Seattle students came out in force for yesterday’s national day of protest with demonstrations spanning at least 19 schools. But there was also action outside the city, as thousands of students in suburban and rural communities—typically the less progressive parts of the region—left class to demand stricter gun laws.
“Twenty-six people were killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook,” Bellevue High School junior Bridget Conroy said to the 200 suburban students who took part in her school’s walkout. “Seventeen people were killed at the massacre at Stoneman Douglas. Since this year began, there have been 19 school shootings. Since Sandy Hook, 1,607 school shootings have occurred.”
The walkouts were among thousands happening at schools throughout the country as part of the Enough: National School Walkout organized by Women’s March Youth Empower. Participants sought to pressure their leaders to take action while memorializing the 17 students and teachers who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. exactly one month prior.
In Auburn, more than 100 high school students left class and called on Congress to tighten gun control laws.
“We’re marching just to bring awareness to the situation that needs to be addressed, which is to make our schools safer,” said Asia Bol, 14, a freshman at Auburn Mountainview High School, marching with her friend, Japnoor Sandhu, also a freshman. “If the adults don’t take matters into their own hands, the kids will.”
At McMurray Middle School on Vashon Island, a large group of students participated in the walkout and gathered in front of their school, talking among themselves and sometimes joining in the chant, “Enough is enough.” Some were wearing bright orange, and a smaller number had signs, including Aidan Green, who held up a handmade “#Enough” sign.
“Part of my family is from Florida. It was scary for me,” Green said, referring to Parkland shooting. “I want to put an end to this.”
A group of girls, holding letters that spelled out “#neveragain,” lined up in formation and led the chanting for a time. The group ended their 17 minutes outside with a moment of silence.
Afterward, Principal Greg Allison said that the students organized the event themselves.
“A number of them took leadership. It was not guided by us,” he said.
He added that prior to Wednesday, several classes discussed activism and civil disobedience, including their historical context and current relevance.
“The kids took it from there,” he said.
In Kirkland, Juanita High School students took their walkout to the streets.
They raised their signs and cheered as numerous passersby honked and waved in support. Kirkland police and school officials helped escort the march as it circled a short stretch of road outside the entrance to the school. Kirkland’s International Community School, Robert Frost Elementary School, and several other schools throughout the community saw similar protests that joined the national movement.
“I’m really tired of my friends not feeling safe at school, I’m tired of not feeling safe at school and I feel like I’ve seen on social media the whole cycle we get of ‘thoughts and prayers’ and then we forget and another shooting happens,” said Sylvia-Anne Bowman, a sophomore at Juanita High School who has been involved with the school’s multiple protests. “That cycle needs to end.”
French America School of Puget Sound’s Ava Safaeian said that school decided to have a 17-minute-long event to show support to the victims of the shooting, which included a moment of silence and peaceful protest on banning assault rifles.
“Even though geography says we’re 3,266 miles away, we still want to show our support to the victims of the shooting,” Safaeian said.
Mercer Island private Catholic school St. Monica School, also showed their support in a “uniquely Catholic manner,” according to school commission member Krista Pittiglio.
The students prayed in a “living rosary” around 17 crosses to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting. After the prayers, students then shared their petitions for the victims, families, and communities affected. In class, they brainstormed 17 ways to make a difference in someone else’s life using the hashtag #whatsyour17.
Students at Inglewood Middle School in Sammamish met at the school’s flagpole for their walkout.
“We are doing this because we believe that our leaders need to make a change to help keep us safe,” Belle Schmidt, an Inglewood Middle School public relations officer said. “We don’t want to have the difficult conversations in class of what to do in case a shooting ever happened to us every time a school shooting occurs when they could have been prevented. We believe that some sort of gun control is appropriate.”
Shavi Sikaria, a junior at Eastlake High School in Sammamish, said a large group of students participated in the walkout at the high school, which included an open mic for students to talk about the issue.
Students from the Overlake School in Redmond also assembled around a flagpole in the center of campus at 10 a.m. as student speakers took turns reading out the names and some personal details of the Marjory Stoneman Douglass shooting victims. Student speakers called for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the February attacks. Middle school students took to the microphone to give speeches.
