Glimpses of a new movement

March 22, 2018

As many as 1 million students and staff took part in the March 14 school walkouts to honor the victims of gun violence, giving a nationwide profile to the upsurge of anger and protest that followed the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. We asked four educators who contribute to to send us reports and comments on what they saw and thought during the walkout.

Jesse Hagopian

Students at Seattle's Garfield High School, where I teach, joined tens of thousands of their peers around the country in a mass walkout to protest gun violence.

Spurred by shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, hundreds of Garfield students streamed out of the building at 10 a.m. and were joined by hundreds of more students from nearby Washington Middle School, who marched over for the action.

Leading the rally were Garfield High school students Talis, 15, and Sam, 16. Sam began the rally by saying:

It's time for action. If the generations before us won't do anything, then you can count on us to make change. We, students of America, are here today to demand our lawmakers ban assault weapons like the AR-15s. Ban high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. Expand background checks to cover all gun sales. Stop taking NRA money and federal fund gun control research. And you can count on us to make that change happen if our lawmakers do not! Thank you.

High school students take to the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota, during the national walkout
High school students take to the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota, during the national walkout (Fibonacci Blue | flickr)

Then Talis called for 17 minuets of silence to represent the 17 students and educators killed in Parkland. At the beginning of each minute, they read out the name of one of the victims. As the names were announced, I saw several students in the crowd bow their heads and let loose a deep cry.

The NRA, the secretary of education and the president have all called on teachers to arm themselves as a response to school shootings, but this new student uprising has countered that guns are not school supplies. And the youth are demanding a comprehensive approach to safety that can get at some of the root causes of violence in our society.

One student was carried a sign for gun control that also said, "End toxic white masculinity"--demanding that we look at how school shootings are connected to issues of race and gender.

Students who walked out in Chicago produced a list of 15 demands that redefined what it means to be safe at school. They made important connections between the movement for gun safety, the movement for Black lives, immigrant rights, education funding, opposition to corporate education reform and more, showing why they should be running the city--and the nation for that matter.

Talis concluded the rally at Garfield by saying, "Please continue to educate yourself and make sure that you are setting the example for those who come after you. We are the generation that will change this."

With plans for a mass rally in Washington, D.C., on March 24 and another nationwide school walkout on April 20, these students have only just begun the struggle for their very lives.

Jessie Muldoon

Almost exactly 19 years ago, two students walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and opened fire, killing 13 people and injuring about 20. That happened my first year of teaching. Just since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, there have been over 240 shootings at K-12 and secondary schools, with nearly 140 fatalities.

Since Columbine, when I was teaching in a Resource Room in San Francisco, school shootings have been on my mind. Literally not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about what I and my co-workers would do if there was a shooting. At every school I've taught at, I've figured out different escape plans, whether it was in a kindergarten class or when I taught high school.

When Sandy Hook happened, I found out from a student. One of my lovely high school students was on her phone, during class--a no-no. I sighed, "Put your phone away, please." But she reacted with such earnest concern and the words "No, Ms. Muldoon, look," that I went over to her. Then all of us in class watched the news coverage of the shooting.

School shootings and other mass shootings in public places, such as the Pulse Nightclub in Florida and Las Vegas concert massacre, have become disturbingly commonplace. So when the Parkland shooting happened, I was heartbroken and angry. But I didn't realize that it would mark the start of a new movement.

At the Portland, Maine, school where I teach now, people talked about the shooting, but also about the possibilities of organizing for the walkout. The middle schools and high schools planned their walkouts, with district support.

On the day of the walkout, a massive snowstorm had shut down dozens of school districts. In most places, students already had a Plan B--to walk out the next day. Some intrepid Portland middle-schoolers gathered on the 14th anyway, holding a semi-spontaneous rally at Monument Square in downtown Portland.

