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 PARKLANDAbout 1,400 students wearing orange shirts gathered on a hill at East Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina to listen as student organizers read the names of each of the Parkland victims.
One of the organizers was 18-year-old senior Talia Pomp, who said one of her best friends texted her from inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High during the rampage last month.
“That personal connection made it like super real for me ... and this has to be the last one,” Pomp said as she handed out orange T-shirts with #enough written on them.
Before the walkout, students gathered in discussion circles to talk about gun violence in America and what they think about proposals by some Republicans around the country to arm teachers.
“It’s really scary to me how in America we seem to have this constant, or this prevailing, notion that we should fight violence with violence and that’s never, ever the solution,” said senior Frances O’Grady, 18. “And yet our leaders are telling us that we should fight violence with violence, that we should arm teachers. I think that’s just a very dangerous idea.”
On the classroom wall behind O’Grady hung a banner with the 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 NAMEParkland High School outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, shares more than a name with the school in Parkland, Florida.
Stoneman Douglas 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 north, 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 PARKLANDIn 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.
HITTING CLOSE TO HOMEA female student was fatally shot at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, earlier this month, so dozens of students walked outside and encircled a flagpole, which was still at half-staff in memory of 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington. They spent 17 minutes in silence for each of the Parkland deaths, and 1 minute for their slain classmate. A 17-year-old junior has been charged with manslaughter in Arrington’s death.
“We were out there for the Florida victims, as many other schools were, but we were also out there for one of our own and I think that was the hardest part,” said senior DeCarlos Bates, 17.
WALK UP, NOT A WALKOUTIn northwestern New Mexico, where two students were gunned down by an armed intruder at their high school in December, hundreds of their classmates gathered at the Aztec High flag pole for a “walk-up” rather than a walkout.
The student council had asked school administrators for time in their schedule Wednesday so they could honor the 21 students who have been killed in school shootings in recent months – including their two classmates – and to talk about 21 pledges they can take to make their campus safer and to get involved.
The message on one poster read: Walk up to the kid who sits alone and ask him to be part of the group, walk up to teachers and thank them, and walk up to someone and just be nice.
Principal Warman Hall said the students wanted to feel empowered but didn’t want a contentious political debate or demonstration.
“Our kids sit on both ends of the spectrum, and we have a diverse community when it comes to gun rights and gun control,” he said.