Students walk out of school to say #Enough

March 19, 2018

As many as 1 million students took part in the March 14 #Enough day of action against gun violence. Elizabeth Schulte rounds up reports and observations about the day.

STUDENTS ACROSS the country took part in walkouts at their schools on March 14--17 minutes long, one minute for every student killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, one month earlier--to protest gun violence.

The #Enough events, initiated by the youth wing of the National Women's March, inspired students as well as teachers and staff from California to New York to organize walkouts from their classroom--colleges, elementary schools but mostly high school students--and bring their own messages about the violence they encounter.

The #Enough call read in part:

Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school...Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence.

Students gathered to honor the memory of the students killed in Parkland. In many places, they called on elected officials to enact what they consider "common-sense" gun legislation, such as restrictions on assault weapons--and to drop their ties to the right-wing National Rifle Association (NRA).

Students take to the streets of Washington, D.C., during the national school walkout against gun violence
Students take to the streets of Washington, D.C., during the national school walkout against gun violence (Lorie Shaull | flickr)

Students and teachers brought their own experiences of violence--and their own demands--to these events. For some protest organizers, this meant opposing the Trump administration's plan to arm teachers and further militarize schools--which many believe are already too militarized with police and metal detectors.

Other actions made connections to the violence that students, particularly students of color, face at the hands of police.

Many questions remain about what constitutes "common-sense" gun legislation. For example, one of the most popular measures is intensified background checks for gun buyers--but these have the generally regressive effect of disproportionately targeting people of color, and of adding to the stereotypes and myths about the mentally ill.

In some schools, administrators supported students' plans to protest. This was true, for example, at Berkeley High School, where the administration helped facilitate the event and bring out teachers, staff and even school board members.

When Berkeley High Students Demand Action, a group advocating for "common-sense gun reform," began planning their event, they were quickly joined by a number of others, including the Berkeley High Black Student Union, Amnesty International, Muslim Student Union, Women's Student Union and others.

At other schools, administrators weren't supportive of students. At Atlanta's Booker T. Washington High School, for example, the school was put on a "soft lockdown"--so hundreds of students went into the school hallway and silently "took a knee," Colin Kaepernick-style.

A new movement led by students is drawing national attention to the horror at school shootings like the one in Parkland and the wider climate of violence in our society--and standing up to the politicians' refusal to take these concerns seriously.

Along the way, many are also raising concerns that affect a generation of young people, particular Black and Brown students, such as police brutality, racism and the school-to-prison pipeline.

New York City was the site of several protests on March 14, including 200 students who walked out of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a high school in Brooklyn, demanding the government protect schools and not guns, a ban on assault weapons and safe schools.

Over 300 middle school and high school students at I.S. 349, I.S. 347 and Achievement First University Prep High School in Bushwick in Brooklyn walked out of class as part of the National Day of Action Against Gun Violence.

At Hudson HSLT in Manhattan, where students recently won their struggle to keep metal detectors out of their school, students organized sit-ins across different high schools in the building. Some 200 students participated in a silent protest, sitting in the hallways while the names of students who have been victims of gun violence were read.

At Bronx Community Charter School, a progressive K-8 school in the Bronx, eighth-graders initiated a walkout where the whole school walked out onto 204th Street and lined the sidewalk with a human chain for 17 minutes of silence.

Kindergartners carried signs with messages and illustrations they created, such as "Safe schools have a place to play, a place to learn, helping people and no weapons." Older students held signs highlighting issues of importance to them such as, "Black lives matter," "No guns in schools" and "Arms are for hugging."

At P.S. 261 Elementary School in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, 120 fifth-graders walked out against gun violence and hate, carrying signs that said, "#Never Again," "Fight the Power!" and "Black Lives Matter."

Elementary School students at Central Park East 1 in Manhattan walked out as an entire school community, held a moment of silence and sang songs of peace and protest.

Meanwhile, at Central Park East High School, about 150 students walked out and took over the steps of the school. They devoted a minute of silence for all the Black and Brown students killed by the police and by gun violence, as three police vans with lights flashing stood by. They had a list of demands, including decriminalizing Black and Brown students, not arming teachers and demanding that police use de-escalation tactics.

For many of the students who walked out in Prince George's County in Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., gun violence hits very close to home. Just last month, a student was shot in the parking lot of Oxon Hill High School, where students joined the walkout on March 14.

Gang violence and ICE raids in communities like Hyattsville and Langley Park make some students fear for their safety.

At Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, Maryland, students joined about a dozen other area schools in administration-approved rallies outside schools to chant, speak out and pay respects to those who have been killed in school shootings.

