WASHINGTON — Hundreds of students from area schools walked out of their campuses in droves Wednesday morning to demand action on gun violence, some traveling to downtown Washington to protest outside of the White House and the Capitol.
Combining a solemn memorial with political protest, the students turned their backs to the White House in silence for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. The protest occurred one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida last month.
But once their silence broke they marched their way to the Capitol, loudly chanting along the way. Democratic lawmakers descending from the steps of Congress in solidarity with the nation-wide walkouts were met by anti-NRA rallying cries and signs painted with the question on many students minds: “Am I next?”
“We know what to do and the American public wants us to do it but frankly the NRA has an iron curtain around many of our members,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.. “Your NRA contribution matters more to you than children.”
He applauded the students for demanding that lawmakers “act like adults.” Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., asked the mass of students if they were afraid of the NRA to which they responded “No!”
“They’re counting on you going away, are you going away?” he asked the crowd.
But students protestors said they won’t disappear from the public eye anytime soon. Many are gearing up to march down Pennsylvania Avenue next Sunday for the March for our Lives, and are creating gun reform advocacy clubs in their schools.
One group of students from Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County feared that they could be the faces of the next mass school shooting. On February 20 a classmate brought a loaded handgun to school and Maryland police later found an AR-15 style rifle, a shotgun, two handguns, ammunition and a tactical vest in the home of the 18-year-old.
“You turn on the news and it’s another kid dying, another school getting shot up…It never ends and we end up right back here,” said Sofia St. Jean, a student from Clarksburg High School. “Our school could’ve been the next one.”
Emi Bah a student from Magruder High School wanted to send a message to the lawmakers in the Capitol behind her: “Do your job, protect kids. Gun control not more guns. Books not bullets.”
High school students said they are 18 or turning 18 soon, looking forward to voting in the upcoming midterm elections. They said they’d vote out any lawmakers that didn’t support gun reform efforts.
Kaine and Joseph Green, a poet and activist in D.C., reminded the crowd that communities have been devastated by the effects of gun violence beyond school walls for years.
“This is not just about school shootings,” said Kaine, talking about the greater gun violence he witnessed when working with the community in Richmond, Virginia. Green brought to light the lack of outrage over the gun violence Black Lives Matter activists have been fighting against for years.
“America’s gun violence epidemic did not start in the suburbs,” he said.
Students in southeast D.C. in Anacostia at Thurgood Marshall Academy walked out for 19 minutes instead of 17 to honor the lives of two classmates they lost this year to gun violence. The students leading the movement decided they wanted to close off their intimate moment to press, but the community has been active in the push for gun reform.
One student, Lauryn Renford, started a petition to create a mural memorializing kids killed by gun violence in the District. She already has 3,927 signatures. Parents from the academy were present in the recent meeting held at the White House between President Donald Trump and survivors of gun violence. One parent, Curtis Kelly, shared the story of losing his son in a shooting, asking the president to not only keep schools safe from gun violence but also “protect them [students] on their safe passageways home as well, and their extracurricular activities, and their parks and recreations, and everything that they try to go for their peace in.”
“If it [the movement] seeks to protect some but not others, if it only succeeds in increasing the safety of those that already have advantage it will not work,” Green said. “Together is the only way forward.”