By Brooke Schultz
The national March for Our Lives movement crossed the Chesapeake Bay last month.
Chestertown held its own march on Saturday, March 24, which brought in about 500 attendees according to organizers, who wound their way down the 400-block of High Street to a rally at Wilmer Park.
“I was blown away by the turn out. I was impressed,” Paul Tue, one of the organizers, said. “Chestertown is so, so tricky. … I never have high hopes for people getting involved…I thought I was shooting for the moon at 150 people.”
Planning for the march began organically, Tue said. While he and several coworkers from the Eastern Shore Psychological Center were discussing bringing their children to the D.C. march, Tue said he went online to see what the national group was doing about sibling marches.
“There was nothing on the Shore,” he said. “[I wanted to] represent the Shore.”
He filled out a brief questionnaire and within the next day, the national organization approved the march and recognized them on the website.
From there, he and Gren Whitman, Katherine Maynard, Sherrie Tilghman, Barbara Glenn, Lynn Dolinger, and Rosey Ramsey Granillo worked together to bring the event to fruition.
Dozens of Washington College students turned out for the event because it was an important topic, said several of the students.
“Before [the march] I thought, ‘WC is going to make the crowd.’ A lot of the students up there are pretty progressive and are paying attention to this issue,” Tue said.
Sophomores Chloe Bailey and Mairin Corasaniti said that it was nice to see so many people attend the march, especially Chestertown residents.
“We wanted to show Chestertown that WC is in touch, we’re here,” Bailey said.
“The Eastern Shore is one of the most conservative [areas], with high gun ownership rates,” Corasaniti said. “It was pleasant to see people turn up.”
Junior Cherie Ciaudella said that while she couldn’t make it to the D.C. march, it was important to “show the values that matter to you” on a local level, too.
“You don’t always expect small towns to show these values so publically,” she said.
Chestertown’s march featured its own speakers, who came from Tue’s Students Talking About Race group. The group initially formed in November 2017 when there was some racial tension in the middle school and the high school in Kent County, Tue said.
As Tue sits on the social action committee in Chestertown, he worked with Dr. Mary Helen Spiri, principal of Kent County Middle School, to diffuse the racial tension, he said.
“We wanted to keep the youth at the forefront [of the march],” he said. “We put the ownership on the STAR kids. …Every kid that spoke was a member of STAR.”
Eighth graders Alana Fithian-Wilson, Riley Glenn, Ty-Juan Billingslea, and Tylera Wright each took to the stage to discuss the impact that national shootings have on their lives.
Their speeches received an emotional reaction.
“[They chose] to speak up and be a factor of change,” Ciaudella said. “It’s sad that they have to.”
Bailey said that she was proud of the kids that spoke and said that they were “so eloquent.” She and Corasaniti said that there were “tears shed.”
Other attendees said they came to support the youth leading the movement.
Anna Sommers and her husband were on vacation from College Park. They wanted to join the march in D.C., but decided to join the Chestertown one to show their support.
“We were talking on the way up here that politicians are out of touch,” she said. “Young people seem to be more willing to take on the issues. The sooner the old guard can make way for them, the world would be a better place. I am delighted to see young people standing up for what is right. It’s good to see them engaged.”
Another marcher, Peter Rice, echoed Sommers’ sentiments. He said that he was upset by the Parkland shooting in February and that he had been upset since Columbine in 1999.
“I just think assault rifles have no purpose other than to defend,” he said.
He was with Julie Blyman, a Chestertown resident, and her triplets, who had signs for the march.
“I think it’s going to be their time… [I want them to see] they have a voice and can say what they think,” Blyman said about bringing them to the march. “The idea of sending [them] to school is terrifying.”
For all, they seemed to come away with a feeling of hope.
“[The students] were blown away,” Tue said. “A light bulb went off. They started to understand the power they have as young people. They’re activists now. They’re looking forward to continuing to work in the community and be the voice of Chestertown.”