How To Argue The Student Walkout Is An Absolutely Essential Form Of Protest
On Friday at 10 a.m., students across the nation will leave their schools for the second time in two months as a statement against gun violence. Just like the last walkout, opponents are emerging to advocate against this action as a means of protest. But arguments about the student walkouts typically fail to understand why walking out is such an effective form of activism.
April 20 is the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine school shooting that left 13 people dead — 12 students and a teacher. On Friday, students who join the walkout will participate in 13 seconds of silence to commemorate the 13 people who died that day. Next, they'll participate in what the event organizers are calling an "open mic" for students to "have their voices heard" on the issue of gun violence.
"We're protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occured [sic] to stop that," the event website reads.
The day is also a time for students to interact on an elevated platform they have never had before. It is a day of discourse and thoughtful sharing. Bringing together communities and students to get a national discussion rolling.
Still, many have raised doubts about the benefits of walking out. Here's why the skeptics are wrong.
Common Argument #1: Protesting Isn't A Respectful Way To Mourn
The principal of Columbine High School has advocated that students across the country plan "service projects" instead of walking out, which he argues would be a more respectful way to pay homage to the victims of the 1999 shooting.
"April has long been a time to respectfully remember our loss, and also support efforts to make our communities a better place," he wrote in an open letter. "Please consider planning service projects, an activity that will somehow build up your school ... as opposed to a walkout." The Washington Post reported that students at Columbine will spend the day volunteering, including by reading to preschoolers and helping out in soup kitchens.
How to respond: One of the best ways to show respect for gun victims is to prevent such violence from happening in the future. It's similar to how so many people are tired of receiving politicians' "thoughts and prayers" after mass shootings. Symbolic gestures are ineffective for creating political change. Community service is important, but so is taking specific action to promote gun reform.
Common Argument #2: Walkouts Aren't Productive
How to respond: In fact, walkouts are a highly visible means of protest that are often very effective at drawing attention to issues. An estimated 1 million students (according to the youth chapter of the Women's March) flooded out of schools during the last national walkout and helped keep the issue of gun control in the news — and quite possibly helped inspire participation in the subsequent March for Our Lives.
One of the reasons that the Parkland massacre fundamentally changed the gun reform debate is because survivors immediately jumped into activist efforts and never stopped. They've forced the media to keep covering the issue, as CNN explained. High-profile protests — like a national walkout — are crucial if this trend is to continue.
Common Argument #3: Weed Day Will Overshadow The Protest
Chicago high schooler Ben Russell told The Chicago Tribune that people considering Friday to be "Weed Day," as opposed to the Columbine anniversary or the walkout day, is "annoying," but that "we expected it, and we'll just keep pushing on." The Tribune reported that some school administrators are wary that students will use the walkout as a way to get away with smoking weed.
How to respond: The suspiciousness of adults shouldn't stop well-meaning students from standing up for what they believe in.
In the words of retired FBI member James Gagliano, Columbine "changed everything." It was the deadliest school shooting on record at the time, according to The New York Times. The massacre shocked the country into rethinking law enforcement's approach to active shooter situations, as well as school safety policies, according to NPR.
Sure, April 20 (aka 4/20) might be better known to some as a holiday for marijuana enthusiasts, but it's also the annual anniversary of the Columbine shooting. That's an important event to mark, regardless of other associations with the date.
Common Argument #4: Students Should "Walk Up, Not Out"
Before the last walkout, an alternative movement emerged that encouraged students to "walk up, not out." The point was to get kids to "walk up" to other students and chat with them to foster a more inclusive environment in school, which could help reduce the potential for alienated kids to turn to violence.
How to respond: More supportive school climates aren't enough to prevent every act of violence in schools. As Laura Parrott Perry pointed out on Twitter, all countries have troubled youths, but the United States' school shooting problem is uniquely bad.
Students should absolutely be kind to each other — but they should never put themselves at risk, as one Parkland student outlined in an essay that itself is a brilliant argument against "walk up, not out." And students should also pair kindness with other activist efforts. As outspoken Parkland survivor David Hogg suggested, walk up and walk out.
Common Argument #5: Students Could Use That Time To Protest In Better Ways
"I just think with those 17 minutes, you know, you could be calling [state lawmakers] to create change," a high school senior who opted out of the last walkout told Huff Post, referring to how students could use their time better.
How to respond: Just as with "walk up, not out," this argument creates a false binary: Students do not have to choose between walking out and protesting in other ways. They can do both.
It's been about two months since the massacre in Parkland, and its survivors are still trying to process the trauma. "Everyday at school feels like a marathon," tweeted student Kyra Parrow on Thursday. "It's a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. It’s a struggle to see empty desks. It’s a struggle to see your friends not the same anymore. The aftermath of gun violence is pure devastation."
But the aftermath of Parkland has also been marked by widespread activism in the face of those who would try to silence students. In all likelihood, oppositional voices to the walkout will be overshadowed by those who are determined to go through with the protest. Students will not be ignored; they will use the day to demand action against gun violence.