No, We Didn't Walk Out to Skip Class by Paige Levy

Photography by Paige Levy

Photography by Paige Levy

A hush falls over the crowd. Seas of people are moving now, dropping to the floor to sit on the cold concrete of 62nd street.

Just a few moments prior, there had been yelling and cheering. Most had been counting down to 10 o’clock; many were waving signs. “Thoughts and prayers are not #enough” one poster read, while another listed the names of the victims in last month’s major school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It’s 10 am. The National School Walkout has begun.

Somehow, the silence from the crowd is deafening. I never thought I would see the day when my fellow students, members of the prestigious arts school Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, would be making no noise whatsoever. I didn’t even know it was possible. The only sound you can hear is the clicks of cameras, or the tiny whisper of one member of the press to another. The students on the ground, however, are silent. Some are lying down, but most are sitting: watching the others, holding hands, or bowing their heads. A few times a student might raise a phone to Snapchat what’s happening or just to have something to share online later, but most of the time their hands are pulled down by the people around them. We just sit and protest, sit and protest.

A few minutes pass before we hear chanting; it breaks the silence that has fallen over the crowd. A group is screaming, counting numbers from one to seventeen, a chant that memorializes the seventeen victims of the school shooting last month. When they see us, the school group stops their chant and comes to sit next to us. A few minutes later, another school does the same.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 7.10.23 PM.png

Fifteen minutes in. An older man walks past us on the sidewalk, giving us all a thumbs up. “Right on, kids,” he says. He looks proud, and it makes us smile.

The seventeen minutes are over now. The crowd erupts into cheers as people jump to their feet. We’re supposed to be walking back to school, but everyone is hesitant to move. Instead, people start chants. “Enough is enough” we scream, along with the ever famous “We call BS!” People wave signs. A few even get up on other people’s shoulders. A cacophony of sound fills the previously still air. Soon enough though, it dies down. A girl in front of us signals to start walking back, and we do. The press gets their last pictures or conducts their last few interviews with students. We trudge back into school and head to fourth period. It’s over.

But in reality, it’s never really over.

Sure, the orange shirts are taken off and the signs are put away, but the fight won’t stop until we achieve the change we desperately want and need. There have been 21 incidents of gun violence on school campuses in 2018, and while most were not what we would consider to be school shootings, that is still far too many.  It’s impossible to deny that we as Americans have a problem on our hands, one that people seem hesitant to fix.

I witnessed this first hand today after the walkout was over. With the amount of press and cameras, it would be impossible to not be greeted by articles and videos  right away. Of course, along with the articles came the comments. I found the comments under two live Facebook videos to be particularly fun. “This is the same generation who eat tide pods!!” one reply reads. Another says, “How about instead of protesting something you don’t know about you shut up and get back to class…” The last comment seemed to be indicative of the vast majority of people’s opinions in these comment sections. That if you’re not of voting age, you don’t deserve to have an opinion. Most seemed to think that most of us just wanted to skip class. That kids somehow can’t understand or even know about problems that happen today, even ones that concern us.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 7.13.45 PM.png

LaGuardia sophomore art major Nadia D. begs to disagree. “I personally walked out because I feel like students really shouldn’t be going to school with the expectation of a gun threat, and we shouldn’t be preparing our students to get shot up… It’s not something that should be a daily occurrence. It’s not like these children are people on a battlefield; they didn’t sign up for it, they didn’t want it, and they’re never going to be able to live their lives because of something as stupid as a gun law not being able to happen.”

When I asked why she thought it was important as teens to speak out and protest, she responded, “Teens under the voting age are getting killed, and that’s not something that’s right. People who aren’t legal adults are the ones who are victims in the attacks, and if no one’s going to stand up to it, we will.”

Nadia is not alone in this opinion. In fact, I’m positive that the masses of kids who crowded the main entrance and held us up for at least five minutes before we could even reach the door would disagree. The bodies laying down, taking up almost an entire city block, would disagree.

Just because we’re under the voting age doesn’t mean that we’re ignorant. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a brain. I’m not naïve enough to think that if I close my eyes and wish hard enough, this problem will go away. I am smart enough, however, to know that there are solutions. After the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, Australia, in which 35 people died and another 23 were seriously injured, strict gun control laws were introduced. Australia has not had a mass shooting since 1996. In the UK, after Thomas Hamilton used legally owned handguns to kill 16 children and one teacher, the UK adopted stricter gun laws as

well. There has been one mass shooting since 1996. The United States has had close to 80 mass shootings since 1996. We may be young, but all of us who marched yesterday can see the obvious solution to this problem.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 7.15.38 PM.png

We may never fully ban guns on the United States. We do have the Second Amendment, and genuinely good people do use guns for sport. I don’t claim that all people who own guns are bad, and I never will. However, it’s apparent that something has to be done. Common sense gun laws are not only wanted right now, they’re needed. Why is it so easy to buy guns, especially semi-automatics? Why can you still purchase a gun in some states without a special permit, a waiting period, or without fingerprints being taken? As Business Insider reports, “It took a reporter from the Philly Inquirer seven minutes to buy an AR-15, the semi-automatic gun used in many of the US' deadliest mass shootings. In Orlando, buying the AR-15 took just 38 minutes two days after the shooting spree that killed 49 people at the city's Pulse nightclub, the Huffington Post reported.” These facts are ridiculous, but the only way to put an end to them is to stand up and do something about it. We don’t want to have to read yet another story about the latest mass shooting, and we shouldn’t have to be  scared every time an announcement comes on over the loudspeaker. When kids are targets and when everyone else seems to think that thoughts and prayers are enough, it’s only natural that we are the ones to lead the charge.

That is the last time we will be silent.
That is the last time we’re sitting down.
We call BS.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 7.17.36 PM.png