Students walk out of school to protest gun violence

In unison with thousands across the nation, students from Palo Alto High School, Castilleja School and Stanford University walked out of their classes to protest gun violence today, one month after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that involved the deaths of several high school students.

The nationwide protest was organized by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group, which encouraged students to leave their classes at 10 a.m. for exactly 17 minutes in recognition of the 17 students killed in Parkland.  

Speakers and organizers gathered around the corner of Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real while participants spread out along the respective roads. According to an article by Palo Alto Online, the Palo Alto Police Department worked with police from Menlo Park and Atherton to ensure the security of students as well as facilitate traffic.

Zoe Sid and Warren Wagner, two Paly juniors, helped to organize the event while coordinating with spokespersons from the other two schools involved. Other organizers included Paly senior Louisa Keyani, Castilleja senior Lucy Carlson and Alyssa Sales, president of the junior class at Castilleja.

Both Sid and Wagner were greatly affected by the recent events and were inspired to take whatever action they could.

“I was talking with my neighbor about [gun violence],” Sid said. “They were explaining to me how big of an impact students can make, and how using all the resources that we have, such as social media, could really make a change. The talk inspired me, and so I made a post in my class group on Facebook which gained a lot of momentum.”

At the walkout, Paly junior Robert Vetter expressed the importance for students to participate in this form of protest.

“[I am participating] because I don’t want to get shot,” Vetter said. “I believe that as long as the Second Amendment is unconditionally followed and defended, [students] don’t have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as stated in the Preamble. I think it comes down to the question of what’s important to each person, and I would rather be assured of my right to live than my right to buy an assault weapon.”

Sid said that the Paly organizers expected a greater impact if schools from surrounding areas were involved to create one extensive student community. Paly and Castilleja would merge near the public school campus, and Stanford students would gather near their university library.  

“We have a huge university across the street and down the street we have a private school filled with young high school students,” Sid said. “We thought that if we could get Stanford along with the public high school of the city and a private school to walk out along the same road, that would be a huge statement.”

The walkout organizers communicated the importance of highlighting American students’ power to project their opinions and voices as well as represent the influence of younger generations during the while speaking at the walkout.

“We have so much at our fingertips that can help us make a stance, and we’re hoping that [the walkout] will show that we’re not just kids in school,” Sid said. “We know what we’re talking about. We hope the government [will] see that we know what we’re doing and we don’t feel safe at school [because] anything can happen at any point in time. Something needs to be done about it.”

On the quad, organizers of the event passed out orange T-shirts for students participating in the walk-out. During the event, students donned orange, which represents the resistance against gun violence.

The color orange emerged as a symbol for gun reform in 2013, when Hadiya Pendleton, a 15- year-old girl in Chicago, was shot in a case of mistaken identity. Her parents honored her death by wearing orange and protesting gun violence.

While students participating in the event missed around ten minutes of their third period class, many teachers still supported their students’ decisions.

“I think it’s an issue that impacts every student and I think it would be really great if they could all participate,” said Paly English teacher Alanna Williamson. “The walkout [will make] students students feel cathartic in a way, because it will be a relief after all the trauma. I don’t know if our government will see these walk-outs and listen or if there’s going to be any progress of change made because of these events. But, I know that there’s a lot of people who don’t feel safe on campus and if students participate in the walk-out it will help them feel a little bit more in control.”

Some teachers, including Williamson, were disappointed that were unable to take part in the walk-out due to their responsibilities and the legalities associated with teachers engaging in political activities during school hours.

“I’m frustrated that us teachers as a community can’t express our opinions.”

Alanna Williamson

However, if all students left the classroom, teachers were permitted to join in, but could not hold up signs or chant with the students.

“The District has given direction to principals and they should be letting you know what to do and expect at your grade level,” said Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association board. “Since we want to keep all kids safe, it is fine [for teachers] to walk out with them if your administrator says it is fine to do so and stand and support them.”

Last week, Governor Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into Florida law. This bill aims to strengthen gun control in several ways by raising the age to purchase a firearm and ban the sale of arms that can easily be turned into automatic weapons. According to Wagner, this bill reflected the progress influenced by Parkland students.

“Showing politicians that there is a large voice for changing this country, whether it’s [about] mental health or gun control or whatever we think the solution is, is the main point [for student protest]. The Parkland kids had a town hall with [Republican politician] Marco Rubio, and he actually changed his stances on a couple things and that never happens. Even though we can’t vote yet, just making the statement that Americans believe that this needs to stop, and that we can actually change things.”

Warren Wagner

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