In the wake of nationwide protests over the Parkland, Florida school shooting, locals took to the streets of the Dahlonega square on March 24 to participate in the March for Our Lives event. Posters with the faces and names of Parkland victims were held high along with signs stating “ban assault rifles” and “our children are not targets.”
The march was orchestrated in a combined effort with national protests by three local political entities: Indivisible Lumpkin, an activist group formed from Women’s March attendees from across Lumpkin county, the University of North Georgia Campus Democrats and the Dahlonega Feminist Egalitarian Movement.
Indivisible Lumpkin co-founder and activist Marisa Pyle, who spoke at the march, described the Saturday morning turnout.
“We absolutely consider it to be a successful event,” Pyle said. “When we planned it, we were hoping for under 100 people, and instead we got well over 350. We also registered voters who will be eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, which I consider maybe the biggest success we had.”
Another local, Peri Gordon, expressed her delight in the march’s turnout.
“I am amazed at the changes I’ve seen in Dahlonega in just the past year,” Gordon said. “After Sandy Hook in 2012, we had a gathering at that same place on the square, but didn’t attract anywhere near these numbers of people.”
As a key organizer, Pyle described why she felt Dahlonega was an ideal town to hold the march.
“Because of the presence of UNG,” Pyle said, “we felt that it was important to have a rally here, both to stand up for school safety and student safety, and also show that people in every single city in every place in America are fed up, and we’re not going to stop until our legislators listen to us.”
Pyle’s emotional speech was followed by Ninth District House Democratic candidate Josh McCall, Gainesville High School student Kate McCall, Pastor John Pavlovitz, Democratic State School Superintendent candidate Sid Chapman and Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
The president of the UNG Democrats, Meredith Shea, outlined the response to the march.
“The rally went better than I think any of us could have hoped,” Shea said. “The public response was extremely encouraging. I believe that this event pushed a positive conversation that some were reluctant to have in the area and I hope that we can continue the dialogue on the issue.”
As a response to increased tension on gun regulation, a Second Amendment protest has been scheduled for April 14 in the Atlanta Liberty Plaza by 2AWeaponary, a Facebook community with about 6,400 followers.
A lead organizer for the rally, William Stroud, offered his differing opinion on gun regulations, stating “a criminal is a criminal by nature. Regulations will not change it. A person intent on doing harm will do so by whatever means they have. [Regulations] simply restrict law-abiding citizens who abide by the law to protect themselves.”
Though pro-gun protests are being planned, the event in downtown Dahlonega, much like the corresponding marches across the United States, met little to no opposition in the streets, with only the occasional protest from passing vehicles. The Dahlonega Nugget reported that one passerby shouted, “You fear what you don’t understand.”
“We didn’t have any real opposition or organized counter-protesters,” Pyle said. “I think it shows that the tide is turning in the U.S. and that even people who are strongly against most forms of gun control agree that we need some kind of change.”
When asked to better outline what legislative changes could be made to prevent gun violence, Pyle outlined a few key political goals.
“In terms of concrete political actions,” she said, “we want to see, at the very minimum, an assault weapons ban as we’ve had in the past, a mandatory five- or 10-day waiting period to buy any firearm, ammunition purchase limitations (to prevent stockpiling it), campaign finance reform to prevent so much NRA money supporting our politicians, and mandatory background checks for every single gun purchase, at gun shows, at stores, between individuals — all of them.”
To the surprise of many locals involved in the event, Dahlonega was among 13 cities in the New York Times’ coverage of the international march.
Perhaps the most memorable moment came when the names of the 17 Parkland victims were read aloud, and protestors laid shoes on the museum steps as the names were spoken.