MORGANTOWN — What makes a movement, well, a movement?
A movement is a movement, Jeannie Rhodes said, when you can get 300 people to rally in the WVU Coliseum parking lot just through minimal messaging on social media.
That’s exactly what happened here a week ago, March 24.
The above-mentioned number of people (give or take) turned out to lend support for the Morgantown leg of March for Our Lives.
Rhodes, a teacher at the Monongalia County Technical Education Center, organized the event with Tonia Frye, a fellow instructor at the facility which offers hands-on training for vocations from car repair to the culinary arts.
Morgantown’s participation was as hands-on as could be.
“I put it up on Facebook,” Rhodes said, last week. “I figured I’d get maybe 25 people. That would have been enough, since you have to start somewhere.”
That’s also about how many T-shirts she had printed up for the occasion, she said.
She ran out of shirts. Fast.
She also didn’t mind one bit, she said.
“People are part of something,” she said. “They’re keeping this going.”
On that brisk Saturday morning, Morgantown was part of the global landscape for the march which was organized by survivors of the mass shooting the month before at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla.
Hundreds of thousands of marchers from Tacoma, Wash., to Tokyo showed up for the day.
The spark came from an act that, on these shores, was both jarring, and numbingly common, at the same time.
Fourteen students and three staffers were killed on Valentine’s Day, when a gunman walked in to the school in South Florida and opened fire. Police charged a former student with the crimes.
In the days since, students there, and everywhere else, have been protesting for stricter gun control laws, while also honoring those who have fallen to such violence in America’s schools.
March for Our Lives also had an opening act, of sorts, when students across the country (including those here at Morgantown High School and University High), walked out of their classrooms on March 14, a month after the Parkland shootings.
They stayed out for 17 minutes — one each for those who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
That such killings are becoming commonplace chills Rebecca Brazaitis, a MHS sophomore who helped organize the earlier walkout at her school and took park in the Morgantown March for Our Lives gathering.
Like other students of her generation, she’s never known a world without the threat of murder in the main hallway.
While doesn’t obsess on it, she said she still can’t help but keep it tucked in her mind: That notion that she and her classmates could someday be cowering under desks while the bullets fly.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, last week. “It can happen anywhere. It can happen here.”
Aiming the argument
If anything positive can come out of a tragedy like Parkland, Rhodes said, it’s that students are engaging in serious discourse.
They did that here as they shivered in the cold outside their buildings during the March 14 walkouts.
One student at UHS, who is planning on a career in the military after he graduates this year, slammed a society he said allows emotionally disturbed people to languish in their pain — right up until they pull the trigger on a large scale with a weapon, that, more often than not, was purchased legally.
Another classmate who is a gun enthusiast and hunter urged people to simply draw a bead on commonsense and responsibility when considering ownership of a weapon.
Rhodes hopes the discussion will continue.
“You don’t want to become desensitized to gun violence,” she said.
She said that she was heartened that young people are seeking to affect change within the system.
Tia Akers, an MHS student who is about to turn 18, said the same last month during her 17-min-ute protest.
“We’re going to be voting in elections really soon,” she said, as she made her way down to the 50-yard-line of Pony Lewis Field.
Other shots fired
Meanwhile, one Parkland survivor these days is engaging in a debate
of a different kind with Fox News.
David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, turned into the public face for the school and the calls for increased gun control legislation that followed the shootings.
When he mentioned in one interview that he applied for four colleges in California — and wasn’t accepted by any of them — Laura Ingraham, a conservative commentator who hosts a show on the network, issued this tweet in response:
“David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Ding-
ed by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA … totally predictable given acceptance rates.)” The student fired back, calling for advertisers to boycott her program.
To date, more than a dozen clients — from Hulu to Johnson & Johnson — either pulled their spots from “The Ingraham Angle,” or are going to, according to media reports.
Ingraham issued an apology, which Hogg didn’t accept, saying the host was just trying “to save”