The clock strikes ten. At the front of the room Biology teacher Gen Nelson is answering a question from the thermochemistry review packet. Behind her, students exchange furtive glances, waiting for someone to stand up, to leave class. Someone stands up and is quickly followed by a shuffling stream of students.
It’s March 14, and students across America are walking out of class to protest gun violence. For seventeen minutes students stand outside in silence to commemorate the seventeen lives lost in the Parkland shooting. The only break in the silence is a reading of the names of the Parkland victims..
The GFS walkout mirrored any other American high school in that some students (though at GFS it was many) walked out and some didn’t.
For some students walking out was a spur of the moment decision, but for others it was months in the planning. Junior Ivy Hunnicut, who walked out, says she “disagrees with how our government is dealing with school shootings,” and adds that “they’re not really changing anything, it’s just shooting after shooting.” Sophomore Jack Miller went into the day with a “fluid mindset,” and eventually decided to walk out.
Students who walked out describe the moments before 10:00 as awkward, but the walkout itself as powerful. Students left their classes in silence to stand together in front of The Main Building. They describe the atmosphere as similar to a worship sharing, in a more positive sense Hunnicut described the experience as similar to a Meeting for Worship, since it was “a guided time to think about one thing that means a lot to people.”
The majority of students who walked ascribe their decision to the prevalence of gun violence, but the same cohesion of purpose does not exist among those who chose not to walkout. Some didn’t walk out because the seventeen minutes provided an opportunity to complete homework. One junior chose not to walk out because they felt “it was going to be a protest and that’s not my style, not my personality.”
Sophomore Elijah Lachman didn’t walk out because “kids these don’t understand the whole idea of the Constitution and gun rights,” he says, “just because a few kids want make bad decisions and shoot up schools [that doesn’t mean] they should change the rules.”
Students who did not walk out describe the atmosphere leading up to the protest as “weirdly tense” and “awkward.” The walkout was the main topic of conversation, with teachers making a point of connecting it to classroom discussion, and asking which students would be protesting.
The same junior was in Biology when students, after motion to each other, walked out. He stayed behind on the pretense of asking his teacher a question. Afterward she led him to the Hargroves Center, where he sat with three other students: two freshmen and one junior. He made small talk with the other junior, surprised by the scarcity of students. He thought there would be at least ten students who would not walk out and says “I was protesting more than I wanted to… I wanted to stay neutral, but it made me feel like I was protesting the protest.”
Some of the students who didn’t walk out seem to believe that some of the students who walked out only did so due to student pressure. The same junior who didn’t walk out says he thinks some of his friends walked out because “knew everyone else was going to walk out.”
Sophomore Ana Branas agrees. “We go to a very liberal school and I think it would have been odd to stay behind because so many people were leaving. It would say something strong about your political beliefs.”
Student opinion is split on whether walkouts are an effective form of protest.
“I don’t think Congress even glances at these walkout. It’s like any other protest… it makes no impact,” says Lachman.
Branas disagrees. “[The walkouts] have the potential to change things. Even if it’s not going to immediately change the law, it’s bringing people together and bringing attention to [gun violence.]”
Miller says the problem doesn’t lie in the limitations of protest itself, but rather, the limitations of the March 14th protest. He says, “Only having 17 minutes [to walk out] felt like less of disruption than a programmed event.”