At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 21, Watertown High School students left their classrooms to stand in the freezing cold.
Like so many students across the nation the week before, they remained outside for 17 minutes to show solidarity with the 17 students and teachers killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. The student-led walk out was canceled the previous Wednesday due to snow.
Students walked out of classrooms en masse and filled the hallways. Many clutched their jackets around themselves as they stepped out of the school onto chilly Columbia Street. Parents with protest signs, police officers, students, and teachers gathered at the front of the school to grieve by lighting 17 candles to honor the lives lost.
Senior Jeremy Ornstein, one of the organizers of the event and the first speaker, said, “Let’s mourn, quietly and with power. Tomorrow, Watertown, let’s keep our voices loud. Parkland, I am so, so, sorry.”
He also expressed where he stands regarding the protest.
“I know why I’m walking out,” he said. “I believe that we need laws to end gun violence. And in my presence, and in my body, and in my voice, I’d like to make that clear. I am political. I believe we need legal solutions.”
Some students were invested in the walkout; others were just there to skip class. Nevertheless, many WHS students stood in the cold to listen to passionate speeches and witness the solemn candle lighting.
The organizers had a mission statement. In part, it read: “We are a group of students that realize changes desperately need to be made in our country. We believe that the formulation of stricter gun laws is an absolutely necessary action that needs to be put in place by Congress … The lack of stricter gun regulations puts our lives at risk. This walkout is not a protest against our school but yet against the government that has failed us. Our government has failed to take the steps that are vital to ensuring our lives are as protected as they can be.
“In executing this walkout we hope to have our voices heard, we hope to be seen in the eyes of our government as people who care about what goes on politically in this country … We are a group of students that share the belief that all lives are inherently valuable and that everyone has the right to feel safe at school.”
After the candles were lit and there was a moment of silence, filling the rest of the 17 minutes, many students returned inside. Most students stayed for the second part, though many teachers had to go inside as they had to watch over students returning to their classes.
Those outside listened to speeches from Seren Theriault and Alyssa Carroll about enacting political change and implementing national gun control laws.
The student speeches addressed gun violence, its effects on students, how students should protest March 24 in Boston, and how they should register to vote and push Congress to change gun laws and protect schools.
Alyssa, a sophomore and one of the organizers, said since the Parkland shooting she knew that something had to be done. So when someone she knew told her about a group of students organizing a walkout, she decided to join and help. Gun violence is a serious issue, she said, and no one has done anything about it until now.
“The President’s plan is unsafe,” Alyssa added, referring to the president’s proposal to arm teachers. “It’s going to make everything 10 times worse. Even if we trust teachers, what if another students steals a gun from them?” The policy, she summarized, is unsafe for everyone.”
Although most WHS students went outside for the walkout, others decided to stay in their classes.
Once reaching third period at 10 a.m., the teacher took attendance and asked who was walking out. In one English class, students started to leave the class while talking loudly. About 85 percent of the class left.The remaining students continued working on their independent reading and projects and continued class as usual.
One of the students who stayed in class was junior Trevor Russo.
“I believe that [students] will not accomplish anything by walking out, that there are other ways to accomplish what they are trying to do,” he said. “I know that some people are leaving class for a reason, while others are simply leaving to miss class.”
Mariam Roda, a senior and another one of the student presenters during the walkout, explained the importance of the event.
“Regardless of your political party, regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or even a Whig, regardless of your stance on gun control, this affects you. As a student or staff member at a school, it affects you,” she said.
Jeremy and Mariam explained about other events for WHS students. There will be a march Saturday, March 24, as well as voter registration beginning begin next week. Jeremy said he is “hopeful that local advocacy will not end in shouts or marches.”
Mariam said, “We will be doing voter registration during lunches to make sure that students are enabled and to encourage them to have a say.”
–March 22, 2018–