Students in dozens of schools throughout the region plan to stage walkouts Wednesday, a month after the Florida school shooting, and also participate in Seattle’s March For Our Lives 10 days later.
Today’s students have spent their school careers participating in active-shooter drills. Columbine has always been a household name. They can’t recall a time they didn’t think a shooting could happen at their school.
Students say they’re desensitized to school shootings and gun violence, and they’re angry that they’re desensitized. And now, spurred by the activism of students in Parkland, Florida, Seattle-area students say they’re finished waiting for adults to make changes to curb gun violence.
Students in dozens of schools throughout the region plan to stage walkouts Wednesday and then participate 10 days later in the Seattle offshoot of the March For Our Lives.
“The student activism of the Parkland survivors really showed kids around the nation that we can do something to effect change, and not wait for elected officials to do something about it,” said Tahoma High senior Rhiannon Rasaretnam, 17, one of the march’s original organizers.
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“We want to use this movement to ensure that students don’t have to worry about someone shooting up a school, when school should be a place you feel safe.”
Both events will call on elected officials to pass a ban on assault weapons, prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines and close loopholes in background-check laws.
The details of each walkout vary, but most of the school groups say they’ll leave their buildings at 10 a.m. Wednesday and stand outside for 17 minutes, in remembrance of the 17 people killed at the Parkland high school exactly one month earlier. Similar protests — most in high schools but in some middle and elementary schools, too — are being held nationally as part of the National School Walkout.
The protest was planned by EMPOWER, the Women’s March youth group, after the shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The school shooting was one of the deadliest in U.S. history. It felt tragic but familiar, Rasaretnam said, having seen so many such mass killings on the news.
“That is a huge indicator of what is wrong with our society,” she said. “Students should not be familiar with mass shootings.”
Rasaretnam, like other Seattle-area students, takes part in periodic active-shooter drills at her Maple Valley school. For Lake Washington High senior Alex Wilder, that means locking doors, covering windows and crouching under desks and tables. Police officers come into each classroom and, to show who could be a potential victim, count how many people they can see from the doorway.
“The fact that we have to do that makes us think about (the possibility of a shooting) often,” said Wilder, who is organizing her school’s walkout.
Student organizers recalled deadly shootings and threats at their own schools and schools nearby, such as the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 2014, when four students were killed and another wounded by their classmate, who then turned the gun on himself.
Two years ago, a student at the International School in Bellevue was arrested for threatening to “shoot up” the school.
Senior Jacqueline Stevens, 17, remembers teachers turning students away from school the morning he was arrested. Stevens spent part of her childhood in China, where she says gun violence was an obscure issue. She learned that it was different in the United States one day when she arrived at her elementary school during a lockdown drill and didn’t know what was happening.
“In China, it would be unthinkable that a shooter would come to a school,” she said. “Here, it’s almost happened at the school I go to.”
Stevens is organizing the International School walkout and thinks about half the students will participate. School leaders have been working with the student organizers, so they won’t be penalized if they miss any class. Last week, the Bellevue School Board approved a resolution supporting students’ rights to gather peacefully “regardless of viewpoint and without academic penalty,” and adding that the rights of students who don’t want to participate also will be respected.
The Seattle School Board adopted its own resolution last month supporting the March For Our Lives, but encouraging students to remain in school. If students leave for a walkout, they could receive an unexcused absence.
Seattle’s March For Our Lives
The youth activism won’t end with the walkouts.
Thousands of students, activists and community members are expected to walk in the local March For Our Lives on March 24.
The march starts at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park at 10 a.m. and ends at KeyArena. More than 7,000 people have replied on the event’s Facebook page that they will attend. There are more than 500 marches planned throughout the United States and abroad, with the largest in Washington, D.C. In the Puget Sound region, rallies also will be held in Everett, North Bend, Auburn, Vashon Island, Tacoma and Olympia.
The focus of the Seattle march will include all gun violence against youth and what everyone can do to be politically engaged, Rasaretnam said. Much attention goes to school shootings, she added, but for many young people, violence is an everyday problem. The rally will begin with speakers who have been directly impacted by gun violence.
“Our march is about gun violence, but centering it more on civic engagement and getting youth involved and taking action on this issue,” she said.
After approval of the Seattle School Board resolution, Superintendent Larry Nyland and board President Leslie Harris wrote that they’ve “been moved by the tremendous courage and activism of students across our country and in Seattle.”
The students don’t plan on quitting, Rasaretnam said.
“Never again do we want this to happen,” she said. “We don’t want the next generation of children to grow up being familiar with mass shootings.”