Students demand action
Lisa Lineberger said she’s been on “both sides” of the gun debate.
She’s a former gun salesperson and owner, she said. But she’s also a domestic violence survivor — and a mother to a 16-year-old son with special needs.
“I did this stuff. I shot these guns,” she said. “But things have to change ... I no longer believe that these things should be sold. I have a child with special needs who would not survive this kind of environment at schools where people want to arm teachers.”
She was among the 1,500 to 2,000 people who turned out for Medford’s March For Our Lives, a combined march and speaking event organized by local students on the topic of school safety and gun reform. Participants marched a half-mile from the Jackson County Courthouse to Spiegelberg Stadium, where three students stood on the football field and spoke to the gathering in the stands.
Medford’s march was an offshoot of the national March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., which was organized by surviving students of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school.
The local student organizers for Saturday’s event attend four different high schools in two counties. They come from varying backgrounds and none of their future goals point them in exactly the same direction. What they have in common is growing up in what they call “the mass shooting generation” — a category that they want to end with them.
“We allow a system that prioritizes the rights of an inanimate object over the rights of our citizens, and our children’s right to learn,” said Blake Beck, a senior at Crater High School, in his speech to the crowd at the stadium. Many of his remarks were directed toward members of Congress, whom he said have failed to protect schools, specifically in the areas of guns and mental health.
Brian Josephson, a South Medford senior, said the issue of gun violence at schools, “hits at the heart of our American ideals.”
“So long as we say that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to have access to the American dream, but we do nothing to protect their learning in our schools, it is a mark on our national conscience,” he said.
Several local organizations were represented in the crowds of attendees: Jackson County Democrats, Veterans for Peace and Southern Oregon Indivisible were among them.
Marchers came from across the Rogue Valley and beyond, and their views on guns varied just as widely. Frank and Teresa Pugh drove from Yreka; they’re gun owners, they said, and he is a Vietnam War veteran. They said the idea that citizens should be able to own assault rifles is “ridiculous.”
“God bless ‘em,” Frank said of the student organizers. “We need to bring pressure to bear on Washington.”
Not all gun owners present at the event agreed with the view that restricting gun access is the best way to make schools safer. Jared Foy, a Medford resident and parent to two children, brought signs of his own to the march, along with a semi-automatic gun strapped to his chest.
“Active shooters are always taken down by somebody with a gun,” Foy said. “We need more people willing to take on the duty of protecting others.”
He was one of a handful of counter-protestors who walked behind marchers to the stadium and talked with them outside during and after the event. Foy said most people were willing to converse, although some less so.
Students have been organizing the march since almost immediately after the Florida students called for a national movement. For several of the core group, this was not their first demonstration since the shooting.
Josephson, Elaina Foley and Emma Empol led South Medford students to meet their peers from North Medford in a school walkout on March 2, which was organized by a North Medford senior. Miranda Taylor-Cheek, a senior from Phoenix High School and another organizer of Saturday’s march, helped lead a silent in-school demonstration a week before the Medford walkout. Middle school students from Hedrick and Talent also held demonstrations of their own.
Meanwhile, Christina Cano-Young, whose daughter attends South Medford High School, said she reached a point after Parkland where she said she “couldn’t watch any more parents crying on TV.” So she created the Facebook page for Medford’s March For Our Lives.
Other activists, including several from the Medford Women’s March, quickly reached out to help the students. Josephson did, too, and through social media, students across school districts began to connect and take charge. In the weeks since, the group arranged for permits to hold a protest, bought event insurance and rented the stadium from the Medford School District. They raised $2,350 through a Gofundme campaign to cover those expenses. More than 60 volunteers signed up to help direct traffic and keep protesters on the sidewalk.
“It’s consumed most of my free time,” Josephson said. “Planning anything as large as this is pretty difficult to do with five weeks notice.”
Josephson had mentioned earlier that he hoped to put together a gun-related initiative petition for the November ballot, but said Saturday the group is “rethinking our priorities and may reevaluate.”
“We are looking at a campaign to get young people registered to vote and voting in November for positive policies to keep our schools safe,” he said in a text message Saturday.