Students Vow #NeverAgain
Today, March 14th, marks one month since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It also marks five years and three months since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and eighteen years, ten months, and twenty-two days since the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. March 14th marks another day students, faculty, and staff must worry about their safety in an environment that claims itself to be "safe space." However, March 14th marks a landmark historical, educational, and political movement: #NationalWalkoutDay
Organized by Women's March Youth Empower, the #Enough National Student Walk Out invited students across the country to walk out of their school buildings at ten o'clock this morning. Exactly seventeen minutes were dedicated to the walk out, commemorating each of the seventeen students slain on February 14, 2018 at MSD. Furthermore, many participating students saw this as their opportunity to enact a call for action, demanding legislative change regarding gun control.
The school where I teach (located in South Jersey) organized an outdoor "assembly" at ten o'clock, inviting students to join in remembering the students from Parkland. The majority of our student population walked out (shown in the panorama photo above), and those who did not wish to participate were told to go the cafeteria. In the days leading up to the walk out, some students complained that our administration wasn't giving them enough agency in that they [the students] weren't the ones who had a say in what occurred during the "assembly." Additionally, students felt (& knew) there would be consequences if they stayed outside longer than the scheduled "assembly." I want to commend these students in their desire to have a voice in events that matter. I want to encourage them to peacefully protest and join in on meaningful rallies without fear of being punished. I want to urge them to pursue any social justice endeavor that compels them. However, I do want to inform these students (& our student populace as a whole) that not all schools around the country were as willing to allot seventeen minutes to a student walk out. I want to remind them that, more unfortunately, many schools did not even recognize the seventeen minutes as anything other than another seventeen minutes during another school day. At a high school in North Carolina, for instance, only two students from the entire student body walked out. And when they did, other students videotaped them in ridicule.
Push-back was inevitable, given our current cultural climate. At 11:30AM, the NRA tweeted an unsympathetic, dismissive message: "I'll control my own guns, thank you," accompanied with a picture of an AR-15, the same weapon used by MSD gunman Nikolas Cruz. Additionally, a contrasting hashtag went viral, prompting students to #WalkUpNotOut. The true source of this different call to action is in question (many people claim it was Ryan Petty, father of Alaina, an MSD student slain one month ago; a smaller handful assert Petty simply used a Facebook post by Kelly Guest, a Hampstead mother and youth minister). Even though the sentiment of #WalkUpNotOut is seemingly good (as in, it's a positive message for mindfulness), it ultimately criticizes the actions of students who chose to walk out and asserts that students shouldn't question, nor protest imposed (& likely unjust) policies. Moreover, #WalkUpNotOut dangerously contends that school massacres will end if students are just nicer to their peers. As Rachel Held Evans tweeted in a thoughtful, critical thread, this 'alternative' to the walk out becomes victim-blaming, putting the onus of mental health issues onto those (i.e. students) who are not trained mental health professionals. Students should not feel responsible for solving a problem that is actually not their fault.
After our "assembly" and throughout the remainder of the day, I followed #NationalWalkoutDay on Twitter and was amazed by the volume of students walking out for those who can longer walk out of their schools. Students from Granada Hills Charter High School in Los Angeles spelled out "ENOUGH" on their football field. Students from Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School in Nashville walked with Tarana Burke, founder of #MeToo, all the way to the Capitol building, chanting, "We demand change!" Students from George Mason Elementary School in Alexandria lay down on their school's front lawn in complete silence to remind the public that after school massacres, some students are never able to stand up again. Hundreds of thousands more admirable acts of peaceful protest happened today because students had either the courage, encouragement, or both, to do so.
Today, March 14th marks two decades' worth of school shootings across the United States. It also marks two decades' worth of conversation around gun control legislation. Most importantly, March 14th marks a groundbreaking national protest led by the current loudest voices of this country. I hope, more than anything, that March 14, 2018 allows legislators and policy-makers to not just consider, but vow #Enough.