VERMILLION — Hundreds of people took to Vermillion’s Main Street Saturday to express their concerns about growing gun violence across the nation in schools and other public places.
Vermillion served as a "sibling city" location in South Dakota for the March for Our Lives event held in Washington and in more than 700 other cities across the nation Saturday.
Vermillion’s marchers chanted "Enough Is Enough! Never Again!" as they walked from the First United Methodist Church, located near the corner of Main and Dakota streets, and headed westward four blocks through the heart of downtown Vermillion to the Clay County Courthouse, where a short rally was held.
The marchers expressed themselves not only with their voices but with many different banners — some professionally printed by the March For Our Lives organization, and many others hand-drawn and painted by several of the local people who participated in Saturday’s event.
"We have a right to live without fear," read a sign carried by a woman down Vermillion’s Main Street.
A teenager carried a piece of poster board with "It Could Have Been Me. Gun Reform Now!" painted in bold letters.
A young couple walked side by side with the mother holding their infant child in her arms. The baby was bundled up warmly in a bear costume. The mother carried a sign that stated, "The Bear In My Arms Is More Important Than Bearing Arms."
March for Our Lives was organized into a national movement by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 last month. Since that shooting, impassioned teens from that school have called on Congress to enact stricter gun-control laws to end the nation’s two-decade stretch of campus shootings.
On Saturday, that message was heard in communities from coast to coast with the help of Vermillion voices.
At the conclusion of the Vermillion march, during a rally held at the front steps of the courthouse, Shane Nordyke, a professor at the University of South Dakota, talked about how the event was a beginning, not an end.
"There is a concerted effort by a group of us here that wants to keep going," she said. "We have plans for ballot initiatives; we have plans for common-sense legislation that actually we all agree on. Research shows that the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans, gun owners, NRA members, all of the above — the majority of them support things like universal background checks, support things like prohibiting high-capacity magazines for particular types of weapons, support things like making sure that people who have domestic violence convictions or other violent convictions don’t have access.
"We’re not anti-Second Amendment," Nordyke said. "We’re not anti-hunting, we’re not anti-gun. We just believe in common-sense measures that will help keep us and our kids safe."
She added that Saturday’s event was about local students, ranging from those attending classes at Vermillion elementary schools to those enrolled on the campus of USD.
"There are so many people here who have a voice," said Katie Meirose, a University of South Dakota student who helped spread the word about Saturday’s event on campus. "Our march does not end today. Talk to your lawmakers. Contact your representatives and have a voice and make a difference."
Nicole Anderson, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Vermillion, stated her intentions for participating in the rally.
"I am marching today for two reasons: one, because my faith in God tells me to, and two, because I have a niece, three nephews and multiple other children, youth and young adults in my life whom I love fiercely," she told the marchers during the rally.
Luci Hudson, a Vermillion High School student and president of the Young Democrats, told the crowd, "I demand change, we all demand change."
Brett Reiss, president of the College Democrats at the University of South Dakota, and candidate for the South Dakota State House of Representatives in District 5, which includes Watertown, also addressed the rally.
"It’s time we put the people before the party in our country," he said. "This is not a Second Amendment issue; this is a lives issue and a health issue, and that is why the Supreme Court has, time after time, ruled that we can limit constitutional rights in order to protect us citizens here in the United States.
"We have Republican support, we have Democratic support and events like this help change from the outside in," Reiss said. "But people like me are also going to fight to change things from the inside out as well."
One of the major organizers of Saturday’s event, Ellie Pyles, stayed bundled up on Main Street just south of the courthouse grounds, watching over her and her husband Tim’s active toddler and their baby covered under thick blankets in a stroller.
"You can kind of knock me over with a feather right now," she said as the crowd began to disperse. "I’m just so thrilled; I didn’t expect this many people to come. It just goes to show that a lot of people care about this issue and want to make their voices heard."
She knew when efforts were first begun to organize a sibling March for Our Lives in Vermillion that it could be viewed as controversial by some in the community, especially those who hunt and own guns.
"I think people respect that we are going out of our way to say that we aren’t anti-gun and that there’s room for consensus about things like universal background checks," Pyles said. "I think this is a great step toward building a broad coalition, and I think we can all agree that certain, reasonable steps to promote gun safety are a good thing."