Will the student walkout become a movement?

Critics of the national student walkout Wednesday contended the kids were dupes who didn’t understand the issue and were just signing up to skip class for 17 minutes. The students were mocked for eating Tide pods one day and meeting with Congress the next. They were called immature, silly and naïve.

Now, after images of thousands of them walking out of their schools dominated social media Wednesday and front pages Thursday morning, they are being called something else.


The images kept coming -- Grady High School students filling the stadium, Decatur High kids sitting in silence as the names and ages of the 17 victims were read, Druid Hill students holding dozens of signs, Washington High students kneeling in the halls, Walton students walking out in defiance of a resistant administration.

In metro Atlanta districts that gave their blessing to the walkout, hundreds of students participated. In districts where the walkout was not endorsed and discipline threatened, students walked in fewer numbers.

At Columbus High School, which warned students would face disciplinary actiononly two young women walked out, hand in hand. Now, Sarah Brooks and Sakeli Givens are my new heroes.

While students across the nation marked the moment in different ways, they delivered the same message: Never again. The impressive turnout and the passion suggest this is not a passing fancy but a movement.

Powered by social media that enabled teens to spread a message and create a plan nationwide, the size and vigor of the protest cannot be ignored.

As the Washington Post noted:

This movement started not with adult action but in conversations between Parkland students in the hours after the massacre at their school, and it quickly spread to social media. It took almost everyone by surprise.

It shouldn't have, of course. The struggle for gun regulations deserves a mass movement. The United States has more gun violence than any other First World country. We are responsible for almost one-third of mass shootings in the entire world over the past several decades. Mass shootings continue to occur even as violent crime is mostly falling in the United States. Many types of gun regulations enjoy broad popular support.

Districts that prevented students from participating are on the wrong side of history. These children have seen adults fail to act in one school shooting after another. This is not a frivolous matter; they feel their lives are at risk by a political system in the thrall of the gun lobby.

In metro Atlanta, the greatest antipathy to the walkout occurred in Cobb County Schools, reflected in a moving student essay in Vox Atlanta by North Cobb High School student Erin Davis. (Read her piece. It's terrific.)

Erin wrote:

As I made my way toward the front of my school, I observed the following: the administration was patrolling the halls in high numbers, looking to target and corner any students making their way toward the front for the walkout. At least eight Cobb County Police vehicles were on site.

North Cobb High administration's apparent approach was to hinder the walkout by inhibiting a large portion of students from participating in the nationwide walkout, out of fear of disciplinary action.

As a result, there were three dozen students who left class and sat in protest in the school foyer for 17 minutes. Only three dozen out of approximately 3,000 students who attend North Cobb and the many students who had initially signed the petition for the National Walkout event, before the county had condemned it.

While many of the student events urged new gun policies, the focus was Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and those who died there. I attended the walkout at Decatur High School where 700 to 800 students participated and about 300 parents and community members showed up to support them.

One DHS student paid tribute to a longtime friend from camp who was among the 17 students and teachers killed a month ago in the shooting rampage. And then, with church bells ringing in the distance, all the students sat in silence, save for the reading of the names and ages of victims.

Here is the list:

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14. Scott Beigel, 35. Martin Duque, 14. Nicholas Dworet, 17. Aaron Feis, 37. Jaime Guttenberg, 14. Chris Hixon, 49. Luke Hoyer, 15. Cara Loughran, 14. Gina Montalto, 14. Joaquin Oliver, 17. Alaina Petty, 14. Meadow Pollack, 18. Helena Ramsay, 17. Alex Schachter, 14. Carmen Schentrup, 16. Peter Wang, 15.