Over 2,700 schools were set to take part in the nation-wide school walkout in the US on Friday, as youth activists demanded stricter gun laws and more action to prevent school shootings. Organizers estimated some 150,000 students would take part.
The demonstrations included a rally near the White House in Washington DC and a “die-in” in New York, with crowds of students lying down in Washington Square Park to warn of the dangers of gun violence. Many of the protesters wore orange, a color that has come to symbolize the youth movement for more gun control.
Organizers picked Friday, April 20 to mark the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. In 1999, two students killed 12 children and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves in the first major school shooting in modern US history. While the event shocked the US public, it failed to produce tangible gun reform. Similar shootings later took place in other schools across the US, most notably in Sandy Hook in 2012 and the Parkland, Florida high school earlier this year.
Read more: Can a group of Florida high school students change America’s cycle of gun violence?
A silent protest honors victims of school shootings with empty chairs
Pressure on politicians continues
Following the massacre that claimed 17 lives in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in the Miami metropolitan area in February, some of the survivors launched a wide-reaching social movement demanding gun reform. Under public pressure, lawmakers in Florida passed a new law on gun control last month.
On Friday, Florida survivor David Hogg urged activists to keep up the pressure for reform.
“We’re not going to be able to stop this unless we continue to make our voices heard, though, when our elected officials won’t,” Hogg said in a video posted to social media. “We have to get out there and make our voices heard, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.”
‘Advocating for our lives’
The Friday rallies follow a similar walkout on March 14 and the “March For Our Lives” rallies ten days later. However, while most schools tolerated the previous walkout, many school officials warned that there would be consequences for students who took part in the Friday events.
The Columbine High School in Colorado staged no walkout, as the school holds no classes on April 20, in remembrance of the massacre.
Another Florida survivor, Carlos Rodriguez, traveled to Columbine to mark the anniversary on Friday. He said the movement was providing a key element of hope for the survivors.
“That’s the only thing that’s keeping us Douglas students alive right now: the distraction of fighting for our rights and advocating for our lives,” the 17-year-old activist told Reuters.
dj/jm (AP, Reuters)
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