Metro-Area Students Demand Action Groups March Through Denver: See Moments Here


Peter Philpott

NO MORE SILENCE: East SDA members hold signs and chant at Union Station as student protest leaders give speeches.

Students from Denver-area Students Demand Action chapters gathered with parents and community leaders at the Colorado State Capitol on Saturday to protest against gun violence. Denver East High School Students Demand Action (SDA) led the charge for gun control.

East junior and SDA vice president Alexander Cisneros helped lead the march and gave a speech during the rally. “It’s really important, I believe, to attract the attention of elected officials, who in some cases aren’t doing everything they can to eliminate gun violence,” Cisneros said. “The overall intention is to set fire beneath elected officials who are moving lethargically and aren’t doing what they need to do to eliminate gun violence in Colorado.”

Among the school chapters attending was Creek SDA. Sophomore SDA vice president Kimaya Kini mentioned how that morning, news had broken of a mass shooting in a Cleveland, Texas neighborhood. But Kini says mass shootings like these are her motivator to take action.

“People are still dying, and watching it happen is no longer an option,’” Kini said via text. “I think, to some extent, I’m starting to become numb to it. Another death. Another repost. Where does it end? At this rate, it won’t. It’s only going to change if people keep on showing up.”

Activists were also joined by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Denver mayoral candidate Mike Johnston, both of whom said they were in contact with East students following two recent shootings on the school’s campus and were invited to the rally. Bennet commended the actions students were taking.

“The least I could do is show up to support. The reason it’s so important that students are doing this work is it is the only way that progress ever gets made in our democracy,” Bennet said. “And very often, it’s inspired by people the age of the young people that are leading this discussion.”

This rally came just a day after Governor Jared Polis signed into law a package of four gun regulation bills. Johnston, who is one of two mayoral candidates left in the upcoming run-off election, expressed sorrow for his community at the rally, and added that he knew more was left to be done.

“These shootings continue to break our hearts and make us angry, but we dig in again every time and take more courageous action,” he said. “These bills were a major step to expand the red flag laws and hold manufacturers accountable. They extend the age of purchase to be older, and put in place waiting periods. Those are all important steps. We also know there’s more to do.”

Last week, the Colorado House Judiciary Committee voted down a proposed “assault weapons ban” bill. This vote was condemned by speakers at Saturday’s rally, many of whom reminded their audience that assault weapons were among the deadliest guns used in mass shootings.

Members of the Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action attended today’s event to protest alongside students. Many of these parent volunteers had previously testified for the assault weapons ban and stood beside Polis as he signed gun control laws Friday, and one volunteer, Rebekah Venturella, a hair stylist and advocate, expressed the importance of continuing to fight for legislation.

“I’ve lost family members at the hand of a gun. If laws were in place, like the ones we’ve just passed in Colorado this week, they could still be alive,” Venturella, 35, who has a four-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, said via message.

Venturella has marched and stood with student advocates in the past. “When kids/students speak, you better listen. It’s easy to re-tweet, tweet, and post your support,” she said. “It’s a whole other thing to show up and physically stand with those who are being affected every day as they enter their schools. Boots on the ground action, that’s what I’m about!”

Protesters were protected by police for much of the march route. Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas walked with protesters. Recently, moves to put Student Resource Officers, or SROs, in schools have been both widely criticized and welcomed. Advocates hope to prevent armed assailants from getting very far in school buildings, while opponents claim that SROs’ presence augments the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“I’m happy to have been able to be immediately responsive by putting officers in schools, which I think is an important first step, but absolutely should not be the last step,” Thomas said. “We have, I think, gone a long way from where we once were…where we are much more inclined to…work with the schools to employ restorative justice measures, so that the absolute last resort is an arrest or citation.”

Thomas also mentioned that he was “extremely proud of the work that [students] do, extremely supportive of their advocacy, and just honored to be here today to support them.”

Students were also joined by concerned citizens along the protest route. Ace, 24, had a more global perspective on the protest. They cited Lockheed Martin’s donations of money to gun manufacturers, and how military-made guns often go into surplus, are advertised to the public, and become a driving factor of gun violence.

“I hope people take into consideration these companies’ interests in manufacturing and advertising these guns,” Ace said. “If we really want to talk about gun control and banning ARs, we should talk about banning the manufacturers.”

East SDA gained recent media traction for their activism following the two separate shootings at the school. A student, 16-year-old Luis Garcia, was shot on Feb. 13 outside the school and died on March 1. Then, two administrators were shot inside the school on March 23 – both surviving, but one ending up in critical condition.

East sophomore SDA treasurer Charlotte Goldstein was empowered by these incidents on her own campus.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with gun violence this past year at East High School,” Goldstein said. “I know, for me personally, it’s frustrating and it’s scary to see how prevalent the issue of gun violence is in my life. And I think that it shouldn’t be.”

Students repeated in their speeches that they didn’t want to be at the Capitol protesting on a Saturday morning, but that threats to their lives meant they had to. They said that gun legislation was necessary to curb these threats.

As for Kini, there are many reasons she believes that stricter gun legislation is necessary, and why she continues to fight for it. But she says the worst part of seeing these bills get voted down is not understanding how anyone could be against them. She believes that those who vote against bills like the assault weapons ban are voting against children’s lives.

“The blood of those lost are on their hands. And that’s why this is so horrible in my eyes,” Kini said. “No one needs something that’s sole purpose is to kill. I need my life. That’s the difference between us and them. They choose to allow for these assault weapons. We do not choose to die.”

This story was awarded Honorable Mention Photo Slideshow from CSPA and its feature image was awarded Honorable Mention Single Spot News Photograph from CSPA. See moments from the march below.

Additional contributions made by Quinn Rudnick.