It’s time to stand up for what you believe in.
And on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — one month to the day that 17 students were murdered during a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — you can do just that by joining students across the country taking part in the National School Walkout to honor those killed and to protest the government’s lack of action to prevent gun violence.
“I don’t believe that it’s right that in the U.S., in 2018, there have been over 18 school shootings*, multiple lives have been lost, and Congress still hasn’t done anything,” says 15-year-old activist, Christine Kassiano, a student at Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota. “There has been talk, but no action yet.” That “talk”? Not much more than “thoughts and prayers” — neither of which does anything to stop would-be killers from getting guns and ammunition and walking into a school, a neighborhood, a home, a restaurant, a movie theater, a concert, a church — anywhere.
“Students should never have to fear going to school. They shouldn’t feel like when they go to school that they might not come home or they might not see their families, ever again. We’re coming to school to learn and to be educated, so that one day we’ll be great citizens of society,” Christine says.
It’s the responsibility of our government to enact laws and regulations to keep citizens safe; such a huge responsibility should not have to be shouldered by kids and teens. But, as with other historic movements in which grown folks couldn’t get it together, today’s students are stepping up to make change happen.
“In school, we [are] taught that students are the future. As youth, we are what our country is going to become. We’re going to be leaders, doctors, lawyers, and in every position of power. Getting involved from a young age, we’re forming our opinions early, so we’re working towards those goals,” says Christine. “Hopefully, change is going to be made soon. With the walkout and gun control laws, I feel like Congress should be listening to us because we are so young. We care too. We live here, we go to school, and we don’t feel safe in our learning environments.”
To help you organize your own walkout or find one to join, Women’s March has released a toolkit, along with answers to some frequently asked questions. The best place to start is with their action network map, which shows the locations of walkouts that have already been planned near you, according to 17-year-old, Winter Minisee, a Women’s March Youth leader, who’s been involved in activism even before Women’s March, itself. “As a Black person, I was galvanized by all the police shootings of innocent and unarmed Black men. I involved myself in protests,” she says. “I run my own organization, Black is Lit, which serves as a media space for marginalized spaces and stories that often [aren’t] told.”
So far, there are more than 2,000 schools involved in the walkout and more than 250,000 students, teachers, parents, and others signed up to attend. Don’t have a walkout planned at your school yet? Winter says there’s still time to start one. “A lot of students always ask me, ‘How can I get involved in activism, and how can I make sure my voice is heard?’ The first thing I tell them is to use your social media platform because it’s a great way to connect with people around the world and share messages. It’s instant. Social media plays a crucial role in connecting with youth around the country, spreading the word and growing activism.”
And that’s not the only way you can connect with the Movement. “[Reach] out to your elected officials to see what type of legislation and policies they are in support of or opposed [to],” advises 15-year-old Chanice Lee, author of Young Revolutionary: A Teen’s Guide to Activism. “Politicians are often interested in hearing perspectives from fresh, young voices.”
Tbh, though, not everyone is going to be down with you what you’re doing. Despite this, it’s important for you to stand in your truth and stay speaking out. Winter suggests using the Women’s March toolkit to approach your school’s administration; they even have a sample letter you can use (toward the bottom of the toolkit’s page). You can also sign up to be a part of the coaching system, which pairs you with an adult ally, who can help coach you through the process.
Christine, in addition to helping organize the walkout at her school in Rochester, MN, will be taking a bus to the state capitol with other students and sharing her voice. As for Winter, she’ll be in Sacramento giving speeches with some of the Women’s March Oakland and Sacramento leaders, who will also be busing students involved in the walkout to the capitol.
“It is not only necessary, but it is extremely important for teenagers to play an active role in society,” Chanice says. “Whether people like it or not, young people are leading a revolution and a movement that will never be forgotten. Our futures are heavily dependent upon the actions and choices we are making now.”
“You can just come join,” says Christine. “The fact that you came means a lot because that’s one more person who believes that things aren’t right, and things should change. You might not think it’s that big of a deal or that your opinion is going to matter, but in reality, it really does.”
Are you in?
*Editor’s Note: There have not been more than 18 school shootings as we would define school shootings (like the ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglass and Columbine). This number includes any firing of a gun on school grounds, including suicides and accidental gun discharges.