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Students walk out on lack of gun control

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By Olivia Podber

The athletic field, normally populated during sports games and gym class, is quiet during the school day. But on March 14, around 10 a.m., over 1,000 Grady students amassed onto the track, erupting into choruses of “Hey ho, gun violence has got to go” and chants of “We demand change.” Their audience? Student peers, local onlookers, the country and, thanks to circulation through social media and coverage by onsite news outlets, the rest of the world.

When Grady student leaders approached administrators about hosting a student-led walkout to stand in solidarity with those affected by the mass-shooting in Parkland, Fla., Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman and Assistant Principal Raymond Dawson immediately endorsed the plan.

“Seeing 1,200 students come out today, in support [of Parkland and gun legislation], that was a beautiful thing,” Dawson said. “Sometimes, we believe that even with social media, no one is actually talking to each other or paying attention to what is going on in the world. But when 1200 kids come out, that means they know what is going on and they care about what’s going on.”

Among the students who took charge of the demonstration was Student Government Association Executive President Aaron Burras. Burras hoped the walkout would encourage students to recognize the effect of gun violence in school.

“I hope this movement touches Grady students because we are a high school, and there’s a possibility that gun violence can happen to any school in the country,” Burras said. “Us taking a stand means that we’re against what is happening.”

On that Wednesday morning, accompanied by temperatures low enough to create frost on the grass, the majority of students and faculty gathered to show respect for the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. on Feb. 14, a month earlier. The victims of the shooting, one of the deadliest mass-shootings in U.S. history, were students in the marching band and on the soccer team; they were football coaches and geography teachers.

Following the shooting, petitions for stricter gun control emerged. Students led the movement by making a call for legislation that would enact background checks, age limits and bans on semi-automatic rifles.

“Young people are saying ‘no,’ and demanding [the government] address the issue of guns,” said Grady media center specialist Lisa Taft about the Parkland survivors speaking out. “[Students] have the power to influence politics. I think doing it in a civil way, in an organized way, is an essential part of being involved in participatory democracy. I’m really proud of the students for recognizing that, and I hope they’ll continue this fight.”

The walkout at Grady included a moment of silence for the Parkland victims, short and rousing speeches by student organizers and a walk around the field in protest of gun violence.

Junior Lily Muscarella, one of the student organizers, called out Georgia’s state legislature for prioritizing monetary donations over citizen safety. “My question for our Georgia congressmen and women is: When will our lives be worth more to you than the donations by the NRA (National Rifle Association)?”

Freshman Casey Wilson marched around the track donning a neon orange sign that read: “Thoughts and prayers don’t save lives: Gun control will.”

Students were not the only ones to take part in the protest. Community members lined the sidelines of the track, holding hand-made signs and wearing orange along with the students.

“I taught math at Grady for 15 years, but I’m retired now,” said Karen Schaefer, a local Midtown resident who was supporting the student walkout with a sign reading: “Grannies for peace. Thank Grady students.” “I’m really proud of Grady. I’m hopeful about this changing the course of gun legislation in this country. The students who are participating are the ones who have a future, and I think it is going to take time, but I think [change] is going to happen.”

When the Grady administrators pledged their support for the walkout, senior Eve Robinson, one of the students who organized it, believed the demonstration would bridge the gap between the students and the faculty.

“Everyone is talking about how they wish the administrators were not part of the walkout or supporting it,” said Robinson. “A lot of students think this is supposed to be us ‘rebelling’ against the system. But that’s not the point. The point is for this to be a memorial for the 17 students and faculty who were killed in Parkland and for all the others who have been lost to school shootings, as well as a call for common sense gun legislation. This also impacts teachers and staff; school shootings don’t solely affect students.”

Nevertheless, after the school sanctioned walkout concluded around 10:40 a.m., a group of about 50 students remained on the field, in objection to the structured manner of the administration-backed walkout. The students sat side-by-side on the turf, a protest within a protest.

“I did walk a lap [with the rest of the school], but I’m sitting in a line here, because I think the goal is to be noticed and after a certain point, walking around in a circle is not going to accomplish that goal,” said sophomore Will Meyer. “Especially since this is the memorial day [of the Parkland shooting], I think it shows more respect to stand out here and be seen rather than to hide yourself in a group.”

The prolonged protest grew in number throughout second period to around 200 students. Seventeen protesters laid their backpacks in a horizontal line across the field, one backpack for each person killed in the Parkland shooting. At about 1 p.m., students began exiting the field, arms raised and fists clenched.

“What matters is how the kids are feeling,” said Dawson. “If they’re feeling like change will come, then it is in their hearts to make something happen.”

Photos taken by Olivia Podber


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