Alastair Boone is the editor-in-chief of Street Spirit and a former editorial fellow at CityLab.
The high schoolers who rallied against gun violence in Washington, D.C., had a very explicit message for lawmakers.
Taylor Brumby,* 16, is no stranger to lockdowns. In the small town in New Mexico where she used to live, she told me these drills were routine. “Those were the most terrifying moments of my life, and I don’t want that to happen to me or anyone else I know ever again,” she said.
Now she’s a junior at Blyth Templeton Academy, a private prep school in Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill, and she’s galvanized by how close she is to those in a position to do something about gun regulations. “I think this is amazing,” said Broadby. “I feel like I have a lot more power here than I would have had if I was still back in New Mexico.”
On Wednesday morning, high-school students gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The attack left 17 dead and kindled a national conversation about U.S. gun policy that shows no sign of ebbing.
This Capitol contingent was but a small subset of the masses of students across the country who participated in the national school walkout. Some 3,000 walkouts marked the day; elementary, middle, and high-school assembled in football fields and cafeterias, marched down city streets, and rallied on the steps of city halls, demanding legislative change.
Like walkouts across the nation, the rally in Washington began at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. After gathering outside the White House and observing a 17-minute moment of silence, students marched to the U.S. Capitol, where a host of Democratic lawmakers, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, awaited. “Thank you for bringing your urgency to the doorstep of America, the doorstep of the United States,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Throughout their speeches, the students cheered loudly, holding up signs that read “We’re Afraid To Go To School” and “Make America Safe Again.” Some proclaimed simply “Enough.”
As the Atlantic’s Isabel Fattal wrote yesterday, the power of this youth movement, as in earlier acts of student-led activism, goes beyond the sheer numbers involved in the protests: These students, and their peers around the country, have so far succeeded in sustaining some of the outrage that occurs in the immediate aftermath of a shooting—and they’ve also focused it specifically on the legislators who have failed to act in the past.
“This protest is about Congress, because they took money from the NRA way before Trump was in office,” said Annabel Dobbyn, 17, a junior at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. Her classmate, Devin Lucas, held up a sign that listed members of Congress by name, followed by the dollar amount they have received in donations from the gun rights advocacy organization. “You can’t ignore the political aspect of this because everything about this is inherently political. It’s legislation that can save our lives and it’s legislation that needs to change.”
Matthew Little, a 17-year-old who attends Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, voiced a similar sentiment. “Our proximity to the nation’s capital does make everyone feel the necessity to get out here,” he said. “But there are other factors, too. This is something that we really care about; this is something that we’re concerned about. And we want to see change happen.”
Ever since Columbine in 1999, mass shootings have established a maddeningly familiar political routine: Democratic lawmakers act indignant and demand, as Senator Chris Murphy did after the Las Vegas massacre, that Congress “get off its ass and do something,” while Republicans brandish the Second Amendment and speculate that violent video games are the real culprit. But the students of Parkland and their allies nationwide have short-circuited that ritual, to some extent: Poised, resolute, and media-savvy, they have begun to reframe the American gun debate on their own uncompromising terms.
It’s clear that many of them understand this, too. In the upcoming midterm elections, a full third of Senate seats and every member of the House will be contested. Most of the students won’t be voting, but they were intent on making their voices heard.
“It’s important that we all come together,” said Little. “That process is what’s really going to make change. That’s the main reason why we’re out here. To make sure that change happens.”
Devin Lucas of St. Andrew’s Episcopal agrees. “Look at all these people here right now,” she said. “Politicians need to understand is that we’re all coming of age. We all are going to be able to vote soon. So if they don’t pull themselves together and start putting their constituents before their greed, we’re going to vote them out of office. We are the rising generation, we’re going to make change. And they can either go with it, or they can get out.”
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post spelled Brumby’s name incorrectly.