Credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EdSource
Students at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, Calif., participate in National School Walkout on March 14, 2018.

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the youth of California made themselves heard.

Thousands, from elementary schools to college campuses, left their classrooms to take part in the National School Walkout to both honor those killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and demand stricter gun control laws. They were all given the same 17 minutes — one minute for each victim of the Parkland massacre — but they used their time in different ways.

Some spoke loudly, venting their anger at legislators and other adults for what they see as a failure to protect the nation’s children. Others spent the 17 minutes in silence or used the time to promote peace and kindness.

EdSource reporters were on the scene at schools across the state to document the historic day. Here’s what we found:

Oakland Technical High School — Oakland

At Oakland Technical High School, a team of student organizers included not only Parkland victims in their 17-minute tribute, but also young victims of street violence as well as victims from other school shootings around the country.

As hundreds of students stood in the rain, three students read off the names of victims from 17 shooting incidents including Parkland, Fla., and other schools nationwide including Oikos University in Oakland in 2012. They also mentioned the victims of street gun violence from Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara in 2014. Each incident mentioned was followed by silence and applause. Afterward, several teens gave powerful speeches demanding an end to gun violence and urging their peers to stand up and be heard.

“Enough thoughts and prayers,” said student Maxwell Stern. “It’s time for action.”

Student Samuel Getachew added: “San Leandro High is on lockdown right now because of a shooting threat.”

At booths in front of the school, students registered to vote, wrote letters to legislators and memorialized Oakland shooting victims, including some former Oakland Unified students or graduates such as Davon Ellis, an Oakland Tech freshman who was shot and killed in 2015 on a city street.

During the event, the students chanted “enough is enough,” and clapped and shouted along to a student rap called, “Don’t shoot.” They booed the idea of arming teachers, and applauded loudly after Getachew read his poem describing the hypocrisy he sees related to people’s perceptions of guns, when “a black man with a gun is a threat but a white man with a gun is a patriot.”

Student leaders demanded that elected officials ban assault weapons and increase the age for gun ownership to 21 and promised to vote out legislators when they are able to vote who turn a blind eye to gun control.

“I loved seeing all of my classmates immediately streaming to the voter registration booths,” said Kendall Prime, an 18-year-old senior, who marveled at the large turnout, including many teens wearing orange shirts, hats and ribbons — the color designated for the national movement. More than 500 of the school’s 2,000 students participated in the rally, organizers estimated.

Caroline Pers, a 15-year-old freshman who read off some of the names during the event, said she will join with other students in a city march on March 24.

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going,” she said.

Meanwhile, a group of about 10 Oakland High students marched to City Hall to meet with the mayor, who later tweeted about the experience with a photo, calling them an “amazing group.”

– Theresa Harrington

Blair Middle and High School — Pasadena

Chanting “Not One More” and carrying cardboard signs demanding gun control, about 600 students piled out of Blair Middle and High School in Pasadena for a noisy but peaceful rally along an adjacent public street Wednesday. More than half of the student body at the 1,050-student campus joined the demonstration and returned without incident to classes after the 17 minutes honoring the 17 murder victims of the Florida school shooting a month ago.

“Our mission is to continue the message that the lives of our kids are worth way more than guns,” said Allie Bodaken, an 8th-grader who was one of the rally organizers. She carried a hand-drawn placard asking “Am I Next?” as the crowd marched along Marengo Avenue just east of the Pasadena Freeway. While she said she didn’t believe all guns should be banned, Bodaken said there minimally should be nationwide background checks to restrict some people from purchasing weapons, along with other gun control measures.

Blair’s setting in a leafy residential neighborhood seemed a world away from potential violence. Still, demonstration co-organizer Rhea Calva-Despard said no student in California or across the nation can really feel secure from violence unless new laws restrict access to some guns and rifles. “You can’t tell me I am safe because I’m not. I have the same odds of being shot as anyone else,” said the 8th-grader.

The two said they received no funds from any outside organization but had received online advice from national groups, like the Women’s March Youth Empower, on the themes and timing of the rally.

Ian Macklin-Sims, another 8th-grader, carried a sign proclaiming “Hold Hands, Not Guns” and said he wanted to show solidarity with gun violence victims across the country. “I just think the circumstances in which we live as kids shouldn’t be ignored. We are all in this together. If somebody shoots one of us, they shoot all of us. We all support each other,” he said. He too said he wanted tougher screening for criminal records and mental health histories for gun purchases and possibly raising the purchase age as high as 25.

Blair’s Assistant Principal Maricela Brambila, who joined other administrators and teachers in keeping students out of the roadway, said the school robo-called all parents earlier in the week with information about the rally and let them know that participation was voluntary. The school did not try to discourage the organizers, she said, explaining: “If anything, we are excited that our kids are using their voices. We are happy to support them.”

– Larry Gordon

See scenes from student walkouts across California:

Berkeley High School — Berkeley

In the month since a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla. high school, Berkeley High junior Charlie Kaplan-Pettus said she has found noises in the hallway more startling, and spent time thinking about the exit routes she could use to get out of her classroom in an emergency.

Speaking before hundreds of fellow students who walked out of classes and rallied under umbrellas for more than an hour Wednesday, Kaplan-Pettus asked how many had the same kinds of thoughts. Hands went up across the Berkeley High courtyard.

Later, after students formed a giant peace sign on the school’s football field and used the lunch period to call legislators and register to vote, Kaplan-Pettus said that when she first heard about Parkland, it felt like another in a long line of mass shootings. It was once she watched the disturbing videos taken from inside the school during the shooting, and learned about the ways Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resembled her own, that the threat of gun violence felt “so much more real,” she said.

