After Parkland, Concerned Sarasotans Raise Their Voices



Fewer than 10 days after a school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 people dead and wounded 14 more, Sarasota residents took to the streets in protest this past Friday, February 23, calling for their representatives, specifically congressmen Vern Buchanan and Marco Rubio, to disavow the NRA and support gun control legislation or be voted out of office.

First assembling outside the office of US Congressman Vern Buchanan on the corner of Orange Avenue and Ringling Boulevard, the crowd gathered on the steps by a large yellow handmade sign reading “Where’s Vern?” Similar signs dot the congregation, ranging from the legislatively focuse—“Common sense gun laws now”—to the more personal—“Votes kill, Vern”—to the pointed—“$15,450 in Blood,” a reference to money from the NRA accepted by Buchanan and his people. Though largely an older crowd at this point, student-age protesters and middle-aged parents make their presence known as well. With an oversized American flag held out front, they marched to the roundabout at Main and Orange, posting up on all four corners, numbers swelling to near or above 200 protesters holding signs and calling for change.

“Our country is in crisis and needs gun reform,” says Jules Scholles, a Sarasota resident and one of three mothers who organized the protest in response to the shooting in Parkland. This is the first such event or protest organized by Scholles, who largely just used Facebook to create a public event and found a receptive audience, but it’s also the first “major” school shooting she’s seen since having her first child, a young daughter currently in preschool. With an abstract fear suddenly more concrete, the lack of legislative action to prevent school shootings came in sharp relief as well. “They’re putting the rights of guns over the rights of children,” says Scholles. “Our children are certainly more important than an antiquated second amendment written in 1790.” Her family is considering home-schooling, losing faith in the ability of schools and legislators to protect the students. “I am not confident,” she says. “I’m afraid to send my child to school.”

At the roundabout, protesters strode the crosswalks, holding their signs to the stopped cars and handing out printed poster-placards showing blood-soaked hands  belonging to “politicians and NRA." A majority of passing cars honk in support—with one Prius driver taking it upon herself to give the roundabout a full loop and more while happily laying on the horn—others are less than thrilled. One motorcyclist flips the bird as he passes, earning a rebuke from a protester as he leaves. “I hope you don’t get shot on the way home,” she yells. A pick-up truck sporting a couple Go Army bumper stickers stops and accepts a poster.

The current situation is a “catastrophe,” says Ray Garfinkel, an 80-year-old veteran and Sarasota resident (though not the driver of the aforementioned pick-up) who came out to put pressure on Buchanan to disavow the NRA and its campaign contributions. “I would, by myself or with a bunch of people, replace that $16,000 so that he’s not obligated to the NRA,” he says. “Let him, with a clear conscience, do the right thing.”

And as the crowd continues to yell for the departure of Buchanan and Rubio—“Vern must go!” and “Rubio must go!” being two of the loudest and most sustained chants of the day—the question remains, however, whether either elected official is listening.

“I think they have to,” says Garfinkel, though Scholles remains less convinced. “I don’t think they are,” she says. “It’s going to have to come down to the vote.”

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