MANKATO — Instead of watching a movie or playing video games, four friends from Prairie Winds Middle School spent their Friday night sleepover making signs with phrases including “books not bullets” and “dear Congress, please protect me, not the NRA.”
Their colorful signs were crumpled and soggy but still readable when they reached Jackson Park alongside with a few hundred other marchers of all ages Saturday morning.
Each girl had a succinct explanation of why they had just walked a mile in the snow from Riverfront Park.
“I don't think anyone should have to go to school scared,” said sixth-grader Emily Swenson.
“We have a voice and we're not afraid to use it. We're going to keep fighting until we stop the shooting,” said eighth-grader Riley Jones.
“We're trying to make change in the world,” said sixth-grader Maya Avila.
“We shouldn't be worrying about guns, we should be worrying about our grades,” said her eighth-grade sister Eliana Avila.
Millions of students and supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., state capitals and other locations across the county for the March for Our Lives protest calling for gun control measures aimed at preventing school shootings. A group of students from West High School organized a Mankato march that started and ended with rallies.
“We're marching for the lives of kids in every school across America,” student organizer Kelsey Olson said before they embarked. “We're marching to tell our politicians 'Enough'. We cannot have guns be so accessible to dangerous people. We cannot let anyone else die from mass shootings.”
The Mankato protest was peaceful, although there were a few tense moments when a driver blocked the marchers' path. Witnesses said a few words were exchanged between the driver and a protester before a Mankato police community service officer stepped in.
The marchers walked on sidewalks and obeyed traffic signals as they marched, causing little disruption to traffic.
The march drew participants ranging from students to young families to retirees.
Meghan and Kevin Velasquez brought their three young children. Their eldest child, Luci, 10, said they were there to support “tougher gun laws.” Luci was carrying a sign saying “glitter not guns.” While her younger siblings had a little parental help with their signs, she came up with and made hers herself.
Retired Mankato teachers Jeanne Steiner and Beth Christensen carried pots, which they tapped with spoons as they brought up the rear of the line of walkers that stretched over a block.
“This can't continue and we can't continue being silent,” Christensen said.
Lisa, Suzy and Heather Walker braved some hazardous driving conditions to come from Owatonna to march along with their mother-in-law and grandmother, Mary Walker, of Mankato.
“We're been talking about (gun control) for so long. The inaction of our legislators is deplorable,” Mary Walker said.
Suzy, 14, initially wanted to participate in the walkout at her Owatonna Middle School last week. But mom, Lisa, convinced her that a Saturday trip to Mankato would be better because she could protest without disrupting her education and her family members could join her.
The West students plan another protest on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. They're asking all Mankato area high schoolers to leave school and gather for a rally at Riverfront Park.