This article titled “Wednesday walkout: students step out of class to spur action on gun control – live” was written by Amanda Holpuch in New York, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th March 2018 22.02 Asia/Kolkata
Q&A with 11-year-old march organizers in Alexandria, Virginia
More than five years ago, 20 first graders were murdered in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today, children as young as the Sandy Hook victims are participating in walkouts protesting continued government inaction on preventing gun violence.
In Alexandria, Virginia, Naomi Wadler and Carter Anderson, both 11, spoke with Guardian US about organizing a walkout at their elementary school. More than 60 students walked out, some of them as young as in first or second grade, and stood in front of their school for 18 minutes, holding signs commemorating the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting, and then falling silently to the ground.
How did you two end up organizing this walkout?
CARTER: After Parkland, me and my friend Matt, we went to the petition at the White House. Then Naomi came over and asked me the next day at school if I wanted to have a walkout with her, and I said yes.
NAOMI: After Parkland, I don’t remember where I heard it, it was kind of everywhere, that were a bunch of schools were going to do walkouts. And so I looked into it a little more, the meaning of the walkout, when they were going to do it, how long they were going to do it for. And I thought, hey, I want my school to do a walkout.
What message are you trying to send?
CARTER: That we want school safety. So many people die, because our schools can’t be safe.
What’s been the most challenging part of organizing the walkout?
NAOMI: In the beginning, our principal wasn’t completely supportive but by the second or third day of doing this, that week, he was completely supportive.
I think me and Carter can understand, because nobody expects a bunch of ten and eleven year olds to stand up and start walking out of the school building
CARTER: Also, in the class there’s been some parents that felt that we’re not old enough to know about it. Like, they think that just because were fifth graders we don’t know anything about what’s happening.
When do you remember starting to think about school shootings?
NAOMI: I have grown up in an area where shooting aren’t the regular, but they don’t happen un-often. I started thinking about it probably this time. I’ve always thought about shootings in general, but then this is when I really started thinking about school shootings.
Have you organized something together before?
CARTER: No, we’re just friends. I’m her neighbor.
You held student meetings over two Saturdays to prepare for this. What did you talk about at those meetings?
NAOMI: We went over the expectations: that this was not recess time. You’re not doing this just because you want to get out of school. How we expect to be silent, how we’re not gonna chant, because we want learning in school to go on as normal. How if anybody chooses not to participate, not to give them a hard time. Because I go by, you don’t have to agree with people but you have to respect them.
Is there big disagreement at your school about school shootings or gun violence?
CARTER: Most think that we should do this walkout, but there’s some people that don’t love the idea.
NAOMI: Some kids say their parents won’t allow them to do it. Their parents don’t agree with it.
What’s the plan for the protest today? You’re going to walk out silently?
NAOMI: We’ve discussed having 18 people lie down. We changed our 17 minutes to 18 minutes for the school shooting in Alabama, where Courtlin Arrington was killed. So we’ve added 18.
Why was it important to include her?
NAOMI: I think, well specifically me, I don’t know what Carter thinks, that specifically African-American women, when they are shot and killed, or when they are killed in general, their names aren’t remembered. So I thought it would be important to add an extra one minute.
CARTER: Everyone thought it would be a good idea to do. It’s the second school shooting [after Parkland]. She was studying to be a nurse. She could have saved people’s lives.
What have you heard from teachers about the walkout?
NAOMI: Teachers, we’ve heard, have been told not to encourage or discourage us. So they’re kind of neutral.
What kind of reaction do you hope to have from the rest of the United States and from adults watching these walkouts?
NAOMI: I hope adults in general will realize, if they haven’t already, that this is a really big issue, and that innocent people have lost their lives, and that we should keep working harder and harder to make gun reform, to make school safety, a huge priority.
What is it like organizing an event like this? What are you feeling, watching all the kids preparing for this?
CARTER: Nervous. Because some people, there’s always a small chance that somebody might act out during the walkout. But we’re trying to express our feelings.
NAOMI: We’ve tried our best to make it clear if you’re going to be loud, I would advise you to go back to your classrooms, this is not what this is about.
Have you two done political activism before?
CARTER: I’ve gone to the Women’s March.
NAOMI: I’m pretty sure that I haven’t done something like this before.
As students across the US walk off campus, link arms in the hallway and take a knee at school to protest gun violence, the story of one armed teacher who accidentally shot a student yesterday is circulating.
The California teacher, a reserve police officer, accidentally discharged his weapon during a lesson about public safety and injured a male student, according to police.
The weapon was pointed at the ceiling and debris fell and hit the student, not a bullet.
“It’s the craziest thing,” the student’s father, Fermin Gonzales, told local TV news. “It could have been very bad.”
A high school in Sayreville, New Jersey, said it would suspend students who participated in the walkout. Instead, the school allowed students to gather in an auditorium on campus.
“If you were gonna come outside in the first place, you should have still came outside. Just because you didn’t want to have these consequences and stuff, just stay inside, you should have came outside and proven them wrong,” Rodriguez told the radio station.
