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Marisa Silverstein stands next to her installation “92 Americans. Every Day.” at the Hastings Public Library.

Art and action aim to curb gun violence

By Kris DiLorenzo

REGION — Wearing orange was a symbolic wardrobe choice on June 2, the second national Gun Violence Awareness Day, and some Rivertowns residents made that choice easy for rush-hour commuters.

In orange T-shirts and with signs proclaiming “We can end gun violence,” Nicole Lesser, Pat Colella, Nan Berke, Kit Demirdelen, and Marisa Silverstein distributed orange lapel ribbons at Hastings' Metro-North train station, while Keira Smith, Marian Hoffman, her son Walter, 11, and his friend Anthony Magras, also 11, did the same in Irvington.

Orange is the color associated with the gun control campaign because it is the color worn by hunters to protect themselves against being shot accidentally. It was chosen by classmates of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago resident who was killed on Jan. 21, 2013, to honor her memory. “We wear orange because it’s bright and refuses to be ignored,” Smith explained. “Orange represents the bright future that every child has and how gun violence tragically cuts that potential short.”

The two teams, part of Westchester’s 700 members of the national Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America coalition, turned out last week to remind Rivertowns residents of the shooting deaths of children and others, and to motivate them to take action on the issue of gun control.

Lesser, Colella, and Berke estimated that on June 1, they collected more than 100 signatures from people pledging to wear orange on June 2 in honor of the victims of gun violence. During the two mornings of their effort, the trio handed out 230 ribbons, and photographed individuals wearing orange, though no one took advantage of the offer to pose in spangled orange cowboy hats loaned for the occasion.

The national campaign has been publicized in unusual ways besides “splashing orange all over social media all over the country,” Nicole Lesser said.

“The Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Niagara Falls, and 300 other sites across the country were lit up orange to send a message to legislators and other organizations that we need people to have safer guns,” she explained. “It’s really a testament to how frustrated people are with this epidemic. Guns need to be stored and locked. We need not have little kids being shot every day, sometimes by each other.”

Locally, the White Plains City Center was lit orange, and on the evening of June 2 a “call to action” meeting was held in White Plains at Chatterton Hill Church to engage coalition members in new committee initiatives.

Last December, Rivertowns residents publicized the first Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America campaign by holding an Orange Walk to End Gun Violence. The march, organized by Hastings residents Demirdelen and Nancy Dodson, each the mother of two children, attracted about 250 people who walked from Farragut Middle School to Hillside Elementary in Hastings, preceded by addresses from New York State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, Hastings Mayor Peter Swiderski, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, and Hastings resident MaryJane Shimsky, who represents the 12th Legislative District on the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

More consciousness-raising events are on the agenda for the coalition, including setting up tables for petition-signing and ribbon giveaways, film screenings, and marches, as well as further efforts to connect community organizations with one another “so they can have more of an influence,” Lesser said.

Steps away from the Hastings train station, at the public library, a pop-up exhibit of paper sculpture by Silverstein opened on the morning of June 2, carrying out the anti-gun violence theme. Titled “92 Americans. Every Day.” to commemorate the number of Americans killed by guns daily, the work consists of 92 meticulously folded tiny black triangles mounted on 9.75-inch by 6.375-inch white cards, in different patterns, one design for each day over a period of 200 days.

Silverstein, a Hastings resident who shares a studio at 145 Palisade Street in Dobbs Ferry, is the mother of Nina, 15, Celia, 12, and Will, 9. Her husband, Zach, is the chief operating officer of the nonprofit organization Human Rights First.

“When I see that a 3-year-old turned a gun on his mom, I think, ‘What is going on?’” Silverstein said, referring to a 2014 incident in Tulsa, Okla., that was the motivation for her project. She also was affected by the Oct. 1, 2015, killing of 10 students at Umqua Community College in Oregon. “Lessons from the Virginia Shooting,” a column by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times on Aug. 26, 2015, about the fatal shooting of two on-air journalists, provided further impetus. “It made me think, ‘What would that look like if I represented it every day?’”

At first, Silverstein’s fragile designs resembled tally marks, each adding up to 92. As she continued, without planning ahead or drawing, her designs included three-dimensional sculptures that people interpret as phoenixes, chains, hope, death, and other objects and concepts. Silverstein posted her designs every day on Facebook and Instagram. “I got an instant reaction. It’s amazing how it really affects people,” she said. “Every day I got 30 or 40 ‘Likes’.” She still maintains a “92 Americans” Facebook page. She also has a box full of little black triangles that she called the “fallout” from shootings — the family members left behind.

Silverstein estimates that each sculpture took three hours. “It was a serious commitment. My children were very supportive, and they really understood that this was something that I had to do,” she said. “I even had some gatherings with friends where they’d help cut and fold triangles.”

Silverstein calls her artistic effort just one of many approaches to raise awareness. “What bothers me about the shootings is that you hear about them, it upsets you for a week or two when the press coverage is so on, and then you move on to your daily life; you forget,” Silverstein explained. “I was hoping to remind people of what’s going on in our country.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


June 10, 2016

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