Musab C. (Overlake did not release the students’ last names) gave a passionate speech quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and urged students to keep pushing for an end to gun violence. The theme of creating a movement that went beyond the school and into the community was front and center during the walkout.
“This is anything but normal,” he said. “Where will we stand, what will we do, what will we change?”
Kate L. said students must take the lead on combatting gun violence by throwing out NRA-backed politicians and pushing for legislative reforms like increasing age limits to buy firearms.
But it wasn’t just students who got involved.
Plateaupians For Peace, a nonprofit Sammamish community group, created a sub-group of parents concerned about gun reform. According to member and Overlake parent Randee Fox, the group’s mission is to research information, educate, and advocate for the community and support those who wished to organize for gun reform on the National School Walkout Day and the upcoming April 20 rally on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
On the far east side of King County, Chief Kanim Middle School held similar rallies.
“I feel it’s important that our children have a voice in matters that effect them,” Fall City resident and parent Tanya Maw said on Wednesday morning.
Since the Parkland school shooting, teens have gained national media attention in their attempts to convince Congress to enact legislation on gun control.
Although there has been stagnation at a national level, Rep. Vandana Slatter (D–Bellevue) said the Washington state Legislature recently passed four bills centered on “common sense” gun control: Those new laws stipulate those who are convicted of domestic violence harassment will not be allowed to purchase guns; a law that banned bump stocks (Senate Bill 5992); and stricter concealed pistol license laws when those weapons are picked up by law enforcement (House Bill 2519); and the opportunity for individuals to put themselves on a no gun purchase/ownership list in case they have poor mental health or suicidal ideation (SB 5553).
Slatter, who was at the Bellevue High School student walkout, said the legislators were unable to this session but will still try to pass SB 6620, which would implement an emergency response system for school safety, as well as prohibit the sale or transfer of semiautomatic rifles unless both a federal and a state background check have been completed through law enforcement. It would also prohibit a person under the age of 21 from being able to purchase a semiautomatic rifle.
“They’ve had enough,” Slatter said. “That’s what I really heard here. As a legislator, I wanted to be here in solidarity with them because I think that we struggle with how to resolve this issue and it shouldn’t be that hard for a first world country to do this.”
But not everyone agreed with the sentiment that gun control measures were the answer to reducing gun violence.
A solitary 16-year-old Bellevue High School sophomore, Charlie Kern, walked up to the front of the Bellevue High School student walkout and held a sign that read: “More guns, less crime.”
Some were quick to try to block his message, but he remained at the front throughout the last speech and during the moment of silence the students had for the 17 Stoneman Douglas High School students who were killed.
When asked about his stance, Kern responded, “I am holding this sign because I believe more guns equals less crime. I believe that background checks aren’t going to keep the illegals, or people, from getting guns.”
Bellevue High School sophomore Sofia Larrondo, 16, said she’s tired of feeling as though the issue of gun violence is being normalized.
“As a daughter, sister, student and friend I have never felt more threatened,” she said. “If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have told you I felt sad and scared. But not now. No, I am furious.”
Larrondo said she’s furious because since the start of the year, a school has been “shot up” every four days on average.
“Those who died in Parkland on February 14 should not die in vain and they will not die in vain,” she said.
Bellevue High School junior Haley Cook, 17, said she believed her generation is the generation of change. And it’s her generation that can make the United States a safe place not only in schools, but in movie theaters, places of worship and concerts.
Rep. Slatter agrees.
“I would like to say that I’m sorry as adults we haven’t been able to make movement on this and that it takes young people’s voices,” she said. “But I feel so inspired by their ability to create a courageous space for remembrance for solidarity, for hope and for determination and that this would never happen again.”
Another national walkout, planned by the student-founded National School Walkout movement, is scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Additionally, in some communities, there will be a March for Our Lives event on March 24.
Melissa Hellmann, Kailan Manandic, Aaron Kunkler, Robert Whale, and Susan Riemer contributed to this report.