Driving in either direction on Interstate 5 during Friday afternoon’s commute, flashes of orange could be see on freeway overpasses in Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline. Crowds of orange-clad demonstrators cheered and waved signs and balloons at the cars zooming beneath them, some of which honked in support, drawing attention to the Wear Orange movement on the fourth annual Gun Violence Awareness day.
Friday’s demonstrations were organized by the Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline Moms Demand Action groups, which are local chapters of the organization that worked with Everytown for Gun Safety to create the Wear Orange movement. The goal is to bring awareness to — and end — senseless gun violence in the United States.
“Orange is the color that hunters wear in the woods to signal to other hunters not to shoot them,” said Mountlake Terrace resident and Moms Demand Action member Jan Engelhart as she stood on the 236th Street Southwest overpass. “So, it’s kind of the whole thing is ‘can you see me?’ You know, I’m a human being, I deserve to live.”
Orange was also chosen by friends and family of Hadiya Pendleton when the first Gun Violence Awareness Day was created, because orange was her favorite color. Pendleton was shot at the age of 15 in Chicago, just one week after she performed at President Obama’s inaugural address in 2013.
“A lot of people don’t realize how prevalent it (gun violence) is,” Engelhart said. “We’re not demanding anything, we’re just asking that people become aware.”
Participants said they chose to “Orange the Overpasses” to maximize visibility for the movement. Jennifer Widrig lives in Lynnwood, but teaches English at Mountlake Terrace High School. “We’re hoping that when people get home, if they don’t know what we’re doing, they will Google #Wearorange and that will take them to the website, tell them more about it, and the events that are happening all weekend,” she said.
Demonstrators all had their own reasons for attending the event Friday. Widrig said that in part, she was concerned for the health and safety of her students. “I’ve never seen it like it is this year, where students have these severe mental health issues and I think, you know, one ingredient in that is not feeling safe at school,” she said. “But what they’ve seen on the news tells them that it can happen anywhere, because it literally can.”
Down the interstate, students from Shorewood High School proudly wore their orange tie-dye shirts on the overpass at Northeast 185th Street to represent their school’s club, Students Against Gun Violence. Rowan Hurt started the club after the March 14 school walkout against gun violence. “It was formed to take action and make sure that students can do something, even though all of us can’t vote,” she said.
Hurt said it means the world to students that the community would come together for an event like Orange the Overpass. “Even though this movement kind of started out with younger people, with their enthusiasm and passion, we need everyone involved to make any sort of change,” she said. “And certainly voters, we need all the voters to be on board with this so we can actually make change that will last.”
Mountlake Terrace resident Bill Mckeighen said he showed up to do just that — to make a statement, because the issue of gun violence had been on his mind since the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings. “I had to do something more than just sit at home and say ‘well, isn’t that just too bad, and thoughts and prayers, and those sorts of things,’” he said.
Engelhart also mentioned the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as a turning point. “I wanted to do something then, but then I just kept thinking ‘something will be done, because certainly we couldn’t have all those little children shot and not do anything.’ But things didn’t happen,” she said. “Then when the Parkland kids, when that happened, I felt, you know, the older generation has let these kids down. We should be doing something to save lives.”
The demonstration received honks of support from the traffic on Friday. Mckeighen said that if he were to put words to the honks, they would have been saying “Go for it, I support you, keep doing it.”
— Story and photos by Mardy Harding