On February 14, 2018, 17 students and faculty were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One month later, students across the U.S. staged walkouts at their schools to advocate for gun control and to ensure that the Parkland shooting is the last of its kind.
Northwestern students and faculty as well as members of the Evanston community joined in this national school walkout at a march to Deering Meadow followed by a rally for legislative action on gun violence Wednesday morning.
The event included a moment of silence at 10:17 a.m. in honor of the victims at Parkland, as well as speeches from Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty, Communication freshman Valen-Marie Santos, SESP sophomore Matt Casler and Weinberg freshman Maddie Gaines.
Crowds gathered at the Rock and Tech before congregating at Deering. People carried signs bearing phrases such as “Enough is Enough” and “Protect Kids, Not Guns.” As they walked, they chanted “NU stands with MSD!” and “Thoughts and prayers are not enough!”
Before bowing their heads for a moment of silence, different sections of the crowd chanted back and forth to each other.
“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”
Santos, who is from a city near Parkland, said she remembers the events of Feb. 14 vividly.
“I remember sitting in class, unable to focus because I kept getting texts from my friends with updates,” she said. She reminded the crowd of how young the victims from her community were, adding that none of them expected to be the victim of such a tragedy.
Sophomore Matt Casler empathized with Santos. Casler, who is from Orlando, said the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016, which killed 49 people in his home city, made him question his own fate. After waking up to mountains of text messages asking if he was safe, the reality that he could be a victim of gun violence set in.
“Are you next?" he asked. "Am I next?” Casler indicated that no one should ever have to answer, or even ask, these questions.
As she spoke, Santos noted the importance of not normalizing gun violence. After describing procedures that modern schools take to prepare for active shooter situations, such as gun drills and extreme safety measures, Santos offered her hopes for the future of the U.S.
“This is not the kind of country I want my little siblings to grow up in,” she said.“This is not the kind of world I want my kids to grow up in or the future generations to live in.”
Instead, Santos wants people to recognize that, even with such procedures in place, not enough is being done to protect students in the U.S.
“Being murdered while you’re trying to get an education has become a very real fear in this country,” she said.
Gaines, who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas, shared how her school proved unsafe for her best friend, who was in the building at the time of the shooting.
“Naturally, all I wanted to do was call her and make sure she was OK,” she said. However, she said she decided not to, as the shooter could have heard her phone ring, and she was afraid of putting her friend in danger.
Gaines’s friend was safe, but she wanted to make sure no student goes through a similar situation. “School should not be a place where they have to fear for their lives,” she said.
Casler echoed Gaines, adding, “Schools are supposed to be the safest place for a student to be.”
Casler said he wants more legislation, both in Florida and across the U.S., to ensure that schools really are the safest places for students.
“As a Florida voter, I hope Marco Rubio somehow hears me when I say he has to act,” he said. “He is not the senator of the NRA, he is my senator. He is our senator. He listens to us, and when democracy does not respond, we will make it respond.”
President Schapiro and Mayor Hagerty both applauded students' speeches, noting that such feelings are prominent among younger generations. Schapiro said rather than just talking about making changes, this generation is figuring out actual solutions.
“If we make progress in this nation and other countries against gun violence, it’s going to be because of your generation,” Schapiro said to the audience.
In addition to praising younger generations for their efforts to curb gun violence and promote gun control, Schapiro and Hagerty both looked back on gun violence in previous generations. Both said they regret that past generations, including their own, did not do enough to curb gun violence.
“Sadly, my generation and the generation before me has failed to bring sensible gun safety laws to America,” Hagerty said.
He also spoke directly on the students of the crowd: “Our country needs your leadership. We need your generation. Elected officials need to hear from you.”
After the event, SESP junior Jessica Saffold, who helped organize the march, was helping people do exactly that. Standing by a table full of students writing letters to legislators, she said she hopes people’s experiences at the march will be put into political action, like voting and speaking out.
“Go vote, please vote! ... What you do matters – it truly, truly does,” Saffold said. “I want people to recognize that the change starts with you.”
Weinberg freshman Anya Harkness, who walked out of fencing practice to attend the march, said she has similar hopes for this generation.
“I honestly hope people will take action,” she said, adding that she was pleased to see people writing letters to their representatives.
Emphasizing the importance of action in ending gun violence, Santos said it is this generation’s responsibility to act.
“We stand up today as a young generation, as a Northwestern community,” she said. “We can’t sit idly as the country itches for change – a change that is long overdue, a change that we cannot stop fighting for.”