At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, hundreds of Garfield High School students emerged from their classrooms and piled onto the stairs to protest gun violence. A row of teenage girls with matching black Converse shoes stood in front, holding a hand-made banner bearing the words “Ban Assault Rifles” in green and orange letters. Other students held an array of manufactured and hand-made posters adorned with phrases such as “Enough is Enough” and “#Armme with books not bullets.” Tears streamed down the faces of a couple of students as the rest of the crowd hung their head in silence for 17 minutes. All the while, students Talis Mace, 15, and Sam Treat, 16, took turns reading the names of the 17 people fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last month. Only the roaring sounds of a drone and planes soaring overhead pierced the sobering silence.
“Students of America are here today to demand our lawmakers ban assault weapons like AR-15s,” Treat said to the crowd at the start of the rally.
The school joined at least 18 others throughout Seattle to commemorate the victims of the Parkland shooting and to demand that Congress prevent future mass shootings by passing stricter gun control legislation. Wednesday’s event was part of the Enough: National School Walkout organized by Women’s March Youth Empower. Garfield High School sophomores Treat and Mace spearheaded their school’s walkout once they realized that it wasn’t included in the national walkout list.
“We want to make this more than just a walkout. We want to make it an opportunity for you to raise your voice for real change to occur,” Treat said, facing the crowd at the demonstration. He encouraged students to retreat to tables in the courtyard to sign letters to politicians and register to vote.
“Please continue to educate yourself and make sure that you are setting the example for those who come after you. We are the generation that will change this,” Mace concluded.
Since most of the students were born after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, the fear of school shootings have been part of their daily reality. But last month’s Parkland shooting hit close to home for many students who had finally had enough of politicians’ “thoughts and prayers.” That was the case for junior Bryce Groen, 17, who wanted to ensure that the student activism catalyzed in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre didn’t “die out.”
“A lot of what we’ve seen happen over and over again as we grow up … kids our age die from gun violence and then people wait just enough time where the public starts to forget about it, and then they continue without doing anything,” Groen said as he stood in line to write letters to politicians after the rally. “We’re trying to say ‘No, that’s not okay. You have to deal with this, because we’re going to die if you don’t.’ ”
He was especially concerned for his and his classmates’ safety after Garfield High School received a gun threat last month. The administration apprehended the accused student before a shooting, but it “definitely changed the way I felt at school,” Groen said. And he’s not the only one who has been shaken by the dozens of school shootings throughout his lifetime. Groen says everyone he knows has had at least one nightmare in which they’ve been trapped in a school with an active shooter. Yet despite the threat of gun violence nationally, he added that he was unaware of any active shooter drills at the school.
Groen plans on participating in the March for Our Lives demonstration on March 24 to demand safer schools and gun control legislation. As the president of the school’s chapter of the non-partisan youth group Junior State of America, Groen also hopes to register his peers to vote and generate discussions on preventing violence and encouraging student activism.
Although action by politicians at the national level remains to be seen, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of Wednesday’s walkout, stating that it promotes “legislative action by our State and Congressional Legislature to enact stricter gun safety laws including but not limited to tighter background checks, banning the purchasing bump stocks, and other restrictions on the purchase of semi and fully automatic weapons.”