Millions of students demand #NeverAgain to gun violence
Over a million students and allies walked out of classes in the U.S., from Maine to Hawaii, and elsewhere in the world on March 14. Ten days later, March 24, hundreds of thousands of defiant marchers flooded the streets in Washington, D.C., and at more than 800 places on every continent except Antarctica. What might they do next?
Many surviving Parkland students are becoming familiar faces in D.C. Politicians hear from them regularly and some respond positively. They have captured the nation’s attention with their soaring speeches and emotional chants at what is being described as “sibling marches.”
They are protesting the killing of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They gathered on street corners, in downtowns, gyms, football fields, auditoriums, and elsewhere. The first events typically took 17 minutes to honor those who were murdered.
This was the largest wave of protests in American history, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. This show of strength reveals a political awakening by youth. “Welcome to the revolution,” said one student. “We need to turn this moment into a movement,” said another, which some call the #Never Again Movement.
Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, 187,000 students have experienced a shooting. “Many are not the same,” added the Washington Post.
Three groups gathered in different cities here in semi-rural Sonoma County. A March for Our Lives group took to the center of our small-town Sebastopol (population 8000) and another at Courthouse Square in Sonoma County’s capital Santa Rosa. It was organized by Moms Demand Action and the Sonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights.
Some vets and active duty military persons attended the Sebastopol gathering and spoke against assault weapons.
The Love Choir led singing at the Sebastopol action. They wore shirts saying “Peacetown USA.” Their lyrics included the following: “I’m going to lay down my sword and shield. We’re going to study war no more.” A popular chant was “We shall not be moved.” One sign read “Liberty, Not Death for My Grandchildren.”
The town of Sonoma was the site of another rally, in its Plaza. Fourteen students from Sonoma Valley High School traveled to D.C. to join the March 24 action there.
“Make safe schools a priority” was the goal of the Santa Rosa gathering. It offered student speakers, opportunities to pre-register to vote, and other options for concerned citizens of all ages to become involved with advocacy.
Signs such as the following were held: “Books Not Bullets!” “Love Kids, Not Guns.” “Send Prayers to the NRA.” “We Adults Have Failed Our Young People.”
One student held a sign bearing 17 blood-red hands and the message “How Many More!” A student wore a t-shirt that read “Young and Powerful.”
POLITICIANS SUPPORT STUDENTS
California Congressman Jared Huffman met with nearly 1000 students and adults the day after the first large march. “There is a lot of evidence right now about the power of young voices,” he said. “Many of us have been beating our heads against the wall of gun reform for years and getting nowhere. These young people are stepping up and speaking so eloquently. They are changing the country.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) has been meeting regularly with high school age activists. He urges them to dig in for a long fight, “like the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.”
Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter attended both rallies in his town. He supports greater gun control and was heartened by the student activism.
“This fits in with the history of the country. The way change is made is the bottom up,” said History Professor Nolan Higdon of Cal State East Bay.
“These kids are all right,” a Chronicle headline reports the day after the first march. Between 1990 and 2004 92 million Americans were born. They represent the largest generation in history, becoming 1/3 of the U.S. population this year. That’s a lot of votes.
“It’s going to look scary to politicians,” said Rebecca Schneid,16, editor of the Parkland student newspaper. The U.S. may be at the beginning of a new, rapidly growing movement. It could grow and change history dramatically.
The New York Times quoted senior Ally Sheehy as saying, “The ‘children’ you pissed off will not forget this in the voting booth. We are a force to be reckoned with.”
“How disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America,” added senior David Hogg, a survivor of the recent Parkland massacre.
Organizers demand tighter background checks on gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons, like the one used in the Florida bloodbath.
A small number of pro-gun demonstrations have also happened, especially in rural areas. Some have chanted “NRA is the only way.” Arguments and scuffles have broken out between the two sides.
Conservative supporters of guns organized smaller, competing rallies this weekend in places that include Helena, Montana, and Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, in a Pennsylvania town each classroom now has a 5-gallon bucket of stones.
Student leaders vowed to continue walkouts April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting in Colorado. They plan to continue direct actions, register young people to vote, lobby legislators, and even run for office.
Many students walked out of classes in the l960s to protest the American Wars on the People of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. My generation was a leader in ending those wars, as this generation can lead us to stricter gun laws, and thus fewer school and other mass shootings.
By walking out, today’s students may have initiated a massive movement for change, including more even than the importance of dealing with guns—at a time when the U.S. desperately needs change and new leadership.
We adults have failed to provide safety for our young people.