EXCELSIOR — Aalayah Eastmond, a survivor of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, told a crowd of about 130 people who came to The Commons in Excelsior on Saturday, Oct. 6, that if she can stand up to gun violence, so can the young people of Minnesota.
“You can do it, too, with no excuses,” she said.
Her comments came at the West Side Rally Against Gun Violence after she had shivered in the 45-degree air while waiting to speak. To make matters colder, there was a 5 mph northeast breeze blowing off Lake Minnetonka.
In filing for the permit, organizers imagined a maximum of 2,000 people attending. However, there were less than 150 in the park at any given time that afternoon.
Eastmond talked about violence in her life. She was in the third classroom visited by shooter Nikolas Cruz, a former student. Eastmond, then a junior, survived under the lifeless body of senior Nicholas Dworet.
Seventeen students died in the school shooting.
She described losing her uncle to gun violence 15 years ago in Brooklyn. She said politicians and the press may talk about gun violence in schools, but they do not talk much about ongoing gun violence in the inner cities. She said she will work tirelessly on the issue.
Eastmond said she helped organize a day of healing for the youth in Chicago. She testified before the U.S. Senate during the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh nomination hearings. Like she did in D.C., the teenager described looking at the barrel of an AR-15 and having police remove body matter from her hair.
Orange was the color of the day. People wore orange “Minnesotan Against Getting Shot” T-shirts or at least orange coats, hats or scarves. It was the same color protesters wore when they flooded all three floors of the State Capitol last February to push for gun safety laws. Both events were led by Protect Minnesota. Its director, Nancy Nord Bence, spoke on Saturday, too.
She thanked them for braving the chilly weather a year after the Las Vegas shooting, the largest mass shooting in North American history. She said the year saw many tragedies — Sutherland Springs, Texas; Parkland; Santa Fe, Texas. She cited a Star Tribune poll that showed overwhelming support for strengthening gun laws. She said Protect Minnesota and supporters of gun laws have organized, marched on St. Paul and, in the end, nothing happened.
She said 50 gun laws have passed in other states, but none in Minnesota.
“Our lawmakers do not care about us,” Nord Bence said.
She called on people to vote for supporters of stronger gun laws.
State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, taught American government for 30 years at Eden Prairie High School. He said every day was a joy and privilege, but he struggled for words following shootings such as Red Lake, Columbine and Virginia Tech.
“I continue to be sick and tired of our young dying in the prime of our lives,” Cwodzinski said.
He said the youth in the 1960s woke the adults out of their slumber when it came to the Vietnam War. Now, it is time for the youth to wake up the adults when it comes to gun violence.
He said the Second Amendment says “well-regulated militia,” which means the nation can pass laws on weapons. Minnesota already bans switchblade knives.
“If all you have done today is save one life, you did your job,” Cwodzinski said.
The rally was held to honor students who protested against gun violence by walking out of school last spring.
Braden Johnson, a senior at Chanhassen High School, helped organize those walkouts in the west metro area. He also is co-chair for Students Protect Minnesota.
“I truly believe gun violence has become epidemic within our society,” he said.
He said politicians need to stop treating violence like a partisan issue. Bullets, he said, do not see party. He said students cannot vote and they need the grown-ups to act on their behalf.
Sydney Lewis, a junior at Eden Prairie High School, is co-chair of Students Protect Minnesota and also helped organized walkout protests last spring.
She was attending fifth grade in Connecticut when the school shooting happened in Newtown an hour away.
“I still can’t comprehend why anyone would do that,” Lewis said.
She noted that, on Sept. 21, threatening notes were found at EPHS. She said parents shouldn’t have to say “I love you” to their children before they go to school in case they don’t see them again.
She said real change is electing officials who will pass stronger gun laws.
Joyce Hayden of Medina spoke about losing her daughter, Taylor, to gun violence. During a weekend getaway to see friends in Atlanta in 2016, she was caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs outside a nightclub. Joyce said people need to arm themselves with knowledge.
“I can’t understand why the park isn’t packed,” she said.