By Jan Worth-Nelson
Under the watchful eye of the statue of nonviolence guru Mahatma Gandhi at Willson Park Saturday, participants at a rally organized by twin 17-year-old Powers High School students brandished protest signs and chanted “Enough is enough” in solidarity with the Washington, D.C. rally and an estimated 800 other rallies around the country calling for an end to gun violence.
Deven and Nikhil Mukkamala organized the noon event, which drew about 300 people across the age spectrum and featured speeches by Mayor Karen Weaver, State Representative Sheldon Neeley, State Senator Jim Ananich, and U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee. What seemed to galvanize the crowd most on a very chilly day was being together to call for an end to needless death–especially the deaths of children.
Deven Mukkamala made a point of thanking the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, whose response to the murders of 17 at their school on Valentine’s Day triggered what increasingly seems to be a nationwide movement.
A fact sheet passed out at the rally noted that guns are now the third leading cause of death for American children. Compared to other high income countries, American children 5-14 are 14 times more likely to be killed with guns. For American youth 15-24, the probabilities are even more brutal: their chances are 23 times more likely.
The Mukkamala brothers hope their generation can change those numbers.
“It’s really awesome to see the impact that the youth of my generation can have on public policy around the world– not only here but across the world, people are rallying for common sense gun policy — and rallying to keep our kids safe,” Deven Mukkamala said just before the rally began.
He thanked those who braved the biting temperatures to take a public stand.
“It’s one thing to post something on Twitter, but it’s another thing to stand in 30-degree weather to start talking about gun policies,” he said. “I’m freezing and I see people who are older than me and they’re okay and I’m thinking, What? I see faces from every generation. It’s so awesome how much people care about actually influencing society and actually creating change.”
“One of our goals is to make politics personable,” his brother Nikhil said, “to realize this is bigger than what’s happening on TV — to encourage healthy discourse and to encourage people to talk to their politicians.”
An emotional Congressman Dan Kildee called out the names of the mass shootings of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas, and now Parkland, noting, after each one, “it felt like that was the moment of change. Each one of those times, Congress took a moment of silence. Followed by days of silence, weeks of silence, months of silence.”
After each tragedy, Kildee said, “What did we get from Congress? NOTHING. Americans are not safe, children are not safe in their schools, and the Congress of the United States does NOTHING. Why? Not because the American people don’t support change, because they do. The majority of Americans know we can do these things: we can do background checks for everyone who purchases a gun, we can ban high capacity magazines…We can take up my bill [introduced in October 2017–details here] to ban bump stocks. The president says he’s going to do it, but you know what, I don’t trust the president of the United States. We can do that and the American people support it.”
Leading the chant of “enough is enough,” Kildee added, if his politician colleagues aren’t willing to do something about the nation’s gun violence, “they should be looking for another line of work.”
Deven and Nikhil’s father, physician Bobby Mukkamala, watched with pride as his sons piloted the rally’s agenda.
“It’s exciting,” he said, “Every generation has an issue that seems to galvanize them. For my parents, it was the Vietnam War. For this generation it’s a more domestic issue that’s rallied them around this cause.” He said while he had helped facilitate the event, his sons “really ran with it.”
“It’s really an opportunity for like-minded people to come together,” he added. “It’s an uphill battle, the way Lansing is now, but this is an issue that’s worth fighting for, even if it falls on deaf ears for the moment. You can’t stop an activated populace,” he said.
Many of those shivering on the hillside agreed.
Hazel Cooper, 88, of Flint, said she attended the rally because, “I have two great granddaughters that go to school and I’m concerned about them. I’m here for all the children.”
Lois Snow, 77, of Owosso, said she came to the rally “because of this Trump and the way he is.” Her daughter, Margaret, 54, said “I just realized that assault rifles are not something that we need to have — I own a shotgun myself and I would gladly register it and pay taxes on it. It makes no sense that my sister-in-law has to pay taxes on her fast boat but I don’t need to register my gun.” Margaret said her mother is a strict Catholic who back in the 70s joined Planned Parenthood in Petosky to give a pro-adoption spin to anyone who wanted to hear it.
“To steal a line from Barney Frank [the retired Massachusetts congressman] it makes no sense that you’re only pro-life from conception to birth,” Margaret Snow said.
Zoe Simmerman, 15, from Fenton High School said, “I don’t think it’s right that a group of 17 kids can be shot by one person and we’re allowed by just buy a gun out of nowhere. It’s time for a change.” Her brother Arlo Simmerman, 18, said he came to the rally to advocate for the ban of assault weapons for public use.
“We’re here to protest guns,” Daniel Agar, 24, Flint, a recent grad of UM-Flint, declared simply. Sierra Dennis, 21, graduating this spring from UM-Flint added, “We just want change– it’s disturbing what’s happening in this country and it’s been going on too long. We shouldn’t have to wait any longer.”
Michelle and Tom Strieter of Grand Blanc said they came in part to voice their impatience with government. “I’m tired of our government’s inaction on things,” Michelle Strieter said. “The NRA has way too much influence over them. I’m so proud of these kids for taking it on — hopefully they can make a difference.”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.