Anchorage students organized walk-outs on Feb. 21 to protest gun violence and honor the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Several hundred students of three Anchorage schools participated. Similar walk-outs were held in other parts of the country.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, shot 17 people, both students and staff, at his former high school in Florida on Feb. 14. It was the deadliest high school shooting in the history of the U.S.
Political debates about gun restriction laws sparked all-over the nation after the shooting.
At Service High School, the walk-out lasted about half an hour of which 17 minutes were spent in silence — one minute for each victim of the shooting.
Senior Ann Gebauer described the atmosphere at Service High’s walk-out as “somber.” She emphasized that the walk-out was held to show solidarity for the victims of the shooting and to take a stand against gun violence, not to propagate personal political views.
“Political agendas were not being pushed at all. It wasn’t a walk-out to ban guns or call out individuals in our government,” Gebauer said.
The protest was initiated by the Student Body President of Service High, Dieuleveut Biringanine. The focus was on the need of taking action and finding solutions for the prevailing gun violence in the U.S.
“I feel strongly about gun violence in America and how crucial it is to take immediate action with the issues at hand. I fully believe that the majority of the students that walked out were in the same boat as me,” Gebauer said. “We as students do not feel that there is anywhere near enough being done about such a large issue. The time to act is now.”
Teachers did not stop the students from the peaceful demonstrations. Allison Reed, teacher at Service High School and adviser of the student government, said she was proud of the students for showing support and solidarity for the victims in a constructive way.
“I love that the students took the initiative to express their passions peacefully… As teachers, we all attempt to encourage and foster positive and active change in our community,” Reed said. “I believe many teachers encourage thoughtful, constructive demonstrations. I think many of the staff really wanted to be out there to show support, but were torn between duties as teachers within the classroom and responsibilities as a citizen and parent.”
Similar events were held at West High School and Begich Middle School. Some students also gave speeches against gun violence. West High School student Haley McKinley was one of the speakers; she had organized the protest at West only the day before.
“I was actually waiting for someone else to coordinate it, but hadn’t heard anything. So, at like, 10:30 p.m. the night before, I kind of threw the whole thing together,” McKinley said. “Because it was so thrown together, it was mostly just an expression of our emotions on the issue and a promotion of later events… and the upcoming elections.”
McKinley was proud of the protest at West High School.
“It was super exhilarating to see the number of people there, especially given the short notice. You could really tell how impassioned students are about the issue, given how many of them turned up to stand in the cold for 30 minutes to listen to their peers,” McKinley said.
UAA student Alex Jorgensen thinks the peaceful demonstration around Anchorage schools were “a beautiful demonstration of the power of student voice.”
“I believe it is of the utmost importance for students to feel empowered to voice their opinions in numerous ways, including peaceful protests. I view the protests that have already occurred as powerful and moving,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen sees the peaceful demonstrations occurring in Anchorage as start points for further conversation about the issue.
“I don’t know what the answers are to solving gun violence in this country, but I know there is a problem and I don’t feel comfortable accepting the status quo,” Jorgensen said.
Students from Parkland are planning a march in Washington, D.C, demanding reforms in school safety and gun control on March 24.
National organizations like Everytown, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Move On, Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March LA are supporting the event. Satellite marches are planned in various other cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Boise.