On Tuesday, March 14, Clinton students joined hundreds of thousands of others across the nation in a walkout against gun violence. The upper grades walkout ran from 9:40 to 10:30 a.m and the lower grades walkout went from 9:55 to 10:27 a.m.
Students walked out of their classrooms and headed to Union Square Park, where they marched a few times around the park before settling in the square. Clinton was soon joined by students from the Gramercy Arts High School. The two schools amassed to create a protest with hundreds of participants.
During the protest, students held up signs with messages including “Protect Kids Not Guns,” “Am I Next?” “No Assault Rifles” and “#NeverAgain.” Students shouted chants such as “Tell me what democracy looks like! / This is what democracy looks like!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go!”
At 9:17 a.m. before the walkout, Clinton, along with many schools across the country, held a moment of silence to remember the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting.
The national walkout was organized by Youth EMPOWER, the youth branch of Women’s March, a social action organization founded in the wake of Trump’s election. On its website, the organization says the goal of the walkout was “to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”
Eleventh grade student Madison Grahm led chants during the walkout, and could be seen at an elevated position in the crowd during the protest. She commented that she did not plan to lead the chants, and it felt very empowering. She added, “It felt like we were actually being heard.”
For Grahm, the Parkland tragedy hit close to home. She explained, “My family friends that are basically my cousins went to that school and they know people that were shot. One of their really good friends died.” Grahm continued, “That could happen anywhere and it should not be happening.”
Bella Morgan, a 10th grade Clinton student who participated in the walkout, said, “I’m walking out to show the families that we are supporting them and we’re there for them, and we’re angry too.”
Ninth grader Ava Mitkevich said she walked out “to pay my respects to the families and the victims.”
Kiera Lynch, 10th grade, said she walked out “to stand in solidarity with all of the other students and the schools that were victims of school shootings.”
Middle schoolers walked out as well. Sixth grader Victoria Romero said she participated “to show that we are not going to be silent. We are going to speak out.”
The student council played a large role in organizing the walkout. Genesis Fermin, 11th grade representative on the student council, explained, “We just wanted to get all students’ voices out to the public and beyond school. We wanted them to understand that yes, you are heard.”
The student council first ensured that students would not be punished for walking out. Student council president Ralph Makombo explained, “We were mainly focused on how students were able to get in and get out without getting in trouble.” The student council compromised with the administration, establishing the times that students were allowed to walk out and come back. Students swiped their ID cards after returning from the walkout so the administration could make sure everyone got back on time.
Student council also distributed fliers for students, detailing the walkout plan and guidelines.
The administration also helped facilitate the walkout. Ms. Tracy Schaffzin, guidance counselor and student council advisor, explained that Clinton stationed teachers outside during the walkout to make sure students were safe. She said, “It would seem ironic that while protesting for school safety, people got hurt.”
Ms. Schaffzin continued, “I think it went really well. I was swiping all of the kids in and everybody seemed like they had a great experience expressing their voice and being part of a student movement to demand what they think is right.”
This walkout was designed as a kickoff event for further gun control activism. A rally will be held on March 24 in Washington D.C., and another national walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Vice principal and upper grades director Ms. Cheryl Goett described the walkout in an email as, “A kickoff event to more sustained social action throughout the coming months, which will require the work of multiple student organizations and opportunities for student education on gun violence, mental health, and other related issues.”
– – –
Stay tuned for video footage to be posted later this week.