This past Wednesday, at 10 am, high school students across the country walked out of their schools for 17 minutes to remember the 17 young lives lost from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. This nation-wide walkout is representative of a revitalized youth movement of students doing what adult legislators are not: taking action.
A prime example of such action and organization can be seen with the non-profit Coalition Z, founded by high school students Bryson Wiese, Zoe Davidson and Alex Lehman in the wake of Trump’s election. Coalition Z's goal is to enable high school students to affect political change. Coordinating with their chapters in different states through social media, Coalition Z held walkouts in over 60 schools in New York City, as well as 11 other schools in North Carolina, Wyoming, Georgia, California, Illinois and Connecticut. Organizing by this non-profit, which is run by high-school students, brought 800 high schoolers into the streets to protest gun violence.
When asked why they chose to walk out, Davidson reminds me that the issue of gun violence is in fact a student problem. Schools at all levels, even preschools, are actively preparing for an active shooter scenario. “This is a student movement, so the format of protest we chose should connect to our identity as students.” Wiese expands and highlights the abnormality of America’s gun violence epidemic, stating that “taking time out of our daily routine helps to denormalize this uniquely American cycle of tragedy.”
It should come as no surprise that phrases such as “hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?” were being chanted by the students.
This revitalized push for gun control cannot stop with walkouts. Coalition Z followed up the walkouts with an Evening of Action in New York City, which saw over 300 high school students calling their elected officials expressing their support for gun reform, as well as calling several corporations asking them to end their partnerships with the National Rifle Association.
The Evening of Action also featured talks from Stoneman Douglas students and alum, as well as an activist from Moms Demand Action. Wiese said that all the speakers brought a “palpable energy” to the room and reinforced the necessity of gun control and student power. By hearing from activists who had been campaigning for a long time, Wiese was reminded that young people “can’t lose sight of the importance of learning from experienced activists who've been doing this work for years.”
While students have the passion for activism, they also need the skills and opportunities to affect political change. In order to do this, Coalition Z plans to expand their efforts and “lobby legislators, follow up with companies, organize voter registration drives and partner with organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety.”
All of this organizing isn't easy. In setting up the walkouts, Bryson says that most administrators in New York City were supportive, but organizers in upstate New York and Georgia faced more challenges. On top of this, the founders of Coalition Z themselves in their second semester of their junior year – a hellish time in the college application process. "I've been staying up until as late as 3am nearly every morning and then waking up at 6:15 or 6:30," Zoe says. While it's exhausting to get through multiple 20-hour days, Zoe is motivated by the students of Stoneman Douglas High School, who organized their march immediately after experiencing their trauma. "If they can do that, then I can do what I'm doing," she says. "They're an inspiration."
Lead Image Credit: Bryson Wiese