Led by a small group of determined Clarke Middle School organizers, more than 400 students walked out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. Friday and streamed into the parking lot to protest—loudly—against gun violence and the inability of grown-ups to take any steps to push back against the mayhem. Inspired by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting on Feb. 17, the Apr. 20 protest was part of the National School Walkout, one of hundreds across the country, and there are no signs that the energy is abating.
Penelope Anderson, 12, said the protest was organized by a group of 15–20 students over the past two months, and that they worked with administrators to bring the event together and obtain their support. CMS Principal Tad MacMillan said in an Apr. 17 email to parents that “it is a student movement, and although I am proud of the way our students have been handling themselves, this is not a school event.” According to student Addisyn Huff, “Mr. MacMillan and our teachers were 100 percent supportive. They supported us if we walked out or decided to stay in class.”
The demonstration began with a 13-second period of silence to acknowledge the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. Anderson, the first of many students to speak to the crowd, began by intoning the names of each of the 17 Parkland victims. She went on to address Congress directly, saying, “We are making the change the world needs. We need the government to shut up and listen.”
Congress “cares more about the NRA than they do about our lives,” said Kaija Gilbertson Hall, 13. “Close the gun show loopholes! Establish waiting periods! We should be writing essays, not our wills!”
Anna Tenner (daughter of Flagpole’s production director) took the mic to share a letter she wrote to Rep. Jody Hice: “I deserve to enjoy what I love. I deserve to have a job, or a first kiss, or a high-school degree… Shouldn’t everyone at least get a chance at those things?” She continued, “I have an army of young people fired up and ready to fight. No, not with guns or violence, but with change.”
Photo Credit: Jessica Silverman
Some parents also attended. “I am so quiet and shy, and my daughter is so outspoken,” Erica Gilbertson, Kaija’s mom, said of her daughter’s involvement. “And even though Kaija can’t vote, she can inspire others to vote and make [gun violence] their issue.”
Miles Anderson, Penelope’s father, was also at the event and echoed Gilbertson’s enthusiasm. “I’m extremely proud of Penelope and inspired by her, and it’s so cool I can say that,” he said.
Similar protests took place at other local schools, including Clarke Central High School and Hilsman Middle School. As many as 600 students reportedly walked out at Cedar Shoals High School.
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