Thousands of students, administrators and teachers across the country walked out today to mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and to urge gun control.
The Parkland massacre, where 17 students and adults were gunned down by Nikolas Cruz with an AR-15, has sparked a national movement of young people.
This, the first national walkout to commemorate the Parkland tragedy, was held at 10:10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost. It was organized nationally by young people working with Women’s March Youth EMPOWER.
Future demonstrations against gun violence are planned around the country for March 24 and April 20.
Here are vignettes from two cities.
Students at the High School of American Studies were given from 9:58 to 10:30 a.m.
In the blustery cold, they carried signs and held megaphones. With their backs to the wind and faces to the sun, hundreds of teenagers left their classes to march today. They can’t vote yet but they can protest.
Joined by the neighbouring Bronx High School of Science, HSAS students gathered at nearby Harris Park.
“We want to create, like, actual real progress, we want to call our politicians, we want to do letter-writing campaigns, we want this to not just be a one-day event,” said Stephen Dames, the founder of Students Against Gun Violence (SAGV) at HSAS.
Their goals include banning bump stocks and assault rifles and raising the legal age of buying guns to 21. Signs said, “Guns kill people, Excuses do too,” and “My handwriting is better than your legislation.”
“It’s not a crazy thing to say that an 18-year-old should not have a gun,” Dames said.
School sanctioning defeated the purpose
Standing on the bleachers, Dames and other student activists announced the names of the Parkland victims. After describing each victim’s life, they called for 30 seconds of silence. Afterwards, one organizer reminded the crowd that they were walking out and standing up — not for the colors red and blue that polarize the country but for a simple taste of morality.
“We’re going to keep screaming until somebody hears us,” she yelled into the megaphone, before chanting “Never again” and “Things must change!”
For some, the fact that the walkout was sanctioned by the school defeated the purpose of it.
“The idea of a walkout is that an organization of people, in this case students, walk out of an establishment that they’re trying to change. The system is now reaching in and meddling with our protest, which kind of makes it seem delegitimized,” said Ronyo Gev, a student journalist at the HSAS periodical Common Sense.
“I think it’s horrible that we have to do this,” said HSAS student Elle, who only wanted to give her first name. It was a struggle for her to articulate her frustration. “I’ve been sort of pessimistic lately that certain minds can’t be changed but at least we’re putting our best out there,” she said.
There have been 10 mass shootings in schools since two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, according to a report by Axios. Since then there have been calls for more gun control but no major federal legislation to ban certain types of arms. In the wake of multiple mass shootings, some people feel cynical about the chances of any change.
A new era of progressivism
To those critics, Dames said he respects that stance but believes the way to create change is through debate, not through hurting other people or making them feel bad. Without any assistance from adults, the SAGV club organized this march to make their voices heard in the most democratic way possible, he said. They want to usher in a new era of progressivism, he said.
“This has happened many times before and may happen again if we don’t actually change,” Dames said.
As the crowd dispersed and people started heading back to class, a large group of Bronx Science students were still chanting “Stop the silence, end gun violence” outside of their school at 10:40 a.m.
More than 1,000 students from Henry W. Grady High School braved today’s icy winds and 40 degree temperature to walk out of their classes in a school-sanctioned protest.
With ribbons dyed in the movement’s color — orange -— they shivered as they filtered onto the football field at 10:10 a.m. carrying homemade signs with messages like “This Isn’t Enough” and “Guns Don’t Kill People Policies Kill People” scrawled in marker. They were joined by clusters of community members, teachers, administrators and parents who joined them in solidarity.
It kicked off with a moment of silence for the victims of Parkland, then student speakers took to the makeshift stage. Nowell Mendoza, one of the student speakers, encouraged her classmates to make protesting gun violence the battle cry for this generation.
“I refuse to let this generation be known for Snapchat or eating Tide Pods,” she said. “We have to strive to never become numb to the devastating pain and suffering that can be avoided with stricter gun laws. I’m proud to be part of this generation because we refuse to sit down or be desensitized to the tragic loss. I’m so proud of us because we are standing up speaking and we are making a difference. I’m proud of us for finally calling b.s.”
It’s just the beginning
Student walkout leaders like Cali Chalfant, a senior, who also spoke, stressed that this walkout was not the culmination of the protest against gun violence but rather the beginning.
Chalfant said it was important to build on today’s momentum to create real long-term change.
“I don’t this want to be the main thing. I want there to be more and more” momentum, she said. “I know that there’s [demonstrations] on March 24 and April 20, but I want to keep going.” After the support given to this walkout, she believes more students will want to be involved.
But at the end of the day, Chalfant said, the most important thing is that real gun regulations are put in place and this Columbine generation is able to feel some semblance of safety.
But not all the Grady students thought that the school sanctioned 17-minute walkout (which lasted for closer to an hour) had been effectively carried out. After it ended, and students were expected to go back to class, about 100 students sat out on the football field staging an unsanctioned protest of their own.
Guianna Inoa Núñez, a student, said she felt the administration had too tight a hold on the walkout, and that the march onto the football field felt more like a fire drill than a protest.
“I feel like we would have gone out on the streets — standing on the sidewalks and showing that it’s more than just we want to get out of class but that [there are things that] need to be changed,” she said.
Students who continued to protest were being threatened with an in-school suspension if they didn’t return to class, she said. Having something at stake made the protest more genuine, Núñez said.
“We’re doing it because it matters to us, and it matters to us more than our grades do,” she said.
Video by Caleigh Wells
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had sent out a statement last week that discouraged students from participating in the walkout.
It did not stop students, teachers and other protesters throughout the Los Angeles area. Even an elementary school, Citizens of the World Charter School in Hollywood, allowed its students to take part in the walkout because of passionate parents who wanted to use this platform to teach their young children about gun control.
Jill Ettinger, a mother of a 5- and 8-year-old, registered the school for the walkout. Even though gun violence is a difficult subject for an elementary school to support, the parents supported teaching it to young students.
“I quickly learned that other parents had been communicating with the school administration about the walkout and we aligned to organize parents for today’s event,” Ettinger said. “As parents we wanted to support the movement and do everything we can to ensure that the national dialogue on gun control doesn’t stop and fade into the next cycle.”
Students and parents from the school spoke out about the powerful movement that sprang up in solidarity for the victims of the Parkland shooting.
“We want to support the National Walk Out movement because as parents we feel so strongly about gun control but even more so, we want to bolster the efforts of the amazing student activists from Parkland that are leading this effort,” said Etka Farrar, another organizer. “It’s important for us as a community to stand by them!”