Students across the country, including Sacramento and Stockton, participated in National Walkout Day on Wednesday in support of stricter gun control laws.
Students say they often feel like their opinions are dismissed but this walkout made them feel empowered.
For 17 minutes, participants stood in silence for the 17 teens and teachers who lost their lives in the Parkland, Florida shooting one month ago.
For many students, the silence speaks volumes.
Peaceful Gathering at Stagg
“‘You’re too young to have an opinion, you’re too young to know what’s going on.’ But you saw today we’re not too young, we understand what’s going on and that’s why we’re speaking out for what’s right,” explained Stagg High School senior class president, Sara Abdeltawab.
Sara says that in her grief she has been empowered to fight for safer campuses.
“You want to buy a gun? You need to go through a gun course; how to use it and properly use it the right way,” student Tyler Goodwin said.
The peaceful protest is a stark contrast to what happened three weeks ago when officers say students jumped fences, vandalized vehicles and fought law enforcement.
At least five people were arrested that day.
“What happened three weeks ago wasn’t the Stagg High School that I go to,” Sara said.
Principal Andre Phillips says in order to prepare for today’s 17-minute long demonstration, they had one additional police officer on campus.
“I just think that it’s very important that the kids have a voice and they’re allowed to have these peaceful protests,” Phillips said.
As for the students, they say this action sends the message that even though they’re young, together their voice, their eventual vote, is strong.
“I hope that politicians know we’re not gonna stop, we’re not going to be silenced any longer. This is a movement and we’re going to keep moving until they do something about it,” Sara said.
The school district says four high schools participated in Wednesday’s walkout and that at each campus it was very much like Stagg’s — short and peaceful with students returning to third period.
‘We Know It’s Important’
The scene was similar Wednesday at C.K. McClatchy High School.
For 17 minutes, hundreds of students and faculty stood in silence. Each toll, each empty desk, a reminder of the 17 students and staff that were killed a month ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“It’s our physical symbol of the unnecessary deaths that have been enacted at the hands of assault rifles,” McClatchy junior Maya Steinhart said.
For students like Steinhart, Wednesday was a day to not only remember the lives of those killed in mass shootings but to demand change from lawmakers.
“Students every day come to get an education but instead are faced with threats and fear of violence on campus,” Steinhart said from the podium. “Today, we make the demand that that fear ends. We make the demand that we institute responsible gun laws.”
Students stood alongside California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, asking for things like stricter background checks and a ban on assault rifles.
“We know it’s important for us to speak up. It’s our futures and we want them to be safe,” sophomore Mackenzie Crall said.
There was one counter protester waving two flags — one yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag and a green “Kek” flag commonly seen in some white nationalist or far-right circles — who said the walkout was just “political pandering.” He did not want to identify himself.
I spoke with this man outside of McClatchy High School, who says “students don’t know what they are talking about. This is a political stunt.” He is waving a “do not tread on me” flag. Passing drivers disagree @FOX40 #NationalWalkoutDay #StonemanDouglasHS pic.twitter.com/A407Sy18T9
— Pedro Rivera (@PedroRiveraTV) March 14, 2018
“We’re saying it because we don’t feel safe and we want to. It’s our voices and no one is forcing to do anything,” she said.
Wednesday’s event at McClatchy was organized by students. They say it’s time for the adults to listen.
“We’ve seen time and time again, the traditional leaders fail to get these kinds of policies enacted,” Steinhart said. “So we’re saying it’s now the time for students to up.”
Mayor Steinberg Joins In
Sacramento City Unified School District representatives, school board members and Mayor Darrell attended the walkout at Hiram Johnson High School, but stressed the day was about student advocacy.
“This issue of gun violence, where adults have seemingly been incapable of passing the laws that are necessary to protect, and our best hope is this next generation,” Steinberg said.
The shooting in Florida, much like each increasingly common mass tragedy in America, has once again prompted national calls for gun control.
But unlike previous events, the loudest voices belong to students.