By Anoushka Oke and Katherine Richardson
[Courtesy of Kristin Chalmers]
[Courtesy of Kristin Chalmers]
[Courtesy of Kristin Chalmers]
[Courtesy of Kristin Chalmers]
Since seventeen people were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there has been nationwide uproar about the United States’ gun laws. Students from all over the country have come together in protest against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and in support of common-sense gun laws by walking out of school.
The movement was created by survivors of the Parkland shooting, and word of it spread all over the nation through the news and social media. The protest was set to nationally take place at 10:00 a.m. on March 14, 2018, and to last seventeen minutes.
Bringing the Walkout to AHS
Upon hearing about the walkout, AHS students took it upon themselves to ensure that it would happen at the high school. Students reached out to AHS principal, Matthew Janger, who, in response, called a meeting with interested students on February 27.
The meeting on February 27 was headed by the AHS Student Council, with the purpose of obtaining Dr. Janger’s permission to participate in the walkout with a guarantee of no punishment, and to begin planning the logistics for the protest. Various ideas were discussed, including suggestions for a lobby display, an outdoor memorial, a banner, and posters to hang up around the school. Because the walkout was to take place on Inclusion Day, Dr. Janger scheduled an X-block so that students would not have to choose between their Inclusion Day workshops and the walkout.
A few days later, on March 2, the Student Council held a second meeting to discuss the logistics of the protest. Ideas from the previous meeting were revisited, and students volunteered for projects that had been suggested at the previous meeting.
The March 7th Walkout
Prior to the national walkout, some AHS students also participated in a separate walkout on Wednesday, March 7. This walkout was organized by the Young Democrats and took place at schools in neighboring towns as well.
Participating students filed out of their first period classes at exactly 8:17 a.m., gathering on the front lawn. Sophomore Griffin Gould, leader of the Young Democrats, first led a moment of silence. This was followed by a speech from senior Ian Miller, in which he read the lyrics of the song “You’re Missing” by Bruce Springsteen. The lyrics of the song outline how it feels to lose someone important, as the friends and family of gun violence victims have. “Children are asking if it’s alright,” Miller read, “will you be in our arms tonight?”
Gould then informed students of the Young Democrats’ plan to take a trip to a protest in front of the state house directly after the March 14 walkout, and invited all of the assembled students to join them.
Preparations for the Walkout
As the date of the national walkout approached, students began working to prepare for the protest.
Some of the students who wanted to create signs for the walkout met in an art classroom on Monday, March 12. The art department provided students with materials to create compelling signs.
Simultaneously, a small committee of students created a large, orange banner that read “#neveragain” in black text. This banner was hung outside of AHS on the morning of the walkout.
On the other side of the room, another small group of students worked on painting pieces of a memorial, taking breaks in between coats to make signs. The memorial was painted in the art room by freshmen Genevieve Baldwin, Anoushka Oke, and Sierra Curro.
The memorial consists of three gates, one five-feet tall, one six-feet tall, and one seven-feet tall. From the top of each gate, there are nine blue strings and eight white strings alternating, adding up to seventeen strings on each gate– the number of people who were killed in the Parkland shooting. On each white string, there are twenty-eight bingo chips of varying colors to represent the twenty-eight people who died in the Sandy Hook shooting five years ago. The varying colors of the bingo chips on the white strings represent the youth and childishness of the elementary-age children who were killed. On each black string, there are seventeen red bingo chips, which, like the amount of strings in each gate, represent the number of deaths in the Parkland shooting. The red bingo chips represent the blood that was shed in the shooting. This memorial is not yet up.
The State House Visit
On March 14, almost every American school had the walkout, excluding schools in the Greater Boston area who had school cancelled that day. Despite school closures and the two feet of snow on the ground, twenty-six AHS students joined students from all over Massachusetts at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul to rally for advocacy training and a state house visit in the interest of stronger gun control laws.
The students were lobbying for the passing of bill H.3610 and the repeal of the Dickey Amendment. Bill H.3610 proposes temporarily preventing firearm access for extremely dangerous or suicidal individuals. The Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, states that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Students gathered at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Soon after arrival, two state representatives and some students gave quick introductory speeches, and then the huge gathering marched to the state house. Students held signs and chanted phrases such as “Not in our streets! (Not in our schools!) No justice? (No peace!),” “Show me what democracy looks like! (This is what democracy looks like!),” and “State house? (Our house!).”
