Students walk out of schools for protests at Capitol
Friday, April 20, 2018
Students marched Friday around the Oregon State Capitol State Park during the National School Walkout. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Students protested against school gun violence Friday at the state Capitol, saying it has cast a pall of fear over campuses.
They also declared their civic voice. “This is what democracy looks like” chants rang out between demands for legislative action.
The walkout was the latest in a wave of student protests since the Feb. 14 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students at more than 2,600 schools around the United States signed up to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine (Colo.) High School shooting with walkouts and protests. About three dozen Oregon schools, mostly in the Willamette Valley, registered events with the #NationalSchoolWalkout website.
National organizers for the Friday event encouraged a 10 a.m. walkout for a day of civic engagement and activism to pressure politicians to act.
Starting about 10:30 a.m., students from the Salem area gathered on the Capitol steps. In the afternoon, students from the Portland area and Eugene arrived. Five Oregon representatives and four state senators addressed the young people and took questions.
Rep. Julie Fahey (D-Eugene) told the crowd she was the youngest of the legislators before them and yet she had never been through a school shooter drill. She said that was why it was important for legislators to hear students’ voices.
Students were specific in their demands: raise the age to buy guns in Oregon from 18 to 21, ban assault-style weapons and ban accessories that make weapons fully automatic.
Maya Corral, a South Eugene High School senior and one of the organizers, called it “common-sense” gun legislation. She also said money should be spent on educational purposes rather than arming teachers.
Frank Merchant-Burke, a senior at Salem’s Sprague High School, said he was there to exercise his First Amendment rights and to spread the message that students are tired of gun violence.
Cherish Doone, a junior at Salem’s Douglas McKay High School, said that her mother was nervous about her going to school every day and that she shouldn’t have to go to school scared.
“Buildings built for such a noble purpose should not be an everyday gamble,” said Hayden Hemeon, a Sprague senior and one of the rally’s speakers.
Students spoke frequently of the power of the vote, even if it was a few years off.
“We are all citizens of America so we count,” said Ethan Tseng, an eighth-grader from Oregon Episcopal School. Parents from the private Portland school brought middle and high school students.
The Bus Project, a progressive nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing voters, worked with students from about 20 schools to organize Capitol trips, according to Gnora Gumanow, policy and advocacy director.
Portland and Salem school districts said they would treat the walkouts the same as unexcused absences, with neither additional support nor consequences for student actions. School districts tried to focus their discussions on student safety.
Like many students, Haley Zanze, a sophomore at Portland’s Lincoln High School, said she was hopeful that the Oregon Legislature would act in the next session and that Congress would get the message.
“It’s powerful to see students from a lot of schools come together,” she said.