Solidarity, advocacy and activism

| 15 Mar 2018 | 03:44

By Nancy Kriz
— Nearly 30 percent of the Monroe-Woodbury High School student body took part in the National Student Walkout this past Wednesday, part of the nationwide movement to protest gun violence in schools, to call for stricter gun control laws and to equally remember the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting last month.
Supporters felt the national walkout was a way that a generation of young people could voice their opinions about the multifaceted issues of gun control and mental health awareness while remembering victims. Their hope continues to be that adults - particularly elected officials - see the power of student solidarity, advocacy and activism and become more motivated to take action and make legislative changes.
Student voices continue to be loud following the Feb. 14 shootout killing 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. For the good part of Wednesday, the walkouts captured the attention of media outlets nationwide, giving students another opportunity to advance their objectives.
The event was organized by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March, the main national voice encouraging people to participate and exercise their First Amendment rights.
EMPOWER estimated more than 3,000 student walkouts took place mostly on high school campuses on March 14. Students left their classrooms for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. in respective time zones - one minute for each life taken at Stoneman Douglas - to gather at designated places at the schools for their protests.
In an email to parents Wednesday night, Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez said the district didn’t condone the event, nor did it support or encourage students’ participation.
“Today our students learned that a difference of opinion does not necessarily lead to a fragmented community,” she wrote. “On the contrary, they experienced firsthand that these differences can make you stronger. These young people will help shape the future of our community, country and world. I am proud of them, whether they were among those who walked out or with those who remained in the classroom.”
Orderly, respectful, peacefulRodriguez told The Photo News that assuming students behaved in a respectful and orderly fashion, “we will take that and move on.”
By all accounts, students did exactly that.
“It was orderly and respectful and it was peaceful,” said Frank Squillante, the district’s director of security, about the estimated 600 students who participated. “Students went back promptly at 10:17 a.m. without a hitch.”
Students had diverse views about the walkout.
“I thought it was important that all students got to speak their voices and be outside and be united,” said senior Prachi Shah, who is also Student Council treasurer. “In the world we live in, there’s so much that doesn’t get done. If we can come together and unite for a reason, the adults in our lives should be able to do the same.”
She added: “I just think it was kind of incredible that a quarter of the school walked out for a purpose. This was a nationwide event. We were a small piece of a bigger puzzle.”
Students felt the experience was a positive one and helped them learn more about becoming involved citizens.
“I think it was important to be honoring and remembering all the students and adults who lost their lives,” said freshman Ashley Magen. “I also think it’s important to advocate for safe schools and that was a big part of what we did today. It was a really positive experience. Student Council handed out Post-It notes for people to write down why they were participating and they were later posted in the lobby.”
‘Students really do have a voice’A group chat was set up in advance and students who signed up for chat information knew what was expected of them. Student Council President Kristina Stevanovic said the request was for students to be quiet and respectful when outside. Those who weren’t were asked to stop and for the most part, students listened.
“A lot of people didn’t take us, as students, seriously,” said Stevanovic. “After Parkland, a lot of people dismissed their (Parkland students’) opinions. I think us walking out and seeing students across the nation walking out, we proved them wrong. I think it shows everybody that students really do have a voice. I think it made people realize what they think and feel matters.”
Others were equally clear as to why they didn’t participate.
“I just felt that the means of the walk and the walkout were part of a political agenda to push for more gun laws,” said senior Michael Hannon, who is also a senior senator. “I thought it was more wrapped up in that, rather than the mental health aspect, which was left to the side and should be a primary focus to get rid of that stigma. I feel the majority of the people who were participating in the walkout were also advocating for stricter gun laws, which I don’t agree with.”
Senior George Anastos felt similarly.
“I thought the whole walking out purpose was to memorialize the 14 kids and three adults who will killed,” said Anastos, who is also senior class treasurer. “I thought making it political took away from the message of the memorial. Advocating for stricter gun laws, I am not a fan. In good consciousness, I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
Differences within familiesRespectful differences of opinion existed in families, too.
“There’s a lot of politics surrounding the walkout,” said Richard Toledo, a junior who didn’t participate. “I believe in registration for weapons and ‘checks,’ but I don’t agree completely on weapons bans. The majority of my class went outside. We were in English, and we debated about civil disobedience and walkouts while they were gone.”
However, his sister Isabella Toledo, a freshman, did take part.
“I wanted to show respect and how much we cared about the people in Florida,” she said. “I feel really bad for the families of the victims, I think there should be more gun laws.”
In the Woods family, sisters Katarina and Isabel also differed in their thoughts.
“Whenever there’s an unnecessary loss of life, I feel like we have to do something productive and positive,” said Katarina Woods, a senior. “It’s important for kids to come together and learn that even though we don’t vote yet, we’re not mute in our political system. I absolutely think that it will have an effect on something. We are the people who will eventually become the lawmakers, and if we can do something now, it will eventually cause an impact.”
Her sister Isabel Woods, a freshman, didn’t feel participating mattered.
“No one important would notice us to make a change,” she said.
Still, Stevanovic, the student council president, felt there was one thing everyone could all agree on.
“Even though the district couldn’t be directly involved with this,” she said, “we all appreciate them letting us do this, and do this without consequence.”