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Hundreds in Berkshire County join nationwide #MarchForOurLives protest calling for end to gun violence

"Let's keep the heat on the NRA ... don't let the NRA make this about mental health. This is about guns." -- Christopher Biernacki, a mental-health professional at Berkshire Medical Center, a veteran and former police officer

Pittsfield — Hundreds of people turned out today at Park Square for the Berkshire regional event supporting the #MarchForOurLives nationwide protest against gun violence.

The event was organized by Indivisible Pittsfield, a Trump-resistance group advocating for social justice. The Pittsfield march is known in the parlance of the national movement as a “sibling event” to the National March For Our Lives and attracted a spirited and sometimes angry crowd heavily motivated by the lack of gun control action in the aftermath of a Feb. 14 mass school shooting in Parkland Florida. That shooting sparked a national movement propelled by students activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman’s rampage left 17 dead.

Losseni Barry, a student at Berkshire School in Sheffield, was first to speak at the Park Square rally in Pittsfield. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The demographics on Park Square spanned the spectrum from young to old, rich to poor and from white to people of color. But the theme remained the same: something must be done to stop gun violence, especially in our schools — and the best way do that is through increased gun control.

It seemed that everywhere — before and during the event — there were chants coming from groups of young people. A random sampling included: “We call BS!”; “Go away, NRA!”; “This is what democracy looks like!”

 

 

See video below of the scene on Park Square before the event began:

“My right to live outweighs your right to have a gun,” said a student who declined to identify herself. “It just does and, like, that’s all that needs to be said.”

Another student who identified herself as attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock, which was well represented at the event, was a seventh-grader living in Connecticut at the time of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Her voice cracked with emotion as she spoke of the need for action.

“I’m tired of being afraid for myself. I’m tired of being afraid for other students,” she said. “We don’t need guns. It’s not necessary. We don’t need the gun money that’s in politics.”

See video below of the speakers at the #MarchForOurLives event:

Katherine Simmons, a teacher at Sheffield’s Berkshire School, which also sent a large and noisy contingent, told the students, “You’re the faces of the future. We need to stop living in the past. Now is the time; this is the place. Keep moving forward. Every individual is important and it’s all love, no fear.”

Zoe Nadig, also a student at Simon’s Rock, told the crowd that her mother is a middle-school teacher and “I do not think that shielding her students from bullets should ever be something that is expected from her.”

Simon’s Rock student Ankur Chakrabarti Roybarman is from India and marveled at America’s lack of gun control. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Simon’s Rock student Ankur Chakrabarti Roybarman hails from India. She brought an international perspective to the rally. “It surprises me that healthcare is a privilege in America and guns are a right … and it’s not just about guns, it’s about everything in America that is wrong. People … are so fond of saying that America is great. It’s fucking not!”

Christopher Biernacki, a mental-health professional at Berkshire Medical Center, a veteran and former police officer, threw cold water on the notion, often promulgated by gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association, that the best way to stop gun violence is to improve mental health services.

Chris Biernacki, a mental-health professional at Berkshire Medical Center. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“Let’s keep the heat on the NRA … don’t let the NRA make this about mental health,” Biernacki said. “This is about guns.”

Biernacki then turned his attention to first-term Congressman John Faso, a Republican who represents New York’s 19th district, which borders Berkshire County. Indeed, there were a few protestors at the event carrying anti-Faso signs.

“John Faso has a A-rating lifetime from the NRA,” said Biernacki, who urged other New Yorkers on Park Square to take action. “It is time for John Faso to leave … come November, get rid of John Faso.”

A man who would only identify himself as “Jonathan” displays a sign urging the ouster of a Republican New York Congressman John Faso whose district borders Berkshire County. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The event was only slightly marred by a couple of angry Pittsfield Police officers who loudly warned a few protesters who were encroaching onto the street. At one point just before the speakers took the microphone, a bearded man in a pickup truck drove slowly by the crowd and shouted, “Second Amendment … guns for America, baby!”

And during the march to Pittsfield High School, three young men entering the Berkshire Athenaeum shouted, “Freedom,” along with military and pro-gun slogans. They suggested the FBI was to blame for the massacre at Parkland.

 

 

See video below of the march to Pittsfield High School:

 

There was also a concurrent demonstration in front of Great Barrington Town Hall. See photo below courtesy of Robin Helfand:

As the anti-gun violence rally was taking place in Pittsfield, a similar protest was occurring in front of Town Hall in Great Barrington. Photo: Robin Helfand

Elsewhere, a group of about 70 South County students traveled to the national march against gun violence in Washington. Their trip was sponsored by the Railroad Street Youth Project. One attendee, Monument Mountain Regional High School student Mae Whaley, texted us the following brief dispatch while on the return trip back to Great Barrington:

There is nothing like being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people of all socioeconomic classes, genders, sexualities, and ethnicities coming together for a like cause to rally and peacefully protest, especially on the site of such historical events like the March on Washington and the Women’s March.

 

 

See more video below of protest activity before the speeches:

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