On the one-month anniversary of the shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students and teachers across the country walked out of school at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. Spearheaded by the Youth Empower branch of the Women’s March group, the walkout included at least 3,136 events nationwide.
Many demonstrations included 17 minutes of silence — one minute for each person who was killed by gunman Nikolas Cruz, who is in police custody. Prosecutors on Tuesday indicated they would seek the death penalty.
The Women’s March organizers described their impetus for the walkout this way: “We are living in an age where young people like us do not feel safe in our schools. This issue is personal for all of us, especially for those of us who are survivors of gun violence. We are walking out for all people who have experienced gun violence, including systemic forms of gun violence that disproportionately impact teens in black and brown communities.”
They added: “It is important that when we refer to gun violence, we do not overlook the impact of police brutality and militarized policing, or see police in schools as a solution. We also recognize the United States has exported gun violence through imperialist foreign policy to destabilize other nations. We raise our voices for action against all these forms of gun violence.”
Major news organizations covered the demonstrations live. Some schools that elected to permit the walkouts allowed demonstrators to gather outdoors — on football fields, for example. Other schools, for safety reasons, had the children stay inside the school.
The 3/14 walkout movement was established by the Women’s March group just days after the Parkland massacre, and it gained tremendous momentum very quickly. Reaction to the group’s proposal, from students, their parents, and school officials, was mixed.
Some districts accommodated the demonstrators, while others announced in advance that participating students would be considered truant and would be disciplined accordingly. In the Needville Independent School District in Texas, for example, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes said that three-day suspensions would be in store for any student who walked out, USA Today reported.
“A disruption of the school will not be tolerated,” Rhodes said back in February. “Respect yourself, your fellow students and the Needville Independent School District, and please understand that we are here for an education and not a political protest.”
In the wake of the horrific massacre in Parkland on Valentine’s Day, as is to be expected, politicians, community leaders, and others began calling for stronger gun control measures in this country. Unlike the calls for gun control following other student-involved tragedies, this time there’s a twist. This time, gun control advocates are leveraging a fresh group to get their message across — kids.
“We are here for an education and not a political protest.”
In addition to the demonstrations on Wednesday, there are at least two more organized, gun control-related protests scheduled between now and early summer, in which children are being actively encouraged to participate. Social media have been flooded with accolades from legislators, major celebrities and others for today’s demonstrators — and there’s been encouragement aplenty to participate in the other protests taking place later this month and in April.
Civil rights activist and Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour made a statement on Twitter that the three demonstrations are “all one movement.” Two of the protests take place on school days — including today’s event — and are pushing for students (and teachers, in Wednesday’s case) to walk out of school. The third, the #MarchForOurLives event, takes place on a weekend, and, yes, it involves a march.
Statement from @womensmarch YOUTH EMPOWER & @schoolwalkoutUS coordinating in solidarity & also pledging support for #marchforourlives. Our present & future are BRIGHT. #Enough #NationalSchoolWalkout pic.twitter.com/W47IVNQoHD
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) February 19, 2018
It is important to note that some participating teachers, particularly those in public schools, could be in violation of the law if they choose to walk out of the classroom in solidarity with the movement. In some states, essential public sector employees are not permitted to strike, according to OnLabor.org.
The laws vary by state; some are more permissive than others. It is not clear whether a short, gun control-related, planned walkout would constitute a strike.
The second major event is called #MarchForOurLives, and it’s set for Saturday, March 24. This event will take place in many communities nationwide, but the primary location is Washington, D.C. A GoFundMe page for the event reached $666,513 in a single day toward the group’s original goal. The current total stands at $3,291,732 — and that goal has been increased to $3.5 million.
The group has also received sizable donations from celebrities, including half a million dollars each from George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg.
The #MarchForOurLives protest, per the fundraising page, is organized by Cameron Kasky, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Kasky noted about the use of the funds: “This is for the march, and everything left over will be going to the victims’ funds.”
A third major event will take place on Thursday, April 20, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting in 1999, in which 15 people total died. This event began as a Change.org petition, which has now garnered more than 251,424 signatures. It is organized by 15-year-old Lane Murdock of Connecticut.
This protest is targeted at high school students, and it asks them to “walk out of school, wear orange and protest online and in your communities,” according to the petition page. That school walkout is to begin at 10 a.m.
Many conservatives are dead set against these walkouts during school hours and feel that young people are being exploited for political purposes. And heaven knows the schools, legislators and others would not support an activity like this if it were for pro-life purposes.
There will be more than THREE THOUSAND walkouts across America today. The official number, via The Womens March, who organized the #NationalSchoolWalkout, is currently 3,136 and counting. Wow. #MSDStrong #NeverAgain #ParklandStrong
— ????????? ???? (@WashNews) March 14, 2018
Employer: Did you participate in #NationalSchoolWalkout?
Employer: No further questions. pic.twitter.com/6UfUanyczD
— Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) March 14, 2018
— Chirlane McCray (@NYCFirstLady) March 14, 2018
On March 14th, walk up instead of walking out. Walk up to the kid who sits alone & invite them to sit with you. Walk up to the kid who sits alone in the corner, smile & say hi. Walk up to 14 students & 3 teachers & say something kind to honor the 17 lost in FL. #walkupnotout pic.twitter.com/uhNR6u9y8v
— LeRoy CUSD #2 (@LeRoyCUSD2) March 13, 2018
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.