On March 14, thousands of students across the country participated in the nationwide walkout to advocate for the control of assault weapons, background checks and age minimums for those purchasing guns, as well as a law that would enable the government to disarm anyone displaying signs of violent behavior.
At Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, many students from fifth grade through middle school marched together to a parking lot down the street. There, we participated in a ceremony led by Kehillah Jewish High School students to remember the lives lost in school shootings, as well as to advocate for change. Passing drivers honked and waved at us as we marched, and many people went up on stage to express their thoughts about this issue, as well as reactions they had to the action (or inaction) taken by the government.
My friend Eli and I decided to speak up as well. Eli started out first. He described how on the day of the Parkland high school shooting, when the attack happened, his older sister had been in Florida. He talked about the shock he felt watching the news that night, and the relief when his family received a text from her saying she was fine. It made him think of all the families and friends who never got that text, and the sorrow that must have filled their lives from then on.
My friend’s inspiring speech made me realize two things. One, gun violence affects everyone, not just the victims and the families of the deceased. Many have to experience the pain of thinking someone they love is in danger. Second, the sad truth is that something like this could happen to anyone, anywhere — no one is safe.
Listening to the radio on my way to school that day, I learned about the government’s suggestion of arming teachers with guns. To me, this makes absolutely no sense. So when it came time for me to speak, I said that the way to end gun violence is not by arming more people with these lethal weapons. To do that merely turns schools into places of even more fear, not the safe learning environments they should be.
Two days after the walkout, we discussed our thoughts in class. Our teachers began the discussion by talking about their own experiences.
One of my teachers said something that I will never forget. She told us, with tears in her eyes, that it wasn’t just students whose lives were lost in Parkland. Teachers also died that day. She told us, “I know that I wouldn’t hesitate to put myself in front of any one of you, but…”
She was so overcome with emotion, she could not finish her thought. But I have a pretty good sense of what she was going to say.
No one, absolutely no one, should be forced to choose a student’s life over their own, to put the aspirations and dreams of another before themselves. My teacher has a 4-year-old son. It deeply, deeply disturbs me that she had to even think of a scenario that would leave her child without her, and had to imagine what would happen if such an attack took place.
Most of my peers thought it was cool to be a part of this protest, but their lives went right back to normal afterward. Nothing changed in the news, or in the government, or in schools. People still live in fear of these attacks, and gun violence is still a serious problem. I think when the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High originally announced the protest, it sparked interest and inspired others to do the same. However, the more time that passed and the longer it took for students to get organized, the less interested people became. They began to grow used to the way things were, with gun attacks being reported every single day. Nothing new.
I thought back to the day of the walkout. All those people marching, honking and speaking out for what they believed in. It isn’t possible that so many people with the same message can simply go ignored.
But maybe what all of us did wasn’t sufficient. Maybe we just weren’t shouting loud enough for the people at the top to hear us. Maybe what we need is for every single person to write a letter, make a phone call, sign a petition — something to show everyone what kind of world we want, one without gun violence.