Here's why students nationwide are taking part in school walkouts

Students protest in support of stricter gun laws after 17 killed last month

By Brianna Volz - Web producer, AP Author

ORLANDO, Fla. - Thousands of students nationwide participated in walkouts Wednesday morning, one month after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in South Florida.

The protest began at 10 a.m., when participants walked outside and took part in a 17-minute remembrance for each of the lives taken when a former student opened fire in the Parkland high school last month.

While the way each school and how many of their students were a part of the protest may have differed, the reason why was very much the same – for change.

According to EMPOWER, the group that organized the action, the protest was meant to serve as both a memorial and way of protesting in hopes of legislators passing stricter gun control laws.

Students in the Orlando area cited their own reasons for taking part in Wednesday’s activism.

Maddie Weldon, the senior class president at Wekiva High School, said she did it in honor of her peers and the students across the country who she believes deserve to see change.

“They should feel safe at school," she said. "They shouldn't have to worry about, ‘Where I'm going to hide if an active shooter comes into the school.’"

Student Nicole Diaz said she and her peers are acting to make sure that a tragedy similar to what happened in Parkland never happens again.

"We care. And as students, we want to get our voice heard,” Diaz said. "We're done with just sitting by and letting nothing happen. It's time for a change.”

The change she is calling for would make it more difficult for guns to end of in the wrong person’s hands.

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“Students are getting a hold of a gun so easily -- from parents, from friends or just buying it themselves, and it's kind of scary,” Diaz said.

Clayvon James is a senior at Wekiva High who said he participated in the walkout because he wants to make sure the voices of his peers are heard, even if it may not be the easiest thing for people to hear.

“If it takes one person to tell the world that this is something that shouldn't be happening in this place then I want to be that one person,” James said.

School administrators, including Principal Michele Erickson, seemed to support the students as they exercised their rights.

"They need to be heard. If we don't support that, they're going to be heard in their own way without organization, which then maybe won't have such a positive ending, as we saw here this morning," Erickson said.

Erickson said she was inspired by her students’ passion to stand up for what they believe needs to be done.

"It just went from my head to my heart, and it was very tough. And I am so proud of these students,” she said.

The support didn’t stop there, though.

Local leaders within the community also stopped what they were doing and walked out of their buildings at 10 a.m. in support of the student-led movement.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs walked out of work in solidarity with students and met outside the Dr. Phillips Center with other city leaders and community members to express support.

"With messages of love, with showing that unity, with putting in reasonable gun controls, there's measures that are underway,” Jacobs said. “I think there's a lot more that can be done, and I think this generation is going to force that change.”

Both mayors acknowledged that everyone may not agree with solutions, but that it was important to come together, just as the community did in the days after the Pulse nightclub shooting and other tragedies.

The support even extended past local walkouts, with each school having something else to add to their passionate push for change.

In Las Vegas, home to the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, more than 350 students left classes and rallied on the steps of the city's oldest high school.

Many students carried signs that read "Enough is Enough" and shouted chants like "NRA, stay away."

In Washington, more than 2,000 high-school age protesters observed 17 minutes of silence outside the White House as part of the nationwide school walkout.

An organizer counted down the seconds until 10 a.m. and the protesters spent the 17 minutes sitting on the ground with their backs turned to the White House as a nearby church bell chimed.

At East Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina, students were holding a session discussing gun violence in addition to joining students around the country in a walkout.

The students were wearing orange T-shirts emblazoned with an outline of the state and "#enough."

Senior Talia Pomp was handing out the shirts in what she called an effort to prevent a repeat of the school shooting in Parkland.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined students from a Brooklyn high school as they protested.
De Blasio was with students from Edward R. Murrow High School, one of hundreds of schools around the city where students participated in the walkout.

"You are making so clear to this whole country that you are sick of the violence,” the Democratic mayor said. “You are sick of the madness. You are sick of the slaughter, and you won't stand for it." 

He told the students to "keep fighting."

Also in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took part in a "die-in" to protest gun violence.

Democratic governor, dressed in a suit and tie, lay down on the pavement in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and students from Leadership and Public Service High School. Cuomo chanted "Gun control now!"

At some schools, students didn't walk outside, but instead lined the hallways, standing in silence and wearing the school colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting last month took place.

Even in areas where weather was severe, students still showed support for the victims of the Parkland shooting.

A nor'easter that dropped 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow in some places in the Northeast closed many Massachusetts schools Wednesday, thwarting plans to participate in a nationwide school walkout to protest gun violence.

But students were still taking action. Hundreds of them gathered at a Boston church before a planned march to the statehouse, where they planned to lobby lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at stemming gun violence.

Esmay Price Jones, a Somerville High School freshman, said Parkland students started a movement she's hopeful will result in meaningful change.

Support even came from parents and businesses.

Up to 300 students in Lawrence, Kansas, joined the walkout while some of their parents formed a symbolic protective ring around the school.

Sophomore Elliot Bradley read the names of the 17 people killed in Parkland and said the protesters wanted legislative change.

About 200 adults joined in a "Wrap the Walkout," which urged adults to "wrap" themselves around the school to show support for the students.

Viacom, a media company, suspended all programming on its networks, including MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon and others, for 17 minutes as the walkouts were underway.

Back in Parkland, where the movement began with the school’s own students last month, the Stoneman Douglas High School family, made up of its students, faculty and administrators gathered together on the campus football field.

The group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students shouted "MSD! MSD!" and engaged in a group hug Wednesday morning.

The high school students rallied to continue putting pressure on federal lawmakers to enact gun control legislation. The rally comes less than a week after Florida Gov. Rick Scott cited the students' actions in signing a bill that placed new restrictions on guns.

What's next?
After the walkout, student activists and their supporters will turn their attention to the "March for Our Lives" protest planned for Saturday, March 24. The main event will be held in Washington, with satellite marches planned across the United States and overseas.

"March for Our Lives" was started by survivors from Stoneman Douglas High School and aims to pressure Congress to pass stricter gun control laws.

The Network for Public Education has called for another observance to take place on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting in Colorado. The organization is calling for people to take their own action to bring attention to school safety on a "National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools."

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