Other schools where actions took place included Northwestern High and High Point High, where students gathered outside the front of the school and released balloons for each student killed in Parkland as they read aloud the names of the victims.

In Rochester, New York, a diverse group of students walked out at the School of the Arts on March 14.

Ignoring a request from the mayor's office not to tie school shooting violence to inner-city violence, a student organizer made sure to mention the connections to gun violence in the Rochester community--and the fact that Black and Brown youth have been calling for gun control "long before we came to the scene."

With chants of "We are change!" students concluded the 17 minutes with the statement: "We have the most to fight for."

Teachers were informed that should they walk out with students, the union couldn't protect them--but many teachers found themselves, by coincidence, going for walks around the same time and in the same place as the walkouts.

At Worthington Kilbourne High School, outside Columbus, Ohio, about 300 students walked out, paying homage to the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting, saying each name followed by "Not one more." One student who knew a Parkland victim paid his respects.

Some of the chants at the action focused on the politics behind gun violence, such as "We will not go away. We will fight the NRA."

One speaker talked about the role of guns and her cousin's suicide. Another talked about the funding and political reach of the NRA. Another student linked guns to domestic violence against women, anti-LGBTQ violence and police violence against unarmed individuals, particularly people of color.

In Madison, Wisconsin, more than 3,000 students, educators and community members protested at the Capitol--including students from the city's four high schools, who walked out and then marched to bring their demands directly to Gov. Scott Walker.

Their demands included banning bump stocks, limiting magazine capacity, raising the minimum age for buying a firearm to 21, making proper arms training and education more accessible, and holding the state accountable to universal background checks.

Among the activist groups at the protest was the Derail the Jail coalition, whose aim is to stop the construction of a new jail and reallocate the $108 million to mental health and housing programs, in addition to a campaign to get the police out of schools.

Dozens of police officers oversaw the rally, some on foot, some on horseback, and some in sniper positions on rooftops.

The presence of one officer in particular--Matt Kenny--sent a clear message to protesters. Kenny killed unarmed Black teen Tony Robinson in 2015, sparking waves of protest led by students. Kenny was not only not indicted for the murder, he was put in a position of training other cops. This day, he was on horseback at a student protest against violence.

In Seattle, 4,500 students, including hundreds from the public schools Roosevelt, Ingram and Nathan Hale, plus a private high school Seattle Academy, marched to Red Square on the University of Washington's campus, chanting "No more silence, end gun violence" and "Protect students, not guns."

A student organizer at Seattle Academy told Socialist Worker: "This isn't a partisan issue. This is about saving our lives. The politicians are wimpy. They are selling out our lives for profit and their reputations and to be re-elected. They are more worried about their party's agenda than about saving lives."

Across Atlanta, tens of thousands of high school and middle school students walked out on March 14. In suburban Cobb County, students came out despite threats of disciplinary action, with several parents making strong statements of support in defiance of school administrators.

Reports suggest that teachers in these schools went so far as to barricade the doors to prevent students from walking out.

Some 600 students at downtown Atlanta's Booker T. Washington High School were denied exit from the school building, but protested outside the classroom anyway. Once they filed out of class, these students took a knee, evoking NFL player Colin Kaepernick's protest against the racist police murder.

Statistics indicate that people are twice as likely to be shot to death in Georgia than a state like New York.

Atlanta, a majority non-white city, is responsible for around one-fifth of the state's gun violence. This context helps participants and observers alike draw connections between Black Lives Matter and the question of gun violence.

Some 300 students walked out at Santa Clara University in California to show solidarity with Parkland students and protest gun violence, marching through campus chanting "We want change!" and "Rise up, guns down."

In Greensboro, North Carolina, there were actions at several schools, including Smith High School, where as many as 600 students walked out, chanting, "We coming, we ready" and "Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."

During the walkout, which lasted about 45 minutes, a student group performed poetry, and community members spoke.

THE MARCH 14 day of action was the latest step in the growing activism on the part of students calling out politicians on their refusal to take on the NRA and the right wing, or do anything concrete about gun violence.

The upsurge of protest made headlines when Parkland students traveled to Washington to challenge lawmakers, including Donald Trump, to do something. The momentum grew from there toward a day of walkouts on March 14. The next major day will be rallies and protests planned for March 24.

After that, another national high school walkout, #NationalSchoolWalkout, is being planned by a Connecticut student who lives near Sandy Hook Elementary School where students and staff were killed in a mass shooting in 2012. The date for this action is April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine massacre in 1999.

Frankie Cook, Jonathan Ellis, Shane James, Pranav Jani, Steve Leigh, Kia Price, Bruno Ruviaro, Gretchen Sager, Michelle Sapere and Joel Sronce contributed to this article.

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