Students lead nationwide crusade for gun control
Students rally in front of the White House in Washington, March 14. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there was no question what its students would do on the morning of March 14.

At 10 am on that designated day for nationwide student, teacher, and parent walkouts for school safety and gun control, all 3,000 of them, many crying in memory of fellow students and friends massacred precisely one month before, streamed onto the school’s football field for a mass memorial ceremony.

They were led by their principal, who also praised their courage and their determination which has launched a mass student-led national gun control crusade.

A month ago, on Feb. 14, those same Douglas students were running for their lives across that same football field as Nicholas Cruz fired round after round from his AR-15 rifle, killing 14 students, two teachers, and the school’s athletic director.

From Chicago to Charlotte to New York City to D.C. to Maine—where 200 students and supporters showed up for the walkout at one high school despite an enormous blizzard—hundreds of thousands of students and teachers walked out of their classrooms at 10 am local time for 17 minutes, in memory of the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Multitudes of parents joined them.

The March 14 walkouts were the first of two big protests, organized by students nationwide—and led by those at the Florida school—to demand true gun control and specifically a ban on sales of AR-15s and other such weapons of war.

The other will be a mass “March for Our Lives,” again led by the Floridians, on Washington on March 24. Organizers asked for a parade permit for 500,000 people, and got it. There will be similar marches in other cities nationwide.

Pat Gibson holds a drawing of Meadow Pollack, a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, as Valerie Davis holds a portrait of slain student Joaquin Oliver while they stand outside of the school in Parkland, Fla., as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence Wednesday. | Lynne Sladky / AP

But the Trump administration—whose leader vacillates between fealty to the gun lobby and saying he’ll do something—denied the students permission to march on the iconic Mall in downtown D.C. They’ll gather elsewhere.

That didn’t stop the students on March 14. Hundreds from the D.C. suburbs, demanding strong gun controls and safe schools, paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue and dozens sat down in Lafayette Park across from the White House’s front door.

Several hoisted “Stand United” signs. They all chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho—The NRA has got to go,” outside the White House, referring to the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

“These eloquent children have more integrity, intelligence, and common sense than the president and this Republican Congress all rolled together,” Gary Borgnis tweeted on one thread, using the “March for Our Lives” logo. “They will lead our country and our government out of the darkness of lies, corruption, and manipulation that has plagued America for so long because the adults have failed to do so.”

Teachers union leaders praised and encouraged the students. AFT President Randi Weingarten, whose union represents the teachers and staff at Douglas, joined a walkout from New York City’s Leadership and Public Service High School in Manhattan. They all proceeded to Zuccotti Park—where the Occupy Wall Street protests began several years ago—and laid down on the sidewalk, joined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

“Florida teachers told us what they want. Hint: It’s not guns,” Weingarten tweeted.

“On March 24, students will rally in Washington D.C., and in local communities across the country, to demand action from our leaders, and to fight for an America that is free from gun violence,” said School Administrators President Diann Woodard. “AFSA stands with our students, and we will keep fighting to make sure every child can go to school feeling safe.” AFSA directed potential participants in local marches to the national list of demonstrations.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, a Salt Lake City elementary school teacher, also praised the student-led gun control movement. She said in a YouTube video that “even my own classroom kids want to take on huge problems” like gun control.  Her students “want to see something change for the better, and that’s what I see in those brave students who are saying ‘enough.’”

“I’m so proud of them for demanding that their lives and their safety become a national priority,” Eskelsen-Garcia said. “We have to do everything we can to make our schools places of joy and places of discovery and not places of fear.”

That’s also what the March 14 walkout was all about—even at sites where there were no walkouts, due to threatened discipline by school administrators.

Students said President Trump and the Republican Party had a choice: protect the NRA or protect kids. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

The Guardian reported administrators warned students at Kell High School in the Atlanta suburbs they could not walk out without being disciplined. Three walked out anyway, then re-entered after the memorial 17 minutes. Other students held a sit-in instead. Outside, a British couple walking their dog wanted to join the three, but police, called to the school in anticipation of a student-parent walkout, threatened to arrest the couple.

“This is not politics. This is life, and the loss of it. This is the indisputable fact that every student in America goes to school with a bundle of fear tucked into their backpack. It is exhausting,” said Yarmouth, Maine, High School student Sage Watterson, one of the 200 who defied the snowstorm which shut her school and much of New England. Battling the snow, she read an original poem, “Never Again,” the Guardian reported.

“Do not use our forefathers’ words to mop up the blood on library carpets and cafeteria floors,” Watterson warned.

A high school in Sayreville, N.J., threatened to suspend students who walked out. Instead, it staged a ceremony and memorial program in the school auditorium. Rosa Rodriguez walked out anyway. “Just because you didn’t want to have these consequences and stuff, you should have come outside and proven them wrong,” she told a local radio station.

>> Find a local March for Our Lives event in your area – March 24, 2018.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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