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GHS students defend rally

March 15, 2018 GMT

GREENWICH — Greenwich High School administrators and students said this week’s rally for school safety empowered teenagers at the school to make their voices heard on subjects important to them.

“What was really so powerful about this event was all of us together in one room united around a common goal,” said Willa Doss, a member of GHS’ student government. “We were able to put aside partisan differences because school safety we believe is an innately apolitical issue. Students and teachers being killed is something all of us recognize is an issue we need to act on.”

Sophie Lindh, a member of student government, added that after the rally students, even those who had been reluctant to go, came out inspired and eager to get involved.

“That’s exactly what we wanted from this,” Lindh said.

Student leaders and administrators met with members of the media Thursday morning to discuss the previous day’s rally, and to defend decisions to hold it inside the school and to not allow live press coverage, subjects that have come under some criticism.

“This was a conscious decision made by the administration, I think all of us completely supported it,” Doss said of the choice not to allow media coverage. School administrators released a video of the event later in the day Wednesday. “While we are all strong advocates of freedom of the press, this was an event that was about the students and about our GHS community and family. Without the media there it allowed it to be a lot more intimate, and what we wanted to accomplish together.”

Doss said she was “a little disappointed” to see much of the coverage of the event focused on the media ban.

The rally was one of thousands of events that took place across the nation Wednesday, including student walk-outs, protest rallies in Washington D.C. and outside Trump Tower in New York City, and moments of remembrance in honor of 17 students and staff murdered last month in a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Television crews from coast to coast Wednesday broadcast images of students leaving their schools, holding up signs and demanding that lawmakers do something to help bring about an end to gun violence. GHS was one of several schools, including some others in the region, that chose not to hold a walkout protest but instead an indoor “unity rally,” a decision that raised eyebrows in some circles, garnered praise in others. Students Thursday said they made the decision about the type of rally they would hold in conjunction with school and district administrators, and the event was organized, created and executed entirely by them.

Wednesday’s rally was moving event for them, and brought them together during a difficult time in a way that a walkout would not have been to do, they said.

“We had 2,700 kids come together in one room under one roof, which is something that really no other school that I know of can do,” said Greg Goldstein, GHS’ student body president. “If you have kids scattered all over campus, you aren’t able to have a message heard. We were able to have our message heard. We were able to come together and show how we grieve for those in Parkland and get the message across that enough is enough.”

Alissa Landberg, senior class president, added, “If we had a protest and we had a walkout, we would have had people walking out of every random door and it wouldn’t have been as strong as it was.”

Lindh noted pictures and posts about the rally went viral and were even picked up by CNN for broadcast. Goldstein and others said they hoped by bringing everyone together it would inspire further action.

“Our main argument in the rally was about youth advocacy and how no matter what side of the aisle you stand on you can get involved and have your voice heard,” Goldstein said. “Voter turnout among kids our age is on a straight decline and we want to get that going back up. ... While gun control is a part of school safety, our mission was not to focus straight on gun control but how you can get involved as a person.”

“A decision was made that this would be an event for our students and staff,” said Greeniwch high Headmaster Chris Winters. “We wanted to keep it a closed event for that reason … This was a student-led rally. I had a very small part in organizing and speaking because it was meant to be student voices who were heard. It was a great example of students putting aside their politics but coming together around a message that we need to do more in our schools to keep us safe. We don’t want students coming to school feeling unsafe. While the adults bicker about how to get that done, the students are saying enough is enough.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com