***Beacon students, contribute to the conversation and coverage of the March 14th walkout here: https://goo.gl/forms/dcsok7RNQOYo39E93. You can share pictures, footage, and thoughts on your experience. Responses may be quoted and any submitted media will be credited if published.
Written by Sophie Steinberg
At 9:57am on March 14th, 2018, Beacon students gathered in the lobby to participate in a 17-minute long walkout in honor of the 17 students and faculty members who lost their lives in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting. Beacon students of all grades left through the 44th street exit, with Student Government members lining the stairwell to distribute orange Mission Statements, stickers, and pins to students on their way out.
Last month, on February 14th, an armed shooter walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 17 students and teachers and injuring an additional 17 people. Those killed were Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, and Peter Wang. The shooting has since inspired the nation to focus on gun violence prevention and laws promoting gun control. As of March 8, 2018, there had been 14 school shootings since the beginning of 2018. Increased media coverage and the exceptional activism of the Parkland school shooting survivors have brought Gun Violence Prevention to the epicenter of modern-day politics and policy. The Women’s March along with the Parkland school shooting survivors—namely, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Sarah Chadwick—organized two walkouts (one on March 14th and another on April 20th, which is the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting), as well as a “March for Our Lives” taking place in Washington, D.C. with sister marches across the country on March 24th, 2018.
At Beacon, students linked arms and headed out onto the street where Beacon staff were standing underneath the awning in support. Organizers of the walkout told participants to wear orange and black in support of the walkout. Additionally, there were orange slips on paper on Beacon’s ID turnstiles listing the schedule and Mission Statement for the walkout. The last line of the Mission Statement read, “We are the generation determined to end gun violence and we stand united.” On the other side of the street, students, parents, and faculty from the Elias Howe elementary school, PS 51, were rallying around the national school walkout as well. Law enforcement was also present around the block. Spectators from nearby apartments and Beacon teachers gazed down upon the large group of students sporting protest signs and orange shirts. Some onlookers recorded the event and took pictures from above.
The student body nearly spilled across the street as cars were unable to drive through. In the middle of the street, a circle of student speakers stood ready to condemn gun violence and call for legislative action. They were accompanied by some cameramen and photographers from various news outlets. Most of the speakers wore orange clothing, such as orange bandanas or sweatshirts, and they hailed from different school clubs and political groups. The walkout began when 17 students read the names of all 17 shooting victims. Cardboard posters with pictures of the victims were also held up.
Directly afterward, a 2-minute period of silence began. Students were also asked to hold up the orange Mission Statements throughout the moment of silence. The silence was intended to honor those who were killed in the school shooting and to serve as a reminder of the tragedy that follows this pertinent political issue. Most of the participants remained silent throughout the 2 minutes.
After the 2 minutes of silence, lead organizers of Beacon’s walkout spoke to the purpose of the event, standing on a crate from the school’s black box theater and speaking into a megaphone. First, Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon Beat and Model UN leader Ilana Cohen read the following: “We, the students of Beacon, stand in solidarity with the families of Parkland, Florida in mourning the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th. We stand behind the students fighting to end gun violence; it is time to pass common sense gun reform and hold our policymakers accountable. We have a right to safety in our schools and we urge Congress to take action so that we will never have to fear a tragedy like Parkland again.” Her words emphasized the united force of students standing behind those affected by the Parkland shooting. Solidarity and accountability were primary focuses of the walkout.
Next, senior Divine Soona Ndombo spoke: “We stand with the millions of marginalized youth whose stories never make it to the front cover, and we offer ourselves as allies. We are determined to face the gun violence that disproportionately affects black and latino girls and boys and we refuse to ignore the lack of action on the part of our communities and our government in addressing these issues.” Ndombo highlighted the #BlackLivesMatter movement that is ingrained within the effort for gun control. She also spoke of Beacon’s support of marginalized groups, such as the latinx and black communities.
Lastly, Model UN member Arielle Geismar read the last part of the mission statement. She said, “We will not back down because we are tired of fearing for our lives in the place we should feel the safest. To our allies in Parkland, and to students across the nation, we stand with and love you, and we will not stop fighting for you. And to the policymakers that have remained silent, prepare yourselves. We are the generation to end gun violence.” Geismar enforced a “call to action” that hesitant and NRA-supporting lawmakers must fear. She wrapped up the speeches with a motivational statement that appeals to the young activists at Beacon and promotes the idea of concrete change in Generation Z’s lifetime.
“We have had enough,” were the words that sparked the powerful chants throughout the crowd. Students yelled with passion “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The NRA has got to go, and we call BS.” Within the short amount of time, these chants allowed for the echoing of ideologies students were fighting for. The chants helped express their frustration. In unison, students joined in, chanting, “Never Again” along with the harmonious chant, “If we don’t get it- shut it down,” all in an effort to speak the truth about the movement and gun violence.
As students began to head back to their F Band classes, there was an optimistic feeling in the air. Students felt apart of a historic movement and were impressed with the spirit and organization of the walkout. One junior, Leila Henry, said she “felt that the walkout was really well organized,” and was “most impressed by the moment of silence and how seriously people took it.” Another student, Kate Pamplin, echoed her thoughts by saying that she “thought the walkout was really effective,” and felt that honoring the Parkland victims “humanized things.” Henry was also happy about the support the walkout received from teachers and faculty. She said that the school endorsement “was really cool,” and enthusiastically recalled looking up to see multiple teachers, including some of her own, “recording the walkout and showing support.” History teacher Kevin Jacobs also expressed encouragement toward the student walkout. He believes that the walkout was “well organized” and that “we [have] to build on it.”
Beacon’s participation in the #Enough National School Walkout marked impressive milestones in participation, unity, and support. The fight to end gun violence continues on March 24th and April 20th. See you there.
Upcoming events & actions to support gun reform:
3/24 March for Our Lives (with Moms Demand Action), 10 am – 6pm
@DC (Pennsylvania Avenue btw 3rd St and 12th St NW) // NYC (West 72nd Street)
*Students can sign up to go to DC with the Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer’s office here: https://docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLSesYZj2PLD7S9k76C…/viewform
4/20 National School Walkout: NYC Says Enough Student Rally, 11 am
@Washington Square Park
*Students can sign up to help facilitate peer voter registration during the rally with the Youth Progressive Policy Group here: https://goo.gl/forms/X1CvzgGtqYcFwiLv1