imperative of change, schools as war zones, how over-politicized talks of gun reform have become and the senselessness of arming teachers with guns.
“I believe in finding middle ground. But when it comes to children dying in our schools, there is no such thing as middle ground,” one speaker said. “This is a matter of life and death. We are worth so much more than your guns.”
But the students wanted to be clear: they are not trying to change the Constitution. They are not trying to take away all guns.
Instead, they are calling for sensible gun laws that will protect against mass shootings.
“If we can’t keep our students safe, something is wrong,” one speaker said. “It’s time for legislators to do their jobs.”
Among those in attendance was 53-year-old Mark Carlson of Mount Vernon. He said he was proud of the young people standing up for what they believe in. But his pride was accompanied by embarrassment in himself for not doing enough in the past.
Carlson said he grew up with hunting, guns and a belief in the righteousness of the Second Amendment.
However, things have changed, he said.
“I’m really tired of automatic weapons in my schools,” he said. “I’m tired of some kid being able to blast off and kill 17 kids, and we get thoughts and prayers. I’m just so in love with the young people now saying ‘It’s enough. Enough is enough.’ And I agree with them.”
From the high school, the crowd snaked down Second Street toward the Skagit County Courthouse in downtown, wielding signs reading “Congress: Learn From These Brave Students,” “ARMS R 4 Hugging” and “Thoughts Prayers AND Actions.”
“Hold your sign over here,” one man said, beckoning to the cars zooming below the Second Street bridge. Car after car honked in support.
Janice Swanson of Sedro-Woolley marched as a grandmother, former middle school teacher and member of the National Education Association. She said the thought of arming teachers is horrific.
“It’s not what teachers go into teaching for,” she said.
Instead of funding guns for teachers, Swanson said, the money would be better utilized for counselors and smaller class sizes.
“It’s critical to know our students,” she said.
As the protesters gathered around the courthouse, students — a handful wearing bright orange #ENOUGH shirts — stood on the courthouse steps.
One of those students was 18-year-old Brianna Werner of Sedro-Woolley High School. She was back to protest after participating in last Wednesday’s school walkout.
“We need things to change. Before was to honor the 17 victims, but now ... we are ready to make change happen,” she said.
As more and more people filed in front of the students, chants of “Not one more,” “Enough is enough,” and “End gun violence. No more silence” rang out.
The chants continued for about 10 minutes before Roe addressed the protesters. After thanking the community for showing their support, she opened the stage to anyone who wished to speak.
Person after person, young and old, addressed the crowd. Some called for reform, while others were simply enraged. They spoke of fear and they spoke of change.
The first thing Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau talked about was love.
“We love you,” she said to the students. “We want to applaud you for taking a stand. We vow we will have common sense in helping advocate for you in making our community safe.”
Werner spoke of leaving for college soon. She said her mother should be crying because of that, not because her daughter could possibly die or be injured as a result of a gun.
The event culminated with Roe stating Saturday’s protest was not the end.
“We’re going to keep going,” she said.