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Ashlanders join nationwide protests seeking solution to school shootings

Ashland residents joined in a protest on the Plaza Saturday, one of many student-led demonstrations nationwide calling for action to curb gun violence and school shootings.

The demonstration was Ashland’s effort to stand up and say it wants to find solutions to an epidemic, but it was also held to unite in solidarity with the larger protests and marches that took place around the country, including the largest on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., called “March for Our Lives.”

The D.C. protest was organized by student survivors of school shootings around the country, including one of the most recent at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. A-listers such as Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson performed at the event in support of stricter gun reform. Videos were broadcast on the screens surrounding the stage calling for action, including changing the law to help keep students safe in school.

One video carried a message from military veterans. They said assault rifles are created for one purpose only, and that is mass slaughter. They said there is no reason for American civilians to be able to own a military assault weapon and that is only a part of a gun violence solution, but a solution many Ashland protesters agree with.

“We hope to eventually see a ban of assault weapons like the AR-15,” protester Phil Kiekhaefer said.

There were few students at the Ashland event, which drew a total of an estimated 80 people. An event at the same time in Medford attracted an estimated 1,500-2,000 protesters.

Kiekaefer and his wife, Christine, however, brought their elementary-aged children to the Ashland protest.

“People are frustrated by the lack of action following some really tragic school shootings and people are starting to be fed up,” Christine said. “There’s no reason to expect it to change unless regulations change or our attitude about it changes.”

Shelia Parks, a 10th-grade English teacher at Ashland High School, said she had a student who didn’t want to participate in a walk-out event, another student-led protest that drew participation across the nation, on March 14.

“He said ‘My fellow classmates are walking out because they say that we’re outraged,’ and he said, ‘I want to know why the public wasn’t outraged the very first time it happened, why it needed to take until now,’” she said he explained.

Parks said she wishes people could see the way that fear compromises students’ growth intellectually, emotionally and spiritually the way she sees it as a teacher.

“We’re so destructive with a lot of other things that are going on globally, we’ve forgotten that we need to take care of things here in our own country first,” Parks said. “We don’t value everyone the way that they should be valued.”

After gathering in the Plaza, the chanting group flowed from to the grassy median flanking East Main Street so passing vehicles would see their signs. Honking and songs filled the chilly air.

“I am so supportive of what they’re (students) doing, and they will change the attitude towards guns in this world,” protester M.L. Moore said. “And they need all of the support that they can get.”

Another student-led anti-gun violence march is in the planning phase for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the mass killings at Columbine High School. Plans call for Ashland High students to march from the school to the Plaza for a demonstration. Other local schools may possibly participate.

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.