Walking out for peace

A Montclair, NJ high school senior on what she learned organizing today's school walkout
By Corinna Davis    Published on 03/14/2018 at 5:56 PM EDT
The author at today's walkout Ana Tressel

Two months ago, I would never have imagined reading about a school shooting that would destroy any sense of safety I felt in my own school, Montclair High School, in Montclair, NJ. Nor would I have imagined my father coming home and talking about how his friend had a daughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and how that girl, my age, had watched her friends die. I could not have imagined organizing a cross-town movement with my best friend to advocate for common sense gun reform, nor the amount of support we would receive from our peers. Two months ago, gun reform seemed to be an untouchable issue, crucial but with no hope for change. Today, I know how wrong I was.

When I took on organizing my high school’s walkout with fellow senior Blythe Bahramipour, neither of us anticipated how much work it would be. Blythe worked tirelessly talking to our school’s administration, while I handled the press. We worked constantly on spreading information about the walkout to our classmates because of our school’s decision to not sponsor the event. Facing threats of lawsuits from local parents against the walkout’s message, the administration decided it would be best to not support the walkout in any way besides security. Some nights it felt hopeless. There was so much to do and so little time to get it done. Last night, as I frantically gave statements to the press and drafted speeches for today’s rally, I felt a weight pressing down on my chest and cutting off my breath. What if no one showed up? What if the speeches were too long and the school penalized us for going overtime? What if everyone wouldn’t stop talking and no one could even hear the speakers? This morning, as I rushed around putting the finishing touches on a memorial, checking in with local journalists, and making sure all the speakers were prepared to go on, I felt utterly numb. And then at 10 a.m., the walkout happened.

I don’t know what I was expecting to feel, but as my school’s amphitheater filled with hundreds of orange-clad, orange being the color of gun safety, students carrying signs and chanting, I felt empowered. The vast majority of my 2,000 person school had come out to support common sense gun reform. As I looked up at the windows of my high school, I saw teachers, who though forbidden from walking out by the administration, watched their students fight for change. Cheers filled the amphitheater as more and more teenagers packed tightly together, eager for the rally to begin. What shocked me the most was that when Blythe and I picked up the megaphone to start speaking, a hush fell over the crowd. They hung on our every word, cheering at the speakers’ encouragements to register to vote and to stay involved in the movement when the walkout was over. When it was time to go back to class, they filed back into the school, leaving flowers and signs at the memorial, energized to fight for change.

My peers and I support not only a movement to make schools safer, but one to make all of us safer across the country. Mass shootings are a tiny percentage of gun deaths in the United States. In fact, over half of gun deaths are suicides. This issue runs deeper than a massive amount of gun deaths. Gun violence disproportionately affects people with mental illness, people of color, and other marginalized groups. When I stood in front of my classmates today and spoke to them about the necessity for activism to spark legislative change, I realized that they understand, as I do, that our generation must save this country. We are going to change the world.

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