Brooklyn: “We walk out for the black community”
Hundreds of students walked out of the Academy for Young Writers high school in Spring Creek, Brooklyn, at 10am ET.
The students, who are predominantly black, have expanded the protest beyond just the issue of school shootings to include racial inequality and the problem of black and brown people losing their lives at a disproportionate rate to white people.
The pupils walked out for 18 minutes, to honor both the Parkland victims and 18 people of color who had lost their lives, sometimes at the hands of police. The names of Tamir Rice, Eric Harris and Philando Castile, black men and – in Rice’s case a child – who were shot and killed by law enforcement.
Zayinab Jagun, 17, was carrying a sign which condemned school shootings and also said: “We walk out for the black community.”
“The black community has been faced with lots of violence all the time,” Jagun said. Spring Creek is close to East New York, a neighborhood which has a troubled history with crime.
“Every time I watch Brooklyn 12 news [a local television news program] I see someone’s son, daughter, mother or father getting shot down in the black community. “
“So I think having a new take on gun reform would be able to stop that as well.”
Jaelah Jackson, 15, was among those who gave speeches during the walkout.
“I know a couple of people and they had mixed feelings towards the walkout because they felt if it was a black student being gunnned down or black students being shot or shot at it wouldn’t have got so much coverage,” Jaelah said.
“They felt like minorities and African-Americans are diminished. They aren’t really represented and their cases aren’t presented as equally.”
Sasha Koren, editor of the Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab, sends this dispatch from the Upper West Side in Manhattan.
On a sunny street corner next to a busy subway station on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in mid morning, just after the commuting rush, students from the West Side Collaborative Middle School, accompanied by Paul Kehoe, their social studies teacher, stood in a loose group holding bright signs with slogans like “Enough!” and “End it!”, their chants led by three girls who identified themselves and Skyler, Jane and Jenn.
“It’s up to us,” said Jenn, when asked why they had walked out. “If politicians won’t do anything we have to do it. We should be able to go to school and feel safe.”
New York City has reported falling crime rates in recent years, with the 24th precinct, in which the school sits, reporting no shootings in 2017, a 71% drop since 1990. Still, these students took the prospect of gun violence in their community as a real risk.
”It’s a problem everywhere,” said Skyler. “If one child gets hurt, everyone gets hurt.”
Atlanta: students take a knee
The Booker T Washington high school in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King was a student, saw more than 100 students participate in Wednesday’s walkout.
“Dr King carries a legacy even in death, so I feel as if it’s an obligation to carry on what he wanted and what he was trying to fight for and that’s why this day is very important,” said Markail Brooks, a student.
Students were only permitted to walk out of their classes into the hallway and silently take a knee, so no action took place outside the campus.
In an announcement around 9:30am, school officials explained that kneeling in the hallway was the approved form of participation and warned that “anything outside of that is not approved and you will receive swift and severe consequences”.
The school went on lockdown “to promote safety and security” until the protests ended.
For students at other schools who were not permitted to engage in any form of protest, Washington students had a message:
“Fight. Fight, fight – our words matter,” said India White. “We’re the students of this school. We have a word because we attend this school, this is our home.”
The “take a knee” gesture was a unique twist on the national walkout, but not a surprising one given the resonance the gesture has taken on in the black community. The high school is 99% black, according to department of education data.
Former 49ers American football player Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem of games in 2016 to protest racism and police violence.
Student government leaders told reporters that the knee was to “show respect” for students who have died by gun violence.
Demonstrators gathered outside the White House and US Capitol in Washington DC to demand measures to prevent gun violence.
Democratic lawmakers walked out in support of the student protesters and met with those crowded outside in the near-freezing weather.
The Resistance Now
The Guardian is covering the people, action and ideas driving the protest movement in the US in our series, The Resistance Now. Sign up for weekly email updates about activism and protest.
Chicago students: “Hey hey, ho ho, gun violence has got to go”
Students have been demonstrating against gun violence in Chicago, where it is nearly 10.30am.
Chicago Public School principals aren’t supposed to be involved in protests, but some school have changed class schedules today to accommodate the walkouts.
About 80,000 students at 200 Catholic schools plan to assemble in prayer, staging discussions and making signs promoting peace that they’ll hang around schools and parish properties, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.
At Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy, dozens of energetic students chanted “Good kids, mad city / we’re under attack / what are we going to do / fight, fight back”; “Sí se puede” [yes we can] and “Hey hey, ho ho, gun violence has got to go.”
They then held a moment of silence, asking students to think about loved ones they lost to gun violence. The moment ended when community members arrived to support the students’ demonstration.
Good Kids Mad City is a new collective of Baltimore and Chicago youth demanding just for victims of gun violence. They have coordinated protests in both cities.
In the Baltimore Sun today, schools in the Washington DC and Maryland area signed onto a letter urging Donald Trump and Congress to enact stricter gun control measures
One of the schools to sign on to the letter, St Andrew’s Episcopal School, is where the president’s 11-year-old son, Barron, takes classes.