On the 15th, thousands of students walked out and shared their anger and fear about growing up in a world which appears to value the NRA over their lives. At Casco Bay High School, where my daughter is a 9th grader, students spoke to the need to fund education and provide a safe space for students to learn, and made connections with Black Lives Matter and institutionalized racism.

After the walkouts in Portland, many students signed up to take buses to the Boston March for our Lives to join in solidarity with the mass rally in Washington, D.C., on that same day.

It's not clear where this movement will go, but the students leading it, walking out and standing up are an important ray of hope.

There is accumulated disgust at not just the Trump administration, but the consistent degradation of working people's lives--from the racism of the prison system and ICE raids, to the opioid crisis and the low-wage, precarious economic situations we find ourselves in.

We've seen the same disgust at the two Women's Marches, the uprising of the airports, support for DACA and the Dreamers, and the amazing struggle and victory for the West Virginia teachers.

You never really know what will spark a movement. But it's great when it happens.

Pranav Jani

I'm a proud parent of a student activist against gun violence at Worthington Kilbourne High School, just outside Columbus, Ohio, where some 200 to 300 students walked out on March 14. I'm thrilled to have experienced firsthand the students' resilience, creativity and determination.

Students paid due homage to the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting, saying each name, followed by "Not one more"--and one student who knew a Parkland victim paid his respects.

The chants at the action clearly took on the politics behind the gun violence, including "Love, not hate: That's what makes America great" and "We will not go away, we will fight the NRA."

Several student leaders, articulate and well-prepared, expanded the issue of gun violence beyond school shootings to talk about how guns intersected with larger social crises in our society. One bravely discussed the role of guns and her cousin's suicide. Another talked about the funding and political reach of the NRA.

In her comments, my daughter linked guns to domestic violence against women, anti-LGBTQ violence and police violence against unarmed individuals, particularly people of color.

As I've witnessed, students have learned a great deal about activism and organizing, from developing common goals democratically, to planning and preparing agendas, to connecting with people beyond friend circles. They made links between schools, and across social and cultural divisions within them. While WKHS hasn't had a super-active political culture, the rally showed how quickly things can change.

The slogan that ended the WKHS rally couldn't be more right: "This is what democracy looks like!"

Natalia Segura

Spry Community Links High School, where I teach, is a very small high school in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.

Teachers and students heard of the movement to protest gun violence after the school mass shooting in Florida. Teachers decided to do a 40-minute lesson across the school have discussions about gun violence and gun control laws. Around 10 sophomores decided that they wanted to do a research about gun violence and present it to the whole school.

After two weeks of research, students presented their findings to the entire school and finalized their presentations by asking classmates to join them on a walkout, a march around the neighborhood and a closing rally on March 14.

Students had a week to prepare. With the support and guidance of two teachers, a parent (who is involved in school activism) and Latinos Progresando (a nonprofit organization that organizes a yearly peace march in the neighborhood), students organized a two-hour demonstration.

At 8:45 a.m. on the 14th, only 42 students out of 139 arrived at school. Around 10 a.m., some 26 students stood up and left their classrooms to walk out. In the parking lot, the 26 students were joined by around 60 students who showed up only for the event, along with five staff members of Latinos Progresando, four parents and seven teachers and staff members.

We had 17 minutes of silence to commemorate the 17 victims of the school massacre in Florida. After that, several people spoke about why we were there.

By 10:30 a.m., we started to march around the school. Students who were at the front started chanting slogans such as "Pick up guns, not immigrants," "No more guns, no more violence" and "Estudiantes unidos jamás serán vencidos." We were walking on main streets, and cars started to honk to show support for the students.

By 11:30, we were back in the school's parking lot, ready to hear the students who were going to speak at the rally. Three students, one from each grade, shared some of their feelings about gun violence, gun control laws and teachers being armed in schools.

To everyone's surprise, their moving words got the attention of a group of elementary school students who were at recess at the time, and they joined our rally. One of the elementary school kids asked to be heard and shared his thoughts on gun violence as well. When the event ended, only a couple of students returned to classes.

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