Students hoisted “Stand United” signs. They chanted “”Hey, hey, ho, ho – the NRA has got to go” outside the White House. Others put 14 desks and 3 podiums in a circle to honor the students and faculty killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
These scenes played out across the country as students put down their pencils and pens and walked out of class to protest gun violence. Activists hoped it would be the biggest demonstration of student activism yet in response to last month’s massacre in Florida.
A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO PARKLAND
At East Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina, senior Talia Pomp said one of her best friends attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and texted her during the rampage last month, leaving an everlasting impact on her.
“That personal connection made it like super real for me … and this has to be the last one,” said Pomp, who handed out orange T-shirts with #enough written on them to her classmates.
Some of her classmates aligned their desks in a circle to discuss gun violence in America. Above them hung an image of Che Guevara, a prominent communist figure in the Cuban Revolution who went on to become a guerrilla leader in South America and a universal symbol of revolution.
PARKLAND HIGH – SHARING MORE THAN A NAME
Parkland High School outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, shares more than a name with the school in Parkland, Florida.
Stoneman Douglass freshman Daniel Duff, who survived the shooting by hiding in a closet but lost seven of his friends, is the cousin of Collin and Kyleigh Duff, who go to Parkland High in Pennsylvania. The Duff siblings have been selling #parklandforparkland bracelets, raising more than $10,000 for the Florida shooting victims.
Daniel Duff described what it was like to live through the shooting in a video that was shown at the rally.
“How many more mass shootings does it have to take for real change?” he said.
PROTEST AND BE PUNISHED?
While some schools encouraged the walkouts and arranged the school day around them, others took a stand against the protests and threatened punishment.
At Kell High School in Marietta, just northwest of Atlanta, three of the 1,000-plus students walked out, then went back inside after their 17 minutes of protest. The school had said any protesting students would be punished, but it didn’t specify the consequences.
Police patrolled outside. A British couple walking their dogs near the school wanted to encourage students, but they were threatened with arrest if they did not leave the campus.
About an hour’s drive south, in Whitfield County, Superintendent Judy Gilreath wrote a letter threatening disciplinary action for students who walked out, citing concerns about confrontations between students over gun rights. And suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County School District, one of the state’s largest systems, announced that it does not support the walkouts, but the potential consequences didn’t deter some students.
“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a senior in Cobb County.
A POEM FOR PARKLAND
In Maine, most of the walkout demonstrations were postponed because of school cancellations following a snowstorm that dumped up to 20 inches.
But more than 200 students gathered outside Yarmouth High School as snow pelted the crowd to hold a moment of silence for the victims.
“This is not politics. This is life, and the loss of it. This is the indisputable fact that every student in America goes to school with a bundle of fear tucked into their backpack. It is exhausting,” said Sage Watterson, reading from an original poem, “Never Again.”
She said she wanted to “grab James Madison by the whig” and tell him that the use of a comma in the 2nd Amendment opened the door to gun violence he never could’ve imagined.
“Do not use our forefathers’ words to mop up the blood on library carpets and cafeteria floors,” she said.