Why we marched for our lives
On March 14, exactly one month after 17 students and teachers died in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, teenagers across the country decided to collectively walk out of their high schools. Inspired by a group of Parkland students — like Emma Gonzalez, who previously gave a beautiful speech challenging other teenagers to “call BS” on the excuses and lies Congress and members of the NRA have used to dismiss demands for restrictions and regulations on firearms — thousands of young people planned to leave their classes and stand outside for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim of the school shooting. The act of civil disobedience, known in the media as the “National School Walkout,” sent a symbolic message to America’s legislators: Start to pass laws that guarantee students’ safety, or we will not stay in our schools.
On the day of the National High Walkout, over 3,000 high schools in America did exactly that. My high school was one of them. In fact, I organized my school’s participation in the walkout in my hometown of New York City. Especially because final exams were scheduled for the week of the walkout, I didn’t expect many kids to participate. Even though I had convinced my principal to shift the schedule of our final assessments so that students could walk out of our school at exactly 10:00 a.m., I figured most kids would prioritize exams over activism.
But after I left my own Spanish final a half hour early to get a bullhorn and make posters to pass out to my classmates, I found about 100 students in our school’s lobby, already waiting to leave. At 10:00, I led my high school peers to our lower school building (a five-minute walk away), where we stood in solidarity with students as young as 10 years old for a moment of silence before all heading to Washington Square Park. That’s where we planned to spend the full 17 minutes of silence.
After the shooting in Las Vegas last October was met with inaction, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton decided to boycott moments of silence because silence, and with it a lack of productive discussion, were exactly what contributed to such violence in the first place. I decided to follow his lead, and prepared some words to say while we were gathered at the park. I asked members of student government and any other student who felt moved to speak to go up to the bullhorn and share with our school what they felt, too.
Our school was not alone. At Washington Square Park, we saw that at least three other schools had gathered to make speeches as well. At some point, it became unclear how many schools were present, since we had become one rapidly growing mass of people with signs and T-shirts and wristbands. Our giant group of students intuitively decided to stand together and support one another. We would not let the students of Stoneman Douglas stand alone.
I was proud to be a part of that moment. I saw change happening right before my eyes in a small corner of the city, and felt the effects of a bigger movement when I looked online at the huge number of walkouts happening in states across the country — in states I had never been to, conservative states where the principals suspended kids who walked out.
I felt the same feeling while watching the March For Our Lives on Saturday, March 24. I was proud to see my friends, family, and generation at large band together and create an overwhelming, undeniably strong turnout. This march was student-led, but included all people who had had enough with the gun violence: students, parents, school administrators, gun violence survivors, veterans, women, people of color, and more all stood in solidarity. We sent the message to Congress that, in the words of the March For Our Lives organization, this was “not just a moment, but a movement.” The march on Saturday only puts more pressure on Congress to make actual change, and the momentum built from the March 14 School Walkout was present that day, too.
I doubt that even years from now our world will be perfect, that all issues of violence will be solved. But I know I will no longer sit idly by when mass shootings kill kids. I will be able to look back and say that I did something. Now more than ever, teenagers are doing the same: They’re standing up for themselves, for their safety, and for their rights. We are so much more powerful than we’ve ever been before. I truly believe we will be the generation that makes Congress say #NeverAgain.
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