Walking Out and Speaking Up

The sunny but frigid morning of April 20, 2018 represented the bittersweet feelings that students felt as they walked out of school to protest gun violence and demand legislative action. On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, roughly 70 students at State High participated in this nationwide event at 10 o’clock in the morning. They gathered along the front entrance of the school for the entirety of second block, sharing their experiences and opinions concerning the topic of gun control.

National School Walkout is a national campaign completely run by students. Their three main goals, according to their official website, are to, “hold elected officials accountable, promote solutions to gun violence, and demystify and engage students in the political system.” Student organizers at State High registered the school and began encouraging students to participate. The students who decided to take part in the walkout had to attend a two-hour after-school detention as a consequence for skipping class. Though this deterred some students, others were willing to face the consequences and stand up for what they believe in.

“I think acts of civil disobedience are the best way to force change. Throughout history, with movements like the Civil Rights Movement, we have seen that protest goes a long way in pressuring the government to act,” Kayla Fatemi, senior said, “It is one thing to act in a non-problematic way, but when you defy authority it sends a much stronger message about what needs to be done. Students such as myself walked out to say, ‘We are angry, we are not going to sit down quietly anymore.’”

One of the most common reasons students decided to participate in the walkout was because of the concern of lack of protection in schools. Senior Francis Efiom said, “I’m here because I feel concerned about my safety and the safety of my peers. No matter what bipartisan values they have, I want every child in this school to feel safe.” Due to many of the recent mass shootings, primarily in the United States, lots of students, parents, and staff fear that they will experience such a tragedy.

Hannah Strouse, senior, had a similar viewpoint. “I came out here today because I don’t want to die, it’s as simple as that. I believe so much in this moment, I can’t just sit back and let shootings happen,” Strouse said.

The students did not only come out to remember those who have lost their lives to gun violence, but to demand action and change. Sophomore and student organizer Auden Yurman said, “Because [most of us] can’t vote, it sometimes feels like we don’t have a say in the laws that affect us. This was a powerful way to remind us all that we do have a voice.” By participating in this event, students were able to stand up in front of their peers and speak their minds. One of the posters had a list of phone numbers of Pennsylvania representatives on it, in hopes that students would contact and encourage them to support gun reform.

Voter registration was provided in school and at the walkout for all eligible students. Senior Tara Hutchingame was one of the student leaders who motivated many students to register themselves for the coming elections. “I participated in this walkout to encourage people to get registered to vote and to actually make a change in our government,” Hutchingame said. “It is so crazy how our age group, age 18-24 has the lowest voter turnout considering this country is our future, not the 50 year old politicians.” Hutchingame and others set up a booth in the main lobby during the week and according to student leaders, they have registered many people to vote.

The participants felt a mix of emotions during the walkout.“I felt such a sense of community and passion and I was honestly surprised about how many other people there who were just as frustrated, angry, and intense about this issue as I and other participants are. It was really amazing to see people uniting as one, knowing there would be consequences to their actions,” Hutchinga

me said.

Superintendent Dr. O’Donnell sent an email out to all faculty, staff, parents, and students following the walkout. An excerpt from his email follows: “Our high school principals spoke with students to convey our support of student rights but also our expectations for students to attend scheduled classes. Following face-to-face discussions between student organizers and principals, some students decided to proceed. The District neither organized nor sanctioned the demonstration, and students who participated will receive a consequence, as outlined in the student handbook for the infraction of cutting class.” While the school district believes in student voice and encourages students to be leaders in current events affecting our community in nation, they made it clear any “act of civil disobedience” will have repercussions.

Generation Z continues to lead a movement that sparked walkouts nationwide.“We stood in solidarity with the thousands of schools across the nation who held walkouts. The politicians cannot ignore us any longer,” Harper said. “We will continue to call their office and write to them and protest until all schools and communities are safe from the plague that is gun violence.”