What to know about the student-led protests against gun violence

Thinking about the state of our national affairs often leaves me feeling entirely at sea: Every week a new disaster, invariably one that could possibly have been avoided if Congress ever decided to put partisanship aside and do its job. At these moments, when I am feeling frustrated and dejected and paralyzingly mad, it helps to remember the teens. And the teens organizing national school walkouts may be our greatest hope.

After the 21st mass shooting of 2018 unfolded on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and injuring dozens more, lawmakers offered stale “thoughts and prayers.” Reports surfaced that the FBI had failed to investigate tips about shooter Nicholas Cruz’s increasingly incriminating conduct. President Donald Trump used the shooting as an opportunity to undercut the Bureau’s authority in the Russia investigation.

Parkland students rejected all of this. 

“I don’t want your condolences you fucking [piece] of shit, my friends and teachers were shot,” MSD student Sarah Chadwick tweeted, in response to the president’s offering of “prayers and condolences” on Twitter. “Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.”

Speaking at a Fort Lauderdale rally on Saturday, student Emma Gonzalez extended that sentiment to Republican Congress, many of whom occupy their legislative seats thanks to the National Rifle Association. “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS!” Gonzalez shouted to the wildly receptive crowd, screaming in agreement. “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence, we call BS!”

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday suggests many adults would tend to agree. 66 percent of voters currently support enacting stricter gun laws, the highest percentage the poll has ever recorded. And while there are two regulation-related bills currently in front of Congress, both have so far failed to advance.

Teens intend to change that. In coming weeks, they’ve organized three separate actions to repeatedly force the issue in front of congressional noses. If they’re smart, lawmakers will pay attention: This rising generation of voters will treat gun control as a litmus test, and will not elect politicians who won’t tighten up our woefully lax firearm possession laws.

March for Our Lives and 2018 school walkouts

National High School Walkout – April 20

On April 20—the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, the deadliest school shooting in national history at the time—some students are once again planning to leave their classroom in protest of lax gun laws. Connecticut high schooler Lane Murdock is organizing an event, and, in her Change.org petition, calls on participants to wear orange. 

“We are the students, we are the victims, we are change, fight gun violence now!” Murdock wrote on her petition page. “The violence of guns is being performed in our schools and communities. Not the Senate floor. As the future of America, it is time for teenagers to speak their minds and put their frustration into action.”

NationalSchoolWalkout.net, which offers students a walkout planning guide and a “social media toolkit,” is still updating the site calling for students to walk out 10am and take 13 seconds of silence for each of the 13 victims. Similarly, the March for Our Lives Twitter page tweeted in support of the walkout on Sunday night.

Despite calls to walk out by these organizations, prominent student activist David Hogg tweeted Monday that a planned walkout “is no longer the case.” Hogg included a letter from Columbine High School Principal Scott Christy, who asks students to engage in community service rather than walk out.

Regardless of what happens Friday, adults, meanwhile, can act now: Donate to the teens’ causes, offer them safe transportation, stand with them at their marches, and get on the phone to your congressperson before, during, and after you put your thoughts to them in writing.

As someone who has spent the past 20 years working on gun violence prevention, I know that young people’s voices matter deeply on this,” Tamika Mallory, national Women’s March co-chair, said in a statement addressing all three marches, and imploring adults to head to the polls. “We will keep showing up until we have a Congress that passes legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”

March for Our Lives – March 24

On March 24, students and their families will march on Washington, D.C., “to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today,” per the website. Satellite marches will also take place across the country.

March for Our Lives is the brainchild of Cameron Kasky, a MSD student who wrote an impassioned CNN op-ed following the shooting. “I’m asking—no, demanding—we take action now,” Kasky said, heaping blame on the shooter but also on politicians who balk at gun control legislation for fear of angering their donors. “I’m just a high school student, and I do not pretend to have all of the answers. However, even in my position, I can see that there is a desperate need for change—change that starts by folks showing up to the polls and voting all those individuals who are in the back pockets of gun lobbyists out of office.”

Kasky is currently raising money for the march on GoFundMe, and at time of writing, was just over $200,000 short of his $2 million goal.

school walkouts 2018 Elvert Barnes/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Gun control rally in front of the White House in 2015.

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Women’s March #ENOUGH National School Walkout – March 14

The first coordinated action comes on March 14, courtesy of the Women’s March Youth Empower, an initiative that, in conjunction with a number of social justice-oriented organizations, catalyzes young people’s action in their communities. At 10am, in every time zone across the United States, the Women’s March calls on “students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and allies” to walk out of school for 17 minutes—one for every life lost in the Parkland shooting—in protest of Congress’ failure to act on gun control legislation.

“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” the Women’s March action page says. “Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the morning and see them home alive at the end of the day. We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address[es] the public health crisis of gun violence.”

How to get there

For students (and adults) without adequate transportation, it can be difficult to attend demonstrations across the country. Lyft announced March 2 that it will provide free rides to students attending March for Our Lives rallies all over the U.S. Those under 18 must still be accompanied by an adult, per the company’s regular passenger restrictions.

“Thank you for speaking up and showing the world that young people can drive meaningful change. We will continue using our voice and platform to encourage civic participation,” a statement from Lyft’s co-founders reads.

Editor’s note: This article is updated for relevance.

Claire Lampen

Claire Lampen

Claire Lampen is a lifestyle reporter who covers sex, gender, and reproductive rights. Formerly a Fulbright fellow, she has published work with Vogue, Gizmodo, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, the BBC, Vice, Marie Claire, and more.