By Celeste Kanpurwala
On Monday, Oct. 1, about 30 people gathered in the University of Michigan Diag to hear politicians and activists speak about gun violence. The significance of the day is tragic – it marks one year from the nation’s largest mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas, where one man stockpiled multiple guns and bump stocks in a hotel room. The shooter fired over 1100 rounds into the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival, killing 58 people and wounding 851 more (including gunshot wounds and injuries from the ensuing panic while fleeing the scene).
The event in Ann Arbor was just one of the many rallies and marches that took place across the country on September 30 and October 1, all in solidarity to honor the victims and survivors of the Las Vegas massacre. It also marked 37 days until the November 6 election day. The event was co-sponsored by several organizations, including University of Michigan College Democrats, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Students Demand Action, NextGen Michigan, and Michigan Resistance.
The Facebook event had an interest of over 1600 people, with over 150 people scheduled to attend. Only about 30 showed up. Jen Chalom, the Northville High School student who was the main organizer, thinks that there would have been a much larger turnout if the event had taken place immediately following one of the summer mass shootings. The weather also left much to be desired – it rained right up to the event and the temperature hovered around 50 degrees.
One attendee probably welcomed the cooler weather, as she was in a large bear suit wearing a t shirt saying, “Don’t Shoot – I’m only here for the education.” It is meant to represent Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ statement that guns may be needed in schools to ward off bears in certain states. The artist who created the bear costume is participating in ArtPrize10 in Grand Rapids and hoping to create more dialogue and change while doing so.
The event began with 58 seconds of silence to honor the victims of the tragedy one year ago. This was led by Students Demand Action representative Will Ray, from South Lyon. He was the rally’s Master of Ceremonies who helped introduce the speakers.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell was one of those speakers, addressing the fact that one year after this horrific tragedy, the bump stock is still not banned. She encouraged the crowd to make sure that their voices are heard, and she also urged the audience to read the Las Vegas survivor stories online. The New York Times and CBS News published articles discussing how survivors from the shooting feel forgotten. Congresswoman Dingell is outraged by this and so am I.
In fact, my speech was mostly outrage. As a Moms Demand Action volunteer and gun violence survivor (my dad died by firearm suicide), I used raw emotion in my speech to get my point across. I reminded the audience that the tragedies taking place in our country every single day; such as domestic violence, suicides, unintentional child shootings, and homicides; are just as important. I stressed that in order to change our lax gun laws, we must change our representatives and senators. Above all, I encouraged people to vote!
Also encouraging attendees to vote were representatives from NextGen, who tabled at the event signing up students as they were passing by. Volunteers from the organization continually yelled out, “It only takes a minute,” and dozens of students did stop by to complete their form and/or ask questions. Hudson Villeneuve has been involved with NextGen since August, after working on Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign for governor, and he was the rally’s first speaker. Villeneuve called out Bill Schuette, currently running for governor against Gretchen Whitmer, for taking money from the National Rifle Association.
Solomon Rajput, who founded the Michigan Resistance in January 2017, started off by saying that a fleeting thought crossed his mind as he prepared to speak at the rally – what if he were shot there? While he said that the notion almost seems preposterous since Ann Arbor is such a “safe” town, Newtown was too. Rajput also questioned the very name of the rally itself by saying, “Why is there silence when we see the anguished cries of mothers and hear the uncontrollable sobs of fathers?” He addressed the current administration’s call for arming teachers, saying that the solution for gun violence is not more guns. Rajput ended his heartfelt speech by encouraging the audience to keep fighting and putting the pressure on “until we can have a future where we are not scared.”
Zaynab Elkolaly, a senior at Washtenaw Technical Middle College, was last to speak. She spoke about her own former insecurities about speaking to politicians, thinking that they were “way up there” while she was “down here.” Then she realized that they work for us! Elkolaly pumped up the small crowd by assuring them that they are all revolutionaries and that they need to continue to speak up to make change. She said, “You will always be heard if you make yourselves heard.”
MAIN PHOTO: Zaynab Elkolaly, Debbie Dingell, Celeste Kanpurwala and Hudson Villeneuve.