Students across the United States have walked out of their classrooms to demonstrate against gun violence. The protest comes one month after a shooting rampage in Florida left 17 students and educators dead.
The coordinated walkouts were organized by the group Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which organized the demonstrations on January 2017 to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration and which gathered millions of demonstrators on behalf of women’s rights.
Students in numerous cities began Wednesday by holding a moment of silence at 10:00 Eastern Standard Time (14:00 GMT) in memory of the 14 students and three staff who were killed on February 14 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Organizers labeled the movement #Enough.
Not all students walked out, but many still showed their solidarity by lining the hallways, gathering in gyms and auditoriums, or by wearing orange — the color used by the movement against gun violence — or maroon, the school color of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
A storm in Boston left many schools closed due to heavy snow, but hundreds of students still gathered at a Boston church and marched to the Statehouse.
In Birmingham, Alabama, dozens of students at Huffman High School walked outside and encircled a flagpole, which was still at half-staff in memory of 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington, a female student who was fatally shot there this month. They observed the 17 minutes in silence for the Parkland deaths, and 1 minute for their slain classmate.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walked out of their classrooms and gathered on the campus football field. The students embraced each other, while the school chorus played music over a loudspeaker. Many students left campus after the short rally and walked to the park that has become a memorial, with 17 crosses and flowers.
Some schools prevent action
While many school districts supported the student action and helped coordinate the demonstrations, others prohibited them or warned of disciplinary for any students who staged a walkout. Many students defied the warnings anyway.
At the Council Rock High School North building in Newtown, some 200 students walked out, despite warnings from school administration of punishment. The district cited safety concerns as the reason and said they had organized an alternative event.
In Whitfield County, Georgia, the school Superintendent wrote a letter threatening disciplinary action for students and based the decision on concerns about confrontations between students over gun rights.
Democrats in Washington join
In Washington, D.C., more than 2,000 high-school aged students sat on the ground in front of the White House, with their backs turned on the building, and observed the 17 minutes of silence. President Donald Trump was on a trip to California at the time.
Students gathered outside of the Capitol building and were met by Democratic lawmakers. The leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer respectively, made statements to the crowd.
“We are all moved by your persistence and your fearless insistence on action to prevent gun violence,” Pelosi told the participants.
Republicans introduce legislation
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives announced that they would debate and pass legislation on Wednesday to address gun violence.
The bill would allocate $50 million (€40.4 million) a year for training in schools and for law enforcement agencies to detect and prevent potential violent acts. The legislation does not allow funds to go to arming teachers or other school officials.
“We believe that the best focus can be on stopping people who should not get guns from getting any kind of gun, period,” Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said on Wednesday.
The massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School reignited the gun-control debate and saw the mobilization of a growing student movement that demanded action from politicians at the state and federal level.
President Donald Trump had signaled some support for reducing access to guns, such as raising the age limit for gun purchases from 18 to 21. But he later reversed his position on the issue and was accused by opponents of caving in to the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
jcg/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)