Great Barrington —As a first grader in Sanaa, Yemen, Moamer Alsaedi remembers leaving his classroom during a lesson to quickly go to the bathroom. When he returned minutes later, all of his classmates were lying in pools of blood, murdered with gunfire by a local militia during the country’s civil war.
“I remember seeing my best friend, who I had just been sitting next to, covered in blood, dead,” said Alsaedi, now 17, told a crowd of fellow Simon’s Rock students assembled at Great Barrington’s Town Hall midday Friday (April 20) in a bitterly cold wind to protest gun violence and lax gun laws. “And I remember a room full of kids shot dead. But I am unable to remember anything else.”
Alsaedi, who has proudly lived in America for about a decade, said he was surprised by the degree of violence in our country. “I didn’t expect to see the same sort of gun violence at schools here, in what is supposed to be such an advanced nation. My family came here expecting a haven from violence. But it turns out that gun violence is a problem all over the world.”
Alsaedi was one of more than 100 Simon’s Rock students — roughly a quarter of the student body — who marched from Great Barrington’s Public Library to the Town Hall. He was also one of the protest’s local organizers, along with Colleen Spear, a 17-year-old freshman. “Many of us feel a lack of empowerment,” Spear said. “Our college campus, like most campuses, is so open. Anyone can get in anyway and hurt us. My goal is to empower us, to fight back against gun violence and not just feel powerless.”
Friday’s protest was sparked by Lane Murdock, a 16-year-old at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut, who started an online petition to protest the gun violence that led to the murder of 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. April 20th was chosen as the date to also memorialize the first such school mass shooting at Columbine 19 years ago today, which claimed 13 students’ lives. Ridgefield is also just 20 miles from Sandy Hook, where, on the 20thanniversary of the Simon’s Rock shooting, Adam Lanza murdered 20 elementary school students in a crime that shocked the world ¾but which did not lead to further gun control measures.
Most of the Simon’s Rock students partaking in today’s protest weren’t even born, or were just a year or so old, at the time of the Columbine shooting. But they’ve grown up in a world where mass-shooting drills are common at schools. And, as Simon Rock’ers, they are well aware that their own school was the site of a murderous rampage by fellow student Wayne Lo, who killed one student and one professor, as well as injured four others, on Dec. 14th1992.
“Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School experiences one of the world’s deadliest school massacres,” recounted Laël Nethania Ngangmeni, a 19-year-old Simon’s Rock senior. “Lives were spared because his gun jammed. A day meant to be a celebration of love and life instead brought terror to many. …Yet, where is the uproar? Where is the action? Who is doing what? … So many are suffering … yet atrocities are being normalized. … Enough is enough. Something has got to give. America – do something!”
The irony that the country has ceded the gun control debate to teenagers was not lost on Dan Carp, a photography teacher at Simon’s Rock. “How screwed up is it that kids now have to protest and protect themselves because our country’s adults can’t stand up to the NRA? To me, that says so much about the situation we are in.”
Said Spear: “We hope that students and Berkshire County as a whole will be inspired to do more, to keep the issue alive and not let it fade from the national spotlight.”
As the students braved the uncharacteristically frigid spring weather to make their voices heard, and many residents honked their horns in support, for a moment at least, there was some hope in the air that the battle against gun violence and lax laws has at least begun to reach a critical mass. After all, it takes a hardened heart to ignore a simple plea from our nation’s youngsters: please protect us from harm
“It’s really inspiring to see these students get involved in what is happening in the world and in their community,” said Selectman Ed Abrahams, who attended the protest. “Our country and our community need this energy, this involvement. Our Annual Town Meeting is in three weeks and about one in ten voters will show up; nine in ten voters won’t. It’s wonderful to see so many students standing up and participating today.”
Below, at the Mason Library Simon’s Rock students speak out during the protest in the video below provided by Tim Geller: