By PATRICK McARDLE
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) met with student leaders Monday at Rutland High School who had organized a local version of the March for Our Lives rally that took place on March 24.
Welch said he was impressed that the Rutland event, like the Montpelier march he and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attended, tried to send a positive message.
He told the students he was reminded of the approach taken by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who Welch said he met.
“What I so, to this day, admire about him was that even though he was representing these people who were the victims of enormous injustice and prejudice and hatred, he was a kind person even toward his oppressors. He believed in everybody. And in this gun debate, you guys had this instinct that is so, I think, helpful to your success. It’s not about vilifying people you disagree with. It’s about trying to find common ground with them and standing up for what you believe. That’s a powerful way to go through life,” he said.
Welch also praised the students for having self-confidence. He said when he was their age, he would have had a hard time “asserting myself that I had a right to a point of view.”
The students who met with Welch on Monday were all female. Welch said they had “seized their power.”
“It’s really quite impressive to be with these young, strong women that are our future leaders. I shouldn’t say that. You’re not our future leaders. You’re our leaders. You’re leading on this issue,” Welch told the students.
Victoria Quint, a student who some of her peers said was the chief organizer, said hearing appreciation from a congressman was “not an experience many people get to have.”
“It’s really amazing to have congresspeople who really care about their constituents and their future constituents and take time to come to the public school and talk to us,” she said.
Despite their youth, many of the teenagers who have taken part in the marches have been criticized, mocked or threatened. Greta Solsaa said it was “kinda terrifying” when two men came to the march, one with a gun. The gun was unloaded, but students didn’t know that initially, she said.
“There is some backlash, too. It shouldn’t be a controversial issue, but it is. It’s very polarized, but we have to take a stand for human rights. We have to lend our voices to this cause, even if it’s controversial,” she said.
Anny Lin, another primary organizer, said she felt very emotional seeing her friends feeling so passionate, but said more work needs to be done.
“Obviously right now one of our main goals is to get more students involved. The march went really well, but one thing we had hoped was there would be more students that would come, because it can’t just be certain students who are interested because this is an issue that affects everyone. I understand everyone can’t attend marches, but everyone should be, somehow, someway, trying to get involved,” she said.
Some students gave speeches on March 24. Others contributed in different ways, like Hali Young, who performed a song she wrote for the march.
“I felt like everybody was leaning in but when people were giving speeches, too. There were people crying afterwards,” said Young.
Emmie Lovko said she had never been so politically involved before the march.
“So far, it’s been a really amazing experience and I think it’s been really cool to see the impact that just a group of people can have in the community and to see how much support there can be on certain issues. I think going forward, this is definitely something I’ll continue doing. It’s really great to know your voice is being heard and you’re making an impact,” she said.
The students’ next project, which they plan to tackle this weekend, is a letter-writing campaign to Vermont legislators about the gun laws that are in the works, according to Madison Fetterolf.
“Hopefully, it will turn out really good,” she said.