School shootings in the United States don’t often hold the nation’s attention after one month, or even after one week. But last month’s shooting victims from Parkland, Fla. drove a movement for students nationwide to walk out of their schools on Wednesday — and hundreds of San Franciscans joined in.
As part of the National School Walkout movement, students in the city left school early in the morning to rally at City Hall and march along Market Street, surprising smiling adults along the way. Students nationwide were urged to walk out for 17 minutes — one minute for each person killed in the shooting on Feb. 14 — the action last hours longer to make a stronger point.
Like many other schools in the city, Lick-Wilmerding High School students — joined by several teachers — stepped outside school grounds around 10 a.m. to honor the lives lost to another school shooting by holding hands at Balboa Park. The need to continue the momentum was mentioned continuously, like with action items of planned pre-voter registration drives for 17 year olds and a day to call legislators.
“We as a society tend to ignore or just push aside these events because they are traumatic,” says senior Sarah Dean. “We felt that we needed to walk out to stand up to the normalization.”
In a show of unity, several San Francisco high schools joined at the steps of City Hall to rally for gun control. Despite the initial pouring rain, contingents marched in with different chants like “Why do we march today? We say fuck the NRA” and, together, yelled “No more silence, end gun violence” in unison.
“We are scared but we can no longer let fear control us,” Emily Montiel, a student at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, told the cheering crowd. “All great things have started with student voice.”
In the midst of lost mechanical pencils, adults handing out umbrellas and drummers presumably early for band practice, some students gave speeches with specific demands. Calls were made for bans on high-capacity magazines, assault weapons, and push back on arming teachers with guns.
“I come with the humblest heart and the maddest respect for you,” Supervisor Malia Cohen told the students. “I hope your children don’t have to fight this fight.”
The poncho-clad, soaking wet crowd eventually marched along Market Street toward Embarcadero, ensnaring an F-line streetcar and stopping downtown shoppers in their tracks with shouts of support.
As Lick-Wilmerding junior David Gales pointed out, this has been a learning lesson of activism for students. In between pushing more action out of school administration, organizing their own peers was a challenge as some weren’t aware of the action until the walkout began.
“It’s hard to do,” Gales says. “It’s hard to get that moving.”
San Leandro High School students were able to get a walkout moving but minutes after holding up a sign reading “It could be us next,” they were placed on lockdown after plans to shoot the school were graffitied in the bathroom. In another sad twist of irony, a high school in Santa Maria was unable to walk out in time due to a lockdown after it received an anonymous text that there was a gun on campus, ThinkProgress reports.
“It’s just been a slow burn escalation with lack of conclusion,” says Lick-Wilmerding senior Sophie Hochman. “The tides are turning.”