200 turn out for Greensburg's student-organized March for Our Lives Rally
About 200 people joined the March for Our Lives rally held Friday afternoon outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse.
The Greensburg rally, which was hosted by the progressive activism group Voice of Westmoreland along with Westmoreland County Young Democrats, was one of more than 800 events registered with the national March for Our Lives organization taking place this weekend.
In addition to a main march scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., today, marches focused on ending gun violence and mass shootings in schools are scheduled for cities across the country, including Pittsburgh.
Students at the Greensburg rally were happy with the turnout.
“It proves that it's not just a thing people are doing to get out of class,” said Aiden Murtha, 15, a ninth-grader at Greensburg Salem High School in the Greensburg Salem School District. He attended the rally — which started at 4 p.m. — with a group of classmates.
Thomas Barnette-Contreras, also a student at Greensburg Salem, called the crowd “empowering.”
“The fact that it's not just the children, but the fact that it's adults and community members, too,” Barnette-Contreras said.
Ralph Miranda of Acme is a Vietnam War combat veteran. He attended the rally in support of the students, carrying a sign that said, “combat vet against assault weapons.”
“Every person doesn't need an assault weapon,” Miranda said. A powerful weapon such as an assault rifle is different than a pistol or a hunting rifle, he said.
Other community members such as Jon McCabe, of Lower Burrell, a senior at Penn State New Kensington, supported his younger peers by speaking at the rally.
“High schoolers are our future,” McCabe said. “I have a vote because I'm over 18, but a lot of them don't have a vote.”
The 21-year-old is also the co-founder of the group My Vote Matters, which helps young people get registered to vote.
“We're here to demand representation, we're here to demand a voice and we're here to demand action,” he said.
Andrew Manski, 12, a student at West Hempfield Middle School in the Hempfield Area School District, wants to see lawmakers act.
“I'm here because I want a change,” Manski said. The seventh-grader chose to research the gun control debate for current events assignments in his social studies class.
After studying the issues, Manski said he wants to see legislation that makes it harder to buy a gun.
Emma Skidmore, a junior at Greensburg Salem, worked with Voice of Westmoreland to organize the event.
“To me, this rally is really about standing with survivors and victims of gun violence, and supporting safer schools and safer communities,” Skidmore said.
Skidmore said that she hopes more students will decide to get involved with Voice of Westmoreland and stay involved with local issues.
Though the event was student-led, Voice of Westmoreland assisted with securing permits, purchasing supplies and organizing planning meetings, said Stephanie Lowry of Greensburg, a member of Voice's leadership team.
Voice of Westmoreland typically does not work on gun control or school safety, Lowry said. But when students showed interest in getting involved with these issues, the group supported them, she said.
“It shows that it's not just people in the cities who care about these issues,” Lowry said.
1 counter protester shows, carries AR-15
Martin Palla of Rostraver apparently was the only counter protester.
Palla stood across the street from the courthouse with his Labrador retriever, Mossberg. He held what he said was an unloaded Colt AR-15 rifle.
“I believe that both sides of this debate have a common goal, and that's the safety of our students,” Palla said. He thinks one way to make schools safer would be to add more school resource officers.
“I don't know if there's an overall solution,” Palla said. “You can't legislate crazy.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at email@example.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.