Kaplan-Pettus said she hopes Wednesday’s walkouts prompt federal lawmakers to adopt several changes to gun laws championed by national organizers of the protest, including a ban on high-capacity magazines and a digital database of firearm sales. Security measures at Berkeley High have been reassuring, she said, but the concern she has felt since the shooting in Parkland remains.

“I don’t feel as safe,” Kaplan-Pettus said. “There’s always, in the back of my head, that kind of constant, on-alert feeling — that fear.”

– Nico Savidge

Thornton Jr. High School — Fremont

At exactly 10 a.m. dozens of students poured out of classrooms and into the courtyard at Thornton Jr. High School in Fremont assembling where a flag of the United States flapped in the breeze.

Melanie Christiansen, an 8th-grader, stood with friends and said it’s time for increased gun control. “It’s important for those people who lost their lives.” She said more gun background checks are needed “because no one deserves to lose their lives and have loved ones lost this way.”

Seventh-grader Sunny Shakib stood in the middle of the crowd with a sign that read, “Young Voices Matter.” Shakib said he chose to participate in the walkout because it’s important for students to feel safe at school.

Lauren Turner, a 7th-grader, said she attended the walkout for that very reason, to remember the students who died at the hands of a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.. “The people who got shot and their families need our support,” she said.

But 10 minutes into the 17-minute walkout, as quickly as they had arrived, students moved through the school gates, out of the courtyard and into the street. Some drivers honking in short bursts in a show of support, other drivers pressing more laboriously on their horns, as hundreds of students made their way across the intersection of Dustberry Way and Thornton Avenue. For a brief moment, a call for justice blocked the street.

Principal Stan Hicks observed that two-thirds of the school’s 1,350 students were participating. All but 37 promptly returned to the building. The others were marked tardy.

– Ashley Hopkinson

Patrick Henry High School — San Diego

Hundreds of students at Patrick Henry High School in suburban San Diego stayed on campus and participated in a planned program that included a moment of silence for the Parkland victims, speeches by student organizers and a song by the school choir.

“Look up from your cell phones, your Snapchat, your texts…and look at each other,” senior Stephanie Zappelli told the crowd. “For just a moment make community your priority.”

Sandy Villa, a senior at Patrick Henry High, saw Wednesday as an opportunity to let her voice be heard on issues beyond gun violence.

“I believe that as a Hispanic, I have the privilege to talk about what I want to see change,” Villa said. “I am born here so I have the opportunity to talk without being targeted by the media as a criminal, a drug dealer or any of the stereotypes President Trump has called my community.”

Some Patrick Henry students described the protest as too tame and were disappointed that they stayed on campus.

“I thought it was a nice sentiment, but I believe we need to do more as the student body,” said Aryhk Kolidakis, a junior. “We need to take to the streets ourselves because, after all, a school approved walkout is not necessarily a walkout in itself.”

– David Washburn

Alexander Hamilton High School — Los Angeles

Chanting “no more silence, end gun violence” and “we want action, we want change, high schools aren’t a shooting range,” hundreds of students poured out of Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles to protest the nation’s gun laws.

They stretched across the front lawn of the campus holding up signs and cell phones, encouraging passing motorists to honk their horns.

“It’s not right that the NRA has canned lessons for preschoolers on how to stay safe in the case of an active shooter,” bellowed Miriam Schweiger, a senior at Hamilton, as she addressed the crowd.

Some students stood before their peers reading brief biographies of the victims of the Parkland shooting, intoning “never again” after describing each victim’s life.

“I always thought our current gun laws are unfair and dangerous,” said Joshua Berman, a senior at Hamilton and a co-organizer of the school’s student-led walkout.

Berman was motivated by how the students at Parkland “decided to be in charge of their own narrative, not to let it be decided by the media or legislators.”

“As kids, we feel like we don’t have any power,” said Mary Bartlett, a junior at Hamilton, during a speech. But she said the students at Parkland “found strength in shaming adults into being adults.” Later, she urged the protesting students to “elect the officials you believe in” by first registering to vote. She cited a California law allowing individuals 16 and 17 to pre-register to vote when they turn 18.

Dominic Dabney, a junior at Hamilton who took part in the walkout, said that while he supports today’s protest, he’s “in some ways outraged” that the violence at Parkland prompted a national call to action while gun violence in largely black and Latino communities haven’t generated the same response.

Other students took issue with the presence of police during the rally. “It’s difficult to use our voices … when there’s armed security,” said Justin Candys, a senior.

As the 40-minute event wound to a close, student organizers fanned across the front lawn to urge their peers to head back to class. “We want to peacefully walk out and peacefully walk in,” explained Sofia D’Annunzio, a senior.

– Mikhail Zinshteyn

Madera Elementary School — El Cerrito

Guns were not the primary focus at an elementary school protest in the east Bay Area. Instead, students made posters, chanted, marched and formed a giant heart to promote peace and kindness.

“Peace needs to spread. We want it to start at our school and spread to the community,” said 6th-grader Izzy Normington, who helped organize the peace march at Madera Elementary School in El Cerrito.

Under drizzly skies, students as young as kindergarten toted signs and chanted “We want peace!” as they marched around the block. Motorists honked their support and parents snapped pictures. Many students and teachers wore orange to show unity with protesters at other schools, who were also wearing orange.

Fifth and 6th-grade teacher Angi Boyle said the idea originated with students.

“We’ve been doing a unit on kindness, and the students have been talking about what they want for the world,” she said. “They said they want love and peace and equality and they want it to spread beyond just our school.”

Sheila Roman, a parent of a 5th-grader, said she was proud of the students for marching.

“It empowers them to discuss things that are happening in the world, even if those things are scary,” she said. “It empowers them to change the world they live in.”

– Carolyn Jones


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