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The rally at the March for Our Lives Corvallis began with students leading the crowd of thousands in a chant:

“No more silence, end gun violence!”

Students taking the lead was a major theme at the gun violence protest Saturday in downtown Corvallis: Its nine speakers all attend Corvallis middle and high schools, and the event’s organizer was a Corvallis High School junior, Grace Knutsen. After the students spoke at Riverfront Commemorative Park, they led a march through several downtown Corvallis blocks, sticking to the sidewalks.

Knutsen said march volunteers estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people participated. The Gazette-Times estimated at least 2,700 people walked the march route.

Knutsen, in her address to the crowd, said the Corvallis event was inspired by student survivors of the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17. The Florida students organized a march Saturday in Washington, D.C. that was attended, according to the Washington Post, by hundreds of thousands of people. The Corvallis event was one of more than 800 similar events across the world.

“These students decided if politicians would not advocate for students’ safety then they would,” Knutsen said.

Knutsen told the crowd that the movement started by the Florida students is often misunderstood.

“Some think that (it) means to disarm America, take way our rights and divide political parties,” she said. “But that’s not what it means to do. This is a nonpartisan issue that aims to hold our representatives accountable for developing common sense gun legislation.”

Julia Keon, the CHS junior who co-organized a walkout at the school March 14, spoke next and talked about how the U.S. Constitution initially only gave voting rights to white men. Keon said that just as voting rights have evolved over time, so should gun laws.

“There have been amendments expanding the right to vote to men of any race, then to women, then to 18-year-olds. This all shows that it took a few tries to establish the voting rights we have today,” she said. “Continuing to reshape laws to fit the ever-changing modern world is important, and that shouldn’t be ignored because an amendment from 230 years ago said that people could have guns. That was a time when technology wasn’t even close to what it is now and weapons now exist that people just shouldn’t be able to buy, like assault weapons and high capacity magazines."

Common sense gun control legislation, she said, includes banning assault weapons and expanding background checks. But she said those face major opposition from gun supporters.

"I can understand that. It can be hard for children to give up their toys, too,” Keon said.

Keon said the protest Saturday was the same kind of effort that it took to expand voting rights.

“I don’t feel safe at school. And I should be able to learn and grow without worrying about making it home at the end of the day,” she said.

Alanna Volk, who organized a March 14 walkout at Crescent Valley High School, said she believes in the Second Amendment.

“I believe in the right to bear arms; I also believe in a well-regulated militia,” she said. However, she said, in America today, gun access is not well-regulated.

“I am not looking to take away the rights of citizens who responsibly bear arms. The point is to increase legislation around guns to ensure the safety of all citizens. I am calling for comprehensive background checks, red flag laws and a universal age restriction,” she said.

Volk, a Crescent Valley senior, also said politicians should be aware of the upcoming generation.

“So watch out, politicians who line their pockets with blood money from the NRA and interest groups who lobby against gun reforms. Watch out, because I am 18 and I will vote you out of office. Watch out, because my generation is growing up much faster than you expected and we are here to say enough is enough.”

Volk said after the event that while the event's speakers and participants had different ideas for what gun policies would work best, she appreciated that everyone at the event was respectful to each other.

"Having respectful conversations is how you get things done," she said.

She added her hope is that the march is not the end of this movement.

"I hope all the people take the passion they have here and use it to do something," she said. 

Knutsen said after the event that it was absolutely amazing and she was surprised at the turnout.

“This was beyond what I dreamed it would be,” she said. "It was a community coming together and students speaking up for something. Like I said on stage, we are the voice of a generation.”

Knutsen said around 80 to 100 volunteers worked to make the event happen, and the permits, rentals and setup costs totaled around $8,000. It was paid for by $3,000 in donations from a GoFundMe.com page and a $5,000 grant from Every Town for Gun Safety.

Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber and school board members Vince Adams, Judy Ball, Sami Al-Abdrabbuh and Terese Jones attended the event.

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Anthony Rimel covers education and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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