Today at 10 a.m., I and 265 other students at Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia walked out of our classes as part of the National School Walkout to End Gun Violence.
As one of the organizers from Walton, I began the event at the football field by speaking about our purpose for being there. We walked out to honor the 17 people whose lives were tragically lost one month ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We walked out to call for common sense gun reform. We walked out to remind our representatives that we the people are their constituents, not the NRA, and we will be voting soon.
After that, freshman Divya Virmani, another organizer, read the names of each of the victims. We observed 10 seconds of silence for each of the 17 victims.
Following the 170 seconds of silence, many students held back tears while senior Daniel Marks shared his personal connections to Parkland. He spoke about the fear he felt for his friends who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
“I walk out for the 17 who could never send a text to someone close to them to tell them that they were OK,” he said.
Next, senior organizer Emma Fletcher spoke about the importance of going beyond the walkout. She reminded students to register to vote and to vote in upcoming local elections.
Natalie Carlomagno, a sophomore who also helped to organize the event, spoke about Georgia’s weak gun control legislation. She mentioned access to bump stocks, which convert semiautomatic weapons to fully automatic weapons, and concealed carry laws.
The most inspiring part of the event to me was when all of the participants called our representatives to ask for common sense gun reform. In about five minutes, the voice mail boxes of U.S. Rep. Karen Handel from Georgia’s 6th District, U.S. Senator David Perdue, and U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson were full.
We also called representatives in the Georgia statehouse.
At 10:17, all of the students proceeded peacefully back to class, with plans to keep taking action by attending the March for Our Lives in Atlanta on March 24, continuing to call our representatives, and registering to vote.
I was happy with the turnout – about 10 percent of Walton’s student body – especially considering the opposition we faced from the county and our administration.
Both Cobb County and Walton administrators dissuaded students from participating in the walkout. School officials said there will be disciplinary consequences for the students who participated, but haven’t yet said what they will be.
The administration’s vague, but negative, response to walkout plans apparently instilled fear of strict disciplinary action and dissuaded many students from participating. Initially, more than 2,000 had signed up through the Women’s March Action Network RSVP.
But we organizers believe some of those signups included parents and community members. After being barred from the campus during the walkout, many parents stood outside on the sidewalk with supportive signs.
The administration also said they believed “student safety” was a concern during the walkout. Some students did not participate because they also feared that the walkout could become a target for gun violence.
Thankfully, Walton’s administration did provide extra police security, and the walkout was peaceful and safe.
While Walton officials did oppose the walkout and what they perceived as a disruption to school, the administration did host a memorial before school to honor the lives lost at Parkland.
The organizers and I attended the memorial along with what I would estimate to be about 150 other students. We appreciated the gesture of solidarity with Parkland, but decided to walk out, as well.
We want our thoughts and prayers to be accompanied by policy and change.
The walkout at Walton today deeply inspired me. Each of the 266 students was passionate and dedicated to the cause, and the walkout was unified and purposeful.
I believe that Walton students, along with the thousands of students across the country who walked out today, have the power to ensure that ‘Never Again’ becomes not only a slogan, but a reality.
Madeleine Deisen is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.
Want to read more? Here are the voices of YJI students worldwide since the Parkland, Florida mass shooting: After Parkland