RACINE — “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” said John Polodna, organizer of an event called Rally for Peace, which was held in West Racine Saturday.
Around 250 people gathered at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard for the event, which was inspired by the national March for Our Lives movement, with marches happening all over the nation including Madison.
The movement, inspired by a Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., high school shooting that left 17 people dead, aims to seek stricter gun control laws in an effort to keep students safe.
Participants in the large crowd held signs at each of the intersection’s four corners with words like “Stand Up. Speak Up. Show Up,” and “Everytown for gun safety,” and wearing stickers with words such as “We call BS” and “#Enough.”
Some attendees played instruments and sang as they stood on the sidewalks, handed out signs and waved to passing motorists, some of whom signaled approving honks as they passed through the busy intersection.
Bigger than expected turnout
Polodna, the organizer of the event, said he looked online and saw marches planned between Milwaukee and Chicago, so he decided to help plan an event in Racine. He was hoping to gather a crowd of approximately 50 to 60 people and was impressed by the amount of people who showed up to show their support for the cause.
“I am totally, totally blown away by the number of people here today,” Polodna said.
At the beginning of the event, Polodna addressed the crowd, citing the need for tighter control control laws. “The states with the stronger gun control laws are the ones who have less gun violence,” Polodna said.
He urged the crowd to continue advocating for gun control laws by making phone calls and sending letters to their representatives, participating in events such as the Rally for Peace, and voting.
“We see what the half a million people in Washington, D.C., are doing and we’re bringing that message to West Racine today,” Polodna said.
The crowd was made up of young children, teenagers and adults of all ages, including Ben Young, a 15-year-old student at Racine Lutheran High School, who attended the event with his father.
“This is important for every student out there,” Young said, citing the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida the 2017 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Britain. “We need to have more gun control. Things are going to keep happening if we don’t, and prayers won’t stop that.”
Another member of the crowd was Nils Werckmeister, who is from Los Angeles originally but recently moved to Racine. “I want to support gun safety and gun control and make it harder to get guns out on the street and protect our children,” he said.
Werckmeister attended the event with his young son, but said that he would have participated in the rally regardless. “I would have done this whether I had a kid of not,” Werckmeister said.
Pat Hurley, a Caledonia resident, also attended to show her support for students. “My goal is to support the students because they deserve not to be afraid to go to school,” Hurley said. “They deserve to be protected. I’m demanding that we finally have some common sense gun reform laws.”