March 14th, 2018: The most pivotal, influential day in recent United States history. Or, at least that’s what it was advertised as before and the way it was reported on after because it was the day of the National School Walkout. Sadly, I would not be taking part.
At my school, an actual walkout, in which the student body would physically exit the building, was not permitted. Instead, several students at my school coordinated with administrators to arrange a 17-minute assembly, consisting of speeches and a moment of silence, in the gymnasium.
However, I and over a hundred other students chose an alternative option to the “walkout”: sitting in the auditorium and waiting for the other event to end. I’m not sure why those seated around me opted to abstain from the walkout, but I know why I did. And while I am I not qualified to speak on the behalf of the many other students nationwide that did not participate in their school’s walkouts, I am sure they can relate to my reasons.
In the weeks building up to the event, I was hoping that it would be apolitical. I hoped that the students and staff at my school could share 17 minutes together mourning for the innocent souls taken in Parkland, Florida. At the very most, maybe it would be appropriate to propose new safety measures to our school but refrain from addressing Congress, or President Trump. Maybe we could focus on community, and inclusion while ignoring gun debates and division. This doesn’t mean that I think there shouldn’t be a political debate going on related to the Parkland shooting. There were many things leading up to that day that could have and should have been avoided. From my perspective, most had to do with negligence on the part of local and federal organizations. Others pointed their fingers at guns. For 17 minutes though, maybe we could put aside our differences, pause the debate, and join in remembrance.
As much as I wanted this to be the case, it was not. The first I was made aware of the event was through a social media post from a classmate. This particular person interpreted the walkout as an opportunity to confront Congress about gun reform, and they were not alone. Soon after I learned that the organizers of the Women’s March were also involved in the national walkout, so I anticipated the presence of left-wing stances on guns. This was confirmed by an article from a local newspaper and details I heard from teachers. Based on all my observations, I was inclined to not go.
From what I ’ve seen and heard afterward, the assembly was not subtle in its stance against guns. A brief speech calling for gun reform was given. In social media posts, I saw students holding posters calling for gun control. Some had the audacity to criticize the NRA, going as far as blaming them for the death of 17 people.
What really shocked me is what I didn’t see. If there were going to be political initiatives to be set forth, other causes and possible solutions should have been mentioned. If politics were going to be present, I would have hoped that they were not overwhelmingly divisive. Amongst the talk of gun control, there was nothing about the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, or the FBI, or general government incompetence. No signs reading “Resign, Sheriff Israel” or “Increase School Security” which are in no way partisan notions. How ironic, that next to the signs that said “This is what democracy looks like”, implying the broad inclusion of differing perspectives, all I could find was leftist gun control advocacy. So, for what was trotted out as an opportunity for students to make their political voices heard, I felt silenced, but not in the way that the school was threatening to punish me if I voiced my unpopular opinion, which I’m sure took place at some schools that day. Rather, it made no effort to represent both sides, or the center, of the aisle. In a public school, which is meant to foster diverse thought, I found this type of practice harmful and wrong.
In my school, the walkout was a demonstration against guns in disguise. Instead of placing the Parkland victims at the center of attention, they were only dedicated a fraction of the scheduled time. Instead of encouraging healthy political discourse amongst students, it pushed forth a left-wing agenda, an agenda so valuable that it would be endorsed even if it meant a decrease in attendance. Instead of earning my support and participation, it drew my disavowal.