On Wednesday, March 14, students in schools across the country will participate in a 17-minute walkout to protest gun violence in schools.
The date marks one month since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The length of the walkout is to represent the lives lost during the shooting: 14 students and three teachers.
This event will also precipitate the national “March For Our Lives” on Saturday, March 24, where students from Parkland will march on Washington D.C. to demand change. Marches in solidarity will be happening in cities across the country.
According to an actionnetwork.org page set up by Columbia High School senior Leah Glasser, “Women's March Youth EMPOWER (a student group) is calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkout for 17 minutes at 10am across every time zone on March 14, 2018 to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods. We need action. Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship. Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school. Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day. We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that addresses the public health crisis of gun violence. We want Congress to pay attention and take note: many of us will vote this November and many others will join in 2020. Join us in saying #ENOUGH!”
Rather than marching to White Salmon City Hall, CHS students will be rallying on campus around the “Peace Memorial,” a small courtyard created after the death of CHS exchange student Martha “Tika” Paz De Noboa in 2009. She was a victim of gun violence in Portland.
The Enterprise spoke with Leah Glasser and freshman Erica Jostad about Parkland, the walkout, high school campus safety, and how the media has been treating young people speaking out against gun violence.
“When the news broke, I didn’t really react, I don’t think anyone really did. We are so used to hearing about school shootings, now it’s almost normal. As it sunk in for people though, a lot of us began talking about being afraid to come to school and how it’s becoming a bargain” said Glasser.
“Eventually it was all anyone was talking about at school, what was shocking was the silence from the teachers on it. We kind of wondered if they weren’t allowed to talk about it,” said Jostad.
“The first one to talk to us about it was one of our subs, Mr. Miller,” said Glasser.
Glasser is referring to local substitute teacher Doug Miller, who spoke at the last White Salmon Valley School Board meeting about his disappointment in campus safety at CHS. Miller is now heading a committee to figure out how to fund a potential reconstruction of the high school campus.
It was the teachers’ and administrators’ silence on the incident that inspired Glasser, Jostad, and other CHS students to write letters to the teachers and administrators expressing their concerns about campus safety.
“We got a response right away, which was really encouraging. We wound up having a really good conversation with Mr. McKee (CHS principal) and Mr. Morris (CHS vice principal) and really saw them begin to take action around the school to keep the campus safe,” said Glasser.
Some of the conversations, apart from campus safety, were about negotiating the walk out. The school administrators and the district as a collective cannot legally put their support behind it, but as individuals, they can.
Both the district and the administrators have stated they support the students first amendment rights and will not punish them for expressing them. Many school districts across the country have threatened to suspend students who participate in the walkouts. Whereas other districts have said they will close school to allow students to participate.
The main concern for the White Salmon Valley School District and CHS administrators is student safety during the walkout. So, they negotiated with students organizing the walkout to gather around the memorial for 17 minutes rather than march down to City Hall or just leave school.
“We will hopefully have some people making speeches, so that it's not just students standing around a memorial for 17 minutes,” said Glasser.
Since the shooting, mainstream media and even some politicians have lambasted the survivors who have essentially not let this argument die, like it has after other mass shootings. The main argument is that “they are kids that don’t know what they’re talking about.” The Enterprise asked Glasser and Jostad what they think about that.
“You know, they say we use social media and the Internet as a distraction from the real world and don’t care about anything that’s going on. But we really use it as a tool to educate ourselves on what’s going on,” said Jostad.
“The only thing that’s constant in life is that everything is going to change, and I think that change begins with us and our generation and that scares people so they try to push us off and say were just kids who don’t know anything,” said Glasser.
“Part of the reason why we’re doing this is that a lot of people think that something like this can’t happen here. Well, so did the kids at Parkland,” said Jostad.