Dear Teachers, Walkouts are Important

Students walked out of school on 4/20/18 and headed to NYC’s Washington Square Park. Photo by Gabriel Cavounis.

April 20, 2018 was a particularly interesting date this year. Not only was it a rather unconventional celebration for some, it also commemorated the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

It is uncanny that the solemn occasion fell upon one of the most tense periods in the United States as the fight for gun control rages at its loudest, especially from the country’s intolerant youth.

April 20 marked the NYC Says Enough school walkout and rally, an event that is not only just as important as the walkout on March 14, but an event that should be even more duly paid attention to.

An overwhelming crowd of young men and women, elementary school children and college students alike, flooded Washington Square Park in New York City the morning of the walkout that Friday morning on 4/20 to listen to copious quantity of orators echoing words of empowerment, heartache, and determination through large speakers. The speeches of sorrow and hope were more important than any lecture given in the classes students were missing.

Sixteen-year-old Arielle Geismar, a junior at the Beacon School and an organizer of NYC Says Enough, appeared at the podium first to set the tone and make the rally’s intentions very clear.

“Everything from the ground we stand on to the speakers we hear to the words we say have been fought for by students just like you and me from across the country, as well as generations before, with the refusal to give up,” Geismar asserted.

“Our generation will be the last; we will be the students to end gun violence because we are everywhere and we aren’t going anywhere… we as a youth will continue to find ourselves as the engine of this movement,” she said.

In the hours that followed, the assembled heard words from survivors, legislators, educators, and students all joining on the same stage to express that the fight is never over until real action is taken on gun reform. Amalia Fernand was one of the first guests to speak, recounting her experience as a survivor of the Columbine shooting.

“I stand here in front of you all on this anniversary with a heart both broken and full as it beats to the tragedy of the past and the hope for the future,” Fernand conveyed. “Stand together, use your voice, use your vote, use your conscious consumer decisions, be the change- enough is enough.”

Another look at Washington Square Park. Photo by Gabriel Cavounis.

Perhaps one of the most striking appearances at the rally was Christopher Hansen, survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. He reminisced on his experience as a survivor and responder to the shooting. He recounted how he made the decision to run back to the nightclub after escaping to save multiple victims that night. One particularly jarring image is one that Hansen recalled of using himself as a tourniquet to save a woman’s life.

“I saw a girl in the grass, and she was begging to get out of the grass, but she couldn’t move,” Hansen explained. “I felt her body going cold. I put her in my lap…I would later find out that when I put her in my lap, in essence, I became a human tourniquet for her. She was shot in the back, and so my thigh put pressure on the wound, enough pressure needed to keep her from bleeding out any more than she already had.”

A couple hours before exiting the A train to walk with my group of classmates and friends to Washington Square, I was sitting in classrooms being reprimanded by several teachers about students that would simply “take advantage of this day” or that “the DOE has already cooperated, this is unnecessary.”

My dearest educators, I present my argument that your intolerance for what you considered to be an egregious event is unacceptable for us “kids.”

The rally was not only necessary, but vital to our education of how to make a change in these current circumstances (history teachers, listen up). The organizers of NYC Says Enough had generously arranged registration booths for those of-age to register to vote if they had not done so already- a very gracious gesture to allow us to “put our money where our mouths are” in proving that we are serious about making significant reform.

In the first half of my senior year, I was educated on the exact importance of voting and having an official say as to who represents me in this country. It is painstakingly obvious how important our rights are during a time like this, and we as young adults exercised our rights that sunny Friday. We exercised our right to vote by registering, as well as practicing our right to peaceably assemble.

The walkout on March 14 was rather unconventional in the fashion that Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA)  students walked around the building until a ring was formed around the block. At that point, the body of students joined hands in silence during the seventeen minutes that reflected each life lost during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida a month prior.

That demonstration was important: It was a remembrance and acknowledgement of the incredibly enormous impact gun violence has on the people of this country. However, our voices were silenced in memoriam in March. We were incapable of hearing the vital voices spoken and making the noise loud and progressive enough that we all evoked as one in April. Geismar said it best when she remarked, “In March, we mourn- in April, we act.”

It would have been solacing if certain teachers would have been more supportive and less accusatory of students that are trying their best to join the movement in any way they can. However, threats of having cuts on our record or remarks that we wouldn’t be able to re-enter the school building that day in April did not intimidate us.

Perhaps, it may have motivated us even more to advance as one expanse- an unstoppable force that will be the trailblazers for change.

– by Gabriel Cavounis 18