Students nationwide are coordinating school walkouts Wednesday, one month after the Parkland, Fla., massacre
The kids are all right.
Students nationwide are coordinating school walkouts Wednesday — the Parkland, Fla., massacre’s one-month anniversary — to protest politicians’ inaction on gun violence and honor shooting victims. The walkouts, organized by the youth arm of the Women’s March, will begin at 10 a.m. across all time zones and last 17 minutes, one for each life lost Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We have to capitalize on the galvanization of people across the country,” Winter Minisee, a 17-year-old senior in Riverside, Calif., and organizer with Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, told Moneyish. “We are expecting real change to come this year, especially with the midterm elections and my generation being of age to vote.”
More than 3,000 events are planned across the country, according to the Women’s March website. The show of resistance — pushing policy priorities like banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, background checks for all gun sales, and a gun violence restraining order law to disarm potentially violent people — is the first in a string of student-led protests around the issue. Youth activists in Parkland and beyond have planned a March for Our Lives for March 24; students will also stage a walkout on April 20, marking 19 years since the Columbine High School shooting.
Stoneman Douglas “very much” reminded Kaleab Jegol, a 17-year-old senior in the greater Cincinnati area who joined EMPOWER days after the Parkland shooting, of his own Mason High School: “That meant that this could happen to my school, too,” he told Moneyish. The issue also hits home for 17-year-old Fatima Younis, an EMPOWER organizer from Frederick, Md. “I know what gun violence looks like, because I come from the Middle East and there’s a lot of bad things that happen there,” said Younis, whose parents emigrated from Egypt. “When I see it happening here, it kind of scares me because I don’t want America to turn into the countries where my parents and my ancestors came from.”
Minisee, meanwhile, says she was jolted to action by the many unarmed black men shot dead by American police. “At the time I didn’t mentally make that connection, like, ‘this is gun violence,’” she said. But the Women’s March is “very intentional” about approaching causes from an intersectional lens, she said. “That definitely gave me the space to realize that my work with fighting police brutality … had to be included and centered in the gun violence conversation.”
How protesters spend 10 to 10:17 a.m. will vary; EMPOWER suggests wearing orange in solidarity with gun violence prevention and doing “whatever feels right” for individual schools. “You can circle your school holding hands, you can stage your walkout in your school’s hallway, you can hold a lie-in on school grounds, or any other action that makes sense for you and your community,” the group writes in its toolkit for students. Younis, a student at Frederick Community College, says her walkout will include a speech, spoken-word poem and song; later, students will read the names of those lost to gun violence, including mass shootings and police brutality. Minisee will speak at a rally in front of the National Rifle Association’s office in Sacramento.
Minisee urges skeptics questioning a kid-powered movement like hers to “get a history book,” pointing to the civil rights movement’s youth leaders and student-led Vietnam War protests. Jegol, who says some in his community have voiced opposition to the walkout, stressed the protest was “for our own safety.” “For too long, those same adults that don’t want us to walk out have been very apathetic and haven’t taken action in making sure that gun control happens,” he said. “So I can’t take anything they say to heart.”
The teens also seek to leverage momentum into civic action, with plans to push voter registration during those 17 minutes and beyond. “I think people are really going to be engaged and excited and fired up after the walkouts,” said Younis. “That’s when we really need to be pushing and seeing what students can do, because the longer we keep fighting back, the longer it’s going to be in the news — we can’t just let this die.”
Minisee, whose 18th birthday falls after the midterms, plans to carpool voters to the polling station come November. “We’re tired of negotiating with our elected officials — we’ve been talking for a long time, and they haven’t seemed to listen,” she told Moneyish. “So at this point, we’re ready to take their jobs and replace them with people who are going to have our best interests in mind.”
Some students may face punishment for missing class. Schools have shown varying degrees of acceptance: The superintendent for Needville Independent School District in Texas, for example, last month threatened students engaging in “any type of protest or awareness” with a three-day suspension. Minisee said she’d faced “pushback” from her school and had several meetings with administrators.
New Jersey’s Hoboken Public School District struck a supportive tone, allowing parents and guardians to complete a “pre-authorization” form to sign their kids out of school for the walkout. Vera Sirota, who says she has discussed the issue “very candidly” with her seven-year-old first grader, Nina, plans to lead her daughter on the 10-minute walk toward the Hudson River while they meditate. Both she and Nina want to stand with other young people across the country “to show solidarity,” Sirota told Moneyish.
Hoboken mom Kristina Nash’s five-year-old son, Frederick, “has no idea what’s going on,” she said — but she wants him to understand what it means to peacefully protest, follow current events and have an opinion down the road. “I just figured I would go ahead and take him out,” Nash said, “so that in 10 years, 15 years … should he feel so inclined to engage in activism in any way, I can say, ‘You know what, bud? We were thinking about this for you when you were five years old — and we took you out of school so that you could say you did.’”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved