Students Are Walking Out Again to Protest Gun Violence: Is Anybody Listening?
A second national student walkout is planned for Friday—on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre—to call attention to gun violence, press legislators to pass stricter gun measures, and promote political participation.
But whether the protest—the third major demonstration against gun violence since the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., left 17 dead—will prompt large numbers of students to walk out of class is unclear. The first walkout, on March 14, coincided with the one-month anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
More than 2,500 events are listed in nearly every state on the National School Walkout’s website, including in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Washington state. Organizers are calling for students to leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. in each time zone, and—unlike the previous walkout—to not return to school.
Students at Germantown Friends School, a Quaker school in Philadelphia, for example, plan to leave class at 10 a.m. and later hold a 45-minute die-in at Philadelphia City Hall.
At East High School in Des Moines, Iowa, students will give speeches outside of their school, before heading to the statehouse to speak with legislators about gun violence, according to the Associated Press.
How is this walkout different from the one that took place March 14?
Organizers are asking students to leave class at 10 a.m. and observe a period of silence for victims of gun violence.
Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. During the March 14 walkout, organizers asked students to stay out of class for 17 minutes—a minute for each life cut short in Parkland in the Valentine’s Day massacre.
This time around, the organizers are asking students to stay out of school for the rest of the school day, which could lead more students to face disciplinary consequences.
Who is behind the April 20 walkout?
It all started with a Change.org petition, set up soon after the Parkland shootings by Lane Murdock, a 16-year-old sophomore at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Conn., who wanted to do something to protest gun violence.
She and three other students from her school have been the main planners of the walkouts: Grant Yaun, a junior, and Paul Kim and Max Cumming, who are both seniors.
Murdock, when she heard about Parkland, said news of the shooting did not jolt her at first. But she wanted to do something.
She chose a walkout as the form of protest because she was aware of how walkouts were used effectively in university protests in the 1960s and in apartheid South Africa, she said.
“I kind of started asking myself what could I do and what could other students do who don’t have voting power,” she said. “And that was walking out. Your attendance in school is what you have. And so, I thought, why don’t we use that?”
The National School Walkout—which became the official name of the April 20 protest—is not affiliated with gun-control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, though that advocacy group has been promoting it.
Indivisible, an organizing group formed to push back against President Donald Trump’s agenda and promote progressive policies, has also been promoting the event widely. And the National Education Association—the largest teachers’ union—has asked its members to wear orange.
The best-known student activists from Parkland—David Hogg among them—have been promoting the walkouts on social media.
What do organizers want?
Their demands are similar to those of the previous student-led actions on gun violence, including a ban on assault rifles, along with high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, as well as universal background checks for gun buyers.
They also want states to get rid of “shoot first” or “stand your ground” laws, which played a role in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. They are also calling for an end to the transfers of military-grade weapons to local police departments.
Murdock’s group is also asking that students demand that political candidates return donations from the National Rifle Association, register to vote, and put pressure on their state legislatures to past stricter gun measures.
Murdock said she and her fellow organizers are being careful not to call for measures that could disproportionately impact and criminalize students of color and minors.
“For us, our main priority is maybe elevating the voices that aren’t making the headlines, the gun violence that isn’t making the headlines,” she said. “And that’s a really important point of action for us: making sure that this whole, entire diverse generation is being represented.”
What are school administrators doing in response this time around?
There was a steady drum beat of media attention before the March 14 walkout, so many district administrators and principals worked with students to plan events on and off campus—from open mics to voter-registration drives. In a few cases, school leaders disciplined students for participating and, in at least one case in Schuylerville, N.Y., reportedly blocked the doorway so no one could enter or leave the school building.
Administrators seem to have taken a wait-and-see approach until this week. Some districts that openly sent guidance to help parents and students plan for the previous walkout are asking students to stay in school for this one.
In New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio supported students who participated in the walkout on March 14, newly installed Superintendent Richard Carranza is urging students not to participate. And the district has said that students will be marked absent if they are not in school. (Last time around, students were not marked as absent if they left for the walkout but returned to class afterward.)
“You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known,” Carranza said at a town hall meeting, according to Chalkbeat New York. “You’ve already made your voices known.”
He encouraged students to have discussions in their school buildings.
Scott Christy, the principal of Columbine High School, said in a letter that the school will participate in a “day of service”—part of a tradition at the school to mark the anniversary of the 1999 shooting. Christy encouraged others to do the same. (Columbine High School will be closed on Friday.)
Murdock said the Columbine community’s call for a day of service is not incompatible with what she and her fellow organizers are asking students to do. Many of the students who are participating in the walkout plan to engage in community-building exercises, including voter-registration drives, she said.
What has been the public response so far?
Even in her Ridgefield school district, Murdock said the response has not been unconditional support. There have been fliers posted on campus saying that students should not walk out, and that students who participate will receive an unexcused absence, the minimum penalty, she said.
While many of his fellow Parkland students have become the most prominent activists for stricter gun measures, Kyle Kashuv, a 16-year-old junior, has emerged as an outspoken defender of the 2nd Amendment.
I am working on having 4 prominent speakers, one every 15 minutes, go live on Facebook at 10:00 AM-11:00 AM on Friday, to discuss ways to save lives without infringing on 2A and the importance of mental health and not bullying.— Kyle Kashuv (@KyleKashuv) April 15, 2018
Stay tuned! #WalkUpNotOut #WalkUp https://t.co/gVuBikLgrU
Kashuv has met with President Trump, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and Republican members of Congress about passing legislation to keep schools safe, including the STOP School Violence Act, which includes, among other things, money for districts to beef up school security.
Kashuv is planning to host a Facebook Live Friday with 2nd Amendment supporters. He also plans to talk about why mental health should be part of the conversation on school safety.
Can students sustain this movement?
While there’s been a noticeable drop in media coverage since the March for Our Lives on March 24, students remain committed, Murdock said.
Momentum is something organizers in every social movement worry about, but Murdock said she feels confident. The fact that students have now planned three major events around gun violence in less than two months is proof of their dedication to the cause, she said. Whether youth activists can marshal that energy while tending to the more common demands of teenage life—final exams, prom, and graduations—remains to be seen.
“The students have stayed constant, and that’s what matters because they are the ones who are really advocating for change,” she said.
The National School Walkout has started a chapter program as a way to keep the momentum going. The aim is to have a chapter in every state that can share resources and the work they are doing locally.
The chapter program is also a way to ensure that students who are affected by gun violence in their daily lives are at the table and are heard, she said.
“There’s tons of gun violence that happens that doesn’t make the news, and it’s just as important,” she said. “And for us, it’s really important as a movement to make sure that we are being intersectional and we are displaying equity because that’s the future of America. We’re the most diverse generation that has ever lived in America and we should act and display it that way because, frankly, our generation is tired of any marginalization.”