Protest

The Student Anti-Gun Walkout Is Just the Beginning

New York City high school students gear up for Wednesday’s protests, and beyond

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The kids are still angry, and now they’re getting organized.

Across the country, thousands of students are preparing to walk out of their classrooms on Wednesday morning, exactly one month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, left seventeen people dead. Spearheaded by youth organizers of the Women’s March, the #Enough National School Walkout is aimed at persuading members of Congress to “pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets, and in our homes and places of worship,” per their official website.

The mass action comes as Parkland survivors continue to build a sweeping anti-gun movement that seemed unthinkable just weeks ago. But while the eloquence and fury of the Florida students has jolted much of the country, their fellow teenagers are far from shocked. Beyond putting pressure on politicians, the purpose of the walkout, according to organizers, is to show that Parkland is not an aberration, and that the surge of youth-led activism is only just beginning.

“This moment feels like culmination of a year and a half of youth energy that began with the election,” Bryson Wiese, a junior at the Dalton School and co-founder of the student-led advocacy group Coalition Z, tells the Voice. “Trump obviously highlighted the stakes for our generation, and now we’re seeing the full force of that energy play out in the fight over gun reform.”

Wiese says he’s received organizing advice from Parkland students on Twitter, and is currently in touch with several young activists in New York who he knows only through online correspondence.

“Being on social media has allowed me to talk to people around the country about the issues that affect us,” echoes Haley Hartigan, a senior at Baruch High School in Manhattan. “It’s what basically started this whole movement.”

Both Hartigan and Wiese are helping to organize the walkouts at their schools, as well as an “Evening of Action” later that night, where students will work on concrete policy demands and “lay the groundwork for a sustained student-led gun sense movement,” according to the event’s Facebook page. On Saturday, the two met with around two dozen student leaders from other schools for an informal sign-making event near Union Square. (“I was like, ‘Hey, Mom, I’m gonna go to this girl’s apartment I’ve never met,’ but thankfully she gets it,” Hartigan recalls.) Over pretzels and soda, the teenagers traded ideas for signs, and discussed the logistics of their schools’ respective walkouts. Some will be marching to rallies planned at Central Park and Prospect Park, and others are in the process of organizing their own demonstrations.

While administrators and local politicians are lending a hand with the larger events, the decentralized nature of the walkout has given many high schoolers the freedom to craft their own messages and agendas. Students from the Manhattan Center for Science and Math, for example, are planning to block off the road outside their high school in East Harlem. A press release written by Aaron Jackson, a senior at MCSM, includes a warning to Congress to “pay attention and take note: Many of us will vote this November and many others will cast their ballots in 2020.”

Other students, meanwhile, see the walkout as an opportunity to push for reform on the local level. During a town hall on gun violence held by Mayor de Blasio last week, several students voiced objections to the presence of metal detectors and overzealous police personnel within their schools — 91 schools currently have metal detectors, and the NYPD’s school safety division includes around 5,200 safety officers and police officers. In response to these concerns, the mayor was “dismissive,” and “curved every question that had to do with metal detectors, safety officers and community of color,” according to Andrea Colon, a senior at Rockaway Park High School For Environmental Sustainability and organizer with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.

Colon’s hope for the walkout, she says, is to bring attention to what the city’s attempts to curb gun violence actually look like in practice. “It’s dehumanizing to walk through scanners every day, or to see police officers with guns in our cafeterias,” Colon tells the Voice. Meanwhile, her school has 300 students and only two guidance counselors — one of whom, Colon says, recently admitted that she didn’t have the capacity to deal with mental illness. If the city divests from “prison-like security,” Colon says, it might be able to improve its mental health resources, something she feels would be far more effective at reducing the likelihood of a mass shooting.

When Colon joins thousands of other teenagers in walking out of school on Wednesday, she’ll be doing so for both federal gun control and city-level changes to her community — and with a set of demands she intends to keep working toward long after returning to the classroom. “The older generation still sees us as young kids who don’t know what we’re doing,” she says. “But they have to realize that we’re not afraid to raise our voices now, and we know what we want.”

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