“As school leaders, we call upon everyone who cares about the education and the welfare of children to urge our government to act,” the letter said.
“We need our teachers to be able to teach. We need our students to be able to learn. And we need everyone in every school around the country to feel safe.”
Richard Luscombe, who has been covering the school shooting in Florida and its aftermath, reports from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school:
At 10am, about 3,000 students poured into the school’s football field, where exactly one month ago many were running for their lives.
Principal Ty Thompson commended his students for their strength over the last few weeks and praised them for their #Never Again campaign for gun reform.
“We are going to make change. It’s already started,” he told them.
There was silence as the song Shine played.
“There were lots of emotions, many people were crying, we were thinking of the 17 we lost,” said Florence Yared, a junior.
Banners of support from all over the world partly obscured the freshman building where most of the victims died, and according to Yared gave the survivors a lift as they walked out of their classes.
Yared said the mood of the students this morning was reflective. “It’s weird to think about because in our heads we have this idea what school is, and it’s not now that same thing for anyone,” she said.
But, she said, that feeling contributed to determination she and her classmates felt about walking out and calling for changes to gun laws nationally. Last week, the Florida governor, Rick Scott, signed into a law a bill that armed some teachers and provided extra money for school security and mental health, while raising the age to buy firearms in Florida to 21.
“It’s a start but we need more,” Yared said.
“There some things I don’t like about the bill, but there are other things that are good, like raising the age, a three-day waiting period, that’s a step in the right direction.”
Demonstrators, ranging from small children to university students to teachers and parents, have shown their support for the protests in different ways. Some have walked out of class, while others link arms in the school hallway. At Cooper City High School in Florida, empty desks were arranged to memorialize the Parkland victims.
Lawmakers debate gun violence prevention
The first round of protests have wrapped up, with students making their way back to class. The next wave will begin in about 30 minutes, when it’s 10am CT.
Meanwhile, Lauren Gambino reports on the latest actions taking place in the nation’s capital:
One month after the school massacre in Parkland, the Senate joins the debate around gun violence raging across the country.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a three-panel hearing on Wednesday morning to discuss what went wrong and what might have prevented the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School.
Florida senators Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, as well as Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina died in the shooting, and Katherine Posada, a teacher at the high school, will testify during today’s hearing. Additionally, federal officials will also take questions from the panel.
In the audience, several members of the antiwar activist group Code Pink wore the color and carried signs that read “NRA out of schools” and “Teachers + Guns = Chaos”.
Reporters and students across the eastern part of the US are sharing scenes from school walkouts. At most of these schools, a moment of silence is being held for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims of the Parkland shooting.
And West Virginia:
Walkouts have begun at schools across the East Coast of the US.
Demonstrators have also gathered outside the White House.
David Hogg, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school student, is sharing live video from the high school’s walkout. There are helicopters overhead the school’s protest, which Hogg said reminded him of the day of the shooting.
The Guardian’s Richard Luscombe is also on the scene at MSD, where a large crowd has amassed on the campus football field.
Teenage students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, and demanded action to curb gun violence in the US, have been sending messages of support to today’s protestors on Twitter.
This live blog will be collecting information from protests across the country, including dispatches sent by the Guardian’s reporters.
In Virgina, Lois Beckett is already with students preparing for today’s protest.
We’ll also be hearing from:
Richard Luscombe in Parkland, Florida, where the shooting last month occurred.
Jamiles Lartey in Atlanta, where he’ll join student demonstrators at Martin Luther King’s former high school.
Lauren Gambino in Washington DC, where students are protesting and lawmakers are debating school security.
Adam Gabbatt in New York City, home to strict gun control measures and several rallies in support of the walkout.
Andrew Gumbel in Huntington Beach, California, a more politically conservative area in the liberal state.
How did this protest come together and who is behind it?
The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy has the answers to those questions and more in this protest Q&A:
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida last month, students refused to accept the usual rote statements by politicians, and reinvigorated a nationwide movement to reduce gun violence.
Today, a month after the shooting, students across the country will step out of class for 17 minutes – one minute for each victim of the Parkland shooting. It represents a memorial for the lives lost to gun violence and a demand for more action from lawmakers.
Guardian reporters will be sending dispatches to our live blog from protests across the country, including Parkland, Florida, where the massacre took place; the school in Atlanta formerly attended by Martin Luther King; and a school across the river from the White House.
Demonstrations will take place at 10am local time, starting on the east coast and ending in Hawaii, six hours later.
Those participating have several demands. Among them, they want to:
• Ban assault weapons
• Require universal background checks before gun sales
• Reduce militarization of law enforcement
And for any readers thinking of protesting, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a one-page guide to student’s protest rights. Universities have said they won’t penalize college applications belonging to students who protest.
Stay tuned here for reports from the protests and context on the battle to reduce gun violence in the US throughout the day.
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