Students at several local high schools walked out of class in protest Wednesday, demanding change to prevent gun violence following last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Walkouts took place at Albemarle, Western Albemarle, Monticello and Charlottesville High School Wednesday morning.
Starting at 10 a.m. and lasting 17 minutes to represent the 17 lives lost in the Parkland shooting, students flooded the back parking lot of Albemarle High School. The planners of the Albemarle event estimated that roughly 500 students attended the walkout, meaning almost a quarter of the student body participated.
“Although we wanted the whole school to come out, even with the people who did come out we saw how many that care and took the risk to walk out and say … ‘this is what I believe in and this is what I want in the public eye,’” said Choetsow Tenzin, an AHS senior and walkout planner.
Many wore stickers reading “Never again,” and others carried handmade signs with slogans like “#Enough” and “Arm me with books not bullets.”
“After the Parkland shooting I felt really passionate,” said Melinda Hicks, an AHS senior and walkout planner. “It could have been our school. I felt it was important for our school to participate … we stand with Parkland.”
The student organizers of the event began with a moment of silence to reflect on the loss of life and disruption of community that has resulted from mass school shootings. In the middle of the moment of silence, the name and age of each of the victims was read, this practice continuing every minute until the end of the walk out.
The silence was eventually shattered by individual students shouting from within the crowd. Some gave short, passionate speeches, while others led chants, including “Enough is enough,” “Never again” and “Our lives our school.”
The students were asked to keep anything discussed respectful to the environment and other students, and were promised they would receive no reprimandations from the administration for walking out. Albemarle High School did not help plan any of the student efforts.
Before returning to class, the planners of the walkout ended the protest by reading from a statement that students from the four local public high schools wrote together. Speaking on both the fear of the present and the drive for change for the future, the planners of the event took turns reading from the statement, reminding their fellow students that “after this walkout ends, and we all file back to class, remind yourself: stay sharp. Stay aware. Stay educated.”
This statement, along with the all of the walkouts at the local schools, were student planned. While the nationwide protests were inspired by a group called Youth EMPOWER — a division of the Women’s March — the Albemarle students did not use any of their instructional materials, partly to avoid deterring participation from students who wanted to protest but did not agree with a large, national group’s stances.
“We created it from the ground up,” said Camellia Pastore, an AHS senior and walkout planner. “Albemarle is so diverse, we have a lot of people who have different political views and didn’t want to overstep our bounds and center today around our beliefs instead of the school’s.”
“My poster was focused on gun control since that’s my freedom of speech,” AHS senior Lucia Sweeney said. “But we wanted to keep it to where … everyone could come out because they could agree that we need some kind of change.”
The national EMPOWER protest largely demanded that Congress outlaw assault weapons, require universal background checks for gun sales and pass measures to take away weapons from people who show signs of violent behavior. Over 2,500 schools planned their walkouts along EMPOWER’s guidelines, and many, including AHS, planned their own protests.
Despite the cold weather, the parking lot remained filled for the entire 17 minutes.
“Even though it is very cold out here … I still want to show that I care and that I’m out here,” AHS junior Arthur Croswell said.