When the students got inside and were seated, some student representatives spoke briefly. Then each representative introduced themselves, stated the districts of Massachusetts they represented, and expressed whether or not they would support the bill H.3610 and vote to repeal the Dickey Amendment.
After the speeches, students lobbied their representatives by going around room to room, asking for their support and votes. Finally, students made their way back to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul for free pizza and closing speeches.
The Delayed National Walkout
Even though the national walkout was scheduled to take place on March 14, Tuesday’s nor’easter and Wednesday’s snow day meant that most students in or around Greater Boston were forced to move their school’s walkouts. AHS’ walkout was moved to Thursday, March 15, the day following the national walkout date. Because the walkout would no longer be taking place on Inclusion Day, students would now be walking out of class rather than a free period.
Speakers and key organizers of the event left class ten minutes early in order to set up and prepare for the wave of students that would shortly emerge from the school. At 10:00, participating students began heading to the front of the school, while students not participating went to their next class.
Outside of the school, students began to fill the front sidewalk and some of the parking area. Once most of the participating students had filed out, freshman Nate Pokress used a megaphone to lead the crowd in chanting “What do we want? (Gun control!) When do we want it? (Now!)” for about a minute.
After the chanting had died out, Student Council President, senior Laura Kirchner, stepped up to the podium to give a few opening remarks. In her speech, she emphasised the importance of students taking action. Kirchner stated, “some may dismiss us, some may ignore us, some may say we’re just children, but as we stand here today… we are making our voices heard, even though many of us cannot vote.”
Following Kirchner’s remarks, Junior Class Vice President Lucy Voges took Kirchner’s place at the podium. Voges announced the Student Government’s support of the walkout, and also described what they were advocating for: “stricter background checks, a higher legal age for gun purchase, and the repeal of the Dickey Amendment.”
Once Voges had stepped away from the podium, Student Council Secretary Isa Dray held a moment of silence for everyone who has died as a result of gun violence.
A minute later, Student Council Treasurer, senior Sophie Plotkin stepped up to conclude the moment of silence. She then read an open letter to U.S. Senators, prompting them to take action about gun violence, rather than simply sending their “thoughts and prayers” after every shooting as they accept money from the NRA. “…I am one of the 74.6 million students who have been let down by the system that is supposed to protect us,” she read, “…we will no longer stay silent while you sell our souls for seats in the Senate!”
Once Plotkin finished reading the letter, sophomore Sky Milstein stepped up to give a speech, explaining their experience living in a country where mass shootings are the norm; AHS English teacher Rebecca Walsh-Bradley told the assembled students about her experience with gun violence during her first year of teaching, when a student came into the school with a gun; and Freshman Livia Freeman then spoke of the fear caused by gun violence. Freshman Elizabeth Gromfin, Oke, sophomore Darcy Coleman, and Freeman each read a statistic relating to gun violence, outlining the scale and severity of the gun violence problem. Then, Baldwin came up to the podium to give the final speech of the morning, focusing on the power of students taking action. “Maybe most of us don’t have the adult power to vote quite yet,” Baldwin said, “but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have any power at all.”
Student Council Vice President Gayatri Sundar-Rajan then gave closing remarks, reminding students that “[this walkout] is only the start of the fight for gun control.” She emphasised that student action would keep the fight going. “Let [today] be the end of students sitting on the sidelines,” she said.
As the seventeen minutes came to a close, students began to file back into the school.
What Comes Next?
Like many of the student speakers said, the walkout was only the start of student action and protest for gun control.
A group of students have begun working on a lobby display, and plan to put it up soon. Likewise, Baldwin, Oke, and Curro are looking to install their memorial outside the school as soon as enough of the snow melts.
On Saturday, March 24, the March for Our Lives will be taking place throughout the entire United States. In Massachusetts, it will be in front of the state house. This protest will be another opportunity for students to publicly demand an end